“Selfish” Volunteering

Apr 16, 2020   |   Chloe Ng

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(Graphic credit: Aisyah Ong, Media Volunteer)

When we think ‘Volunteerism’, we think ‘selfless giving’ – something people don’t quite attribute to the youth in Singapore today. Some might even lament about how individualistic and self-absorbed Singaporean youths are. While there has been a heartening rise in youth volunteerism, the proportion of regular volunteers remains fairly small. Intuitively, many might attribute this to a lack of civic duty. However, I believe the problem lies in the way we view our acts of service.

We tend to place volunteerism on a moral pedestal. Volunteers are deemed as philanthropists contented with providing selfless service without gaining anything, apart from the joy of giving. While there are a number of us who fit that description, it is, however, an unrealistic expectation for many in the long term. As such, a quest like this might seem like a tall order for anyone to regularly commit to in their happening schedule. Needless to say, this situation is all the more applicable to youths who are encouraged to focus on self-improvement and self-actualisation in a modern society that prizes a person’s economic worth greatly. Knowing the great demands of commitment, many youths hence shy away from these opportunities.

To combat this, we can start by recognizing volunteerism as a 2-way transaction; instead of merely focusing on the cause, volunteerism could be seen by individuals as an avenue for personal growth and gain for themselves. In fact, ‘selfish’ motivations for volunteering ranging from gaining skills to meeting new people, do not make our acts of service any less meaningful so long as we were fully engaged. Moreover, these personal benefits make long-term participation likelier since the experience is meaningful and enriching by the volunteer’s own standards.

(Graphic credit: Aisyah Ong, Media Volunteer)

A second challenge I would like to highlight is the disproportionately great focus on the outcomes and outputs of charitable causes. Much attention is given to the beneficiaries rather than the benefactors- the volunteers. Though it makes sense to do so, a greater focus on volunteer training can corral a permanent, more close-knit and experienced group of volunteers. Ideally, organisations can adopt a system of identity-based learning for volunteers which would appeal to Singaporean youths since a honed ability to hold paradoxical views from non-didactic learning is an essential skill sought out for in the working world.

A debatably self-interested generation of young people is likely to remain as such due to the permanence of personality and core values. Moreover, these traits have arisen owing to real current trends. Thus, tweaking an unrealistic and outmoded idea of volunteerism would be a more practical option to encourage youths to start getting involved.