“While volunteerism in general is on the rise here, those between the ages of 25 and 34 tend to be less generous with their time” (Important to Give Youth Firm Foundation in Volunteerism: Tan Chuan-Jin, Cheryl Tee).
Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin is hardly the first to emphasise the importance of volunteerism in Singapore, with the accompanying statistic that among young adults aged 25 to 34 “only 29 per cent of respondents [to the Individual Giving Survey (IGS), administered by the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre (NVPC)] in that age group volunteered for a social cause in 2016” (ST, Jan. 26). In fact, across multiple editions of the IGS this volunteerism rate has remained persistently low. Yet progress has hardly been made, because little is known about the effectiveness of school-based community programmes – Values in Action (VIA), the Community Involvement Programme (CIP), and service-learning projects – as well as the reasons why young adults may not be willing to or able to volunteer.
The fundamental question on the effectiveness of school-based community programmes, in this context, is the extent to which involvement in VIA, CIP, and service-learning projects affect whether participating students – after their graduation – continue volunteering in similar or other undertakings. Put differently: Are students who chalk up a high number of VIA or CIP volunteer hours in school more likely to volunteer for a social cause when they graduate? Comparing between students who only volunteered at charity flag days and those who designed their own fundraising activities, for instance, are self-initiated projects more predictive of future volunteerism? Does the family background of the student or the family’s history of volunteerism make a difference? And do student or social groups continue volunteering together?
Second, NVPC’s IGS has not gone beyond the generic conclusion that young Singaporeans aged 25 to 34 lack time. It is also a seemingly obvious one, since it is the school-to-work transition phase when the experiences of starting a career and a family can be overwhelming. And again taking into account the aforementioned fact that 25- to 34-year olds have always struggled to volunteer, deeper research into this life-phase can be productive: Are there other pressures in addition to the career and the family? Is volunteerism limited to particular demographic or socio-economic groups? More importantly, among the 29 per cent who do volunteer, how do they make the arrangements to do so?
Progress to improve volunteerism rates among these Singaporeans can only be made if there is an understanding of their problems and circumstances. Otherwise, we risk running unhelpfully over the same old ground with the same, tired appeals, over and over again.
A version of this article was published in The Straits Times.