January 29, 2011
Singapore senior minister calls for “vertical kampongs” at IAVE conference
The second day of the 21st IAVE World Volunteer Conference in Singapore started with a video celebrating 40 years of IAVE. Backtracked to the Cool And The Gang song “Celebrate” the video started with a welcome from UN secretary general Ban Ki Moon and finished with the address given by former secretary general Kofi Anan at the launch of IYV in 2001. In between, there was a montage of clips and photographs from past IAVE conferences. Familiar faces could be spotted dancing badly, wearing dodgy fashions and sporting some odd hairstyles.
Opening Plenary of Day 2 of the IAVE World Volunteer Conference
After the senior minister of Singapore, Goh Chok Tong, was welcomed into the auditorium, there was more music and dance from a fusion band headed by MC Randy, who portrayed the multicultural nature of Singapore.
In a video message to the conference Ban Ki-Moon UN secretary general said volunteering is a powerful means to mobilize all segments of society and unite individuals to a common cause. He called on the conference to continue to work towards removing the barriers to volunteering. Mentioning UNV, the secretary general urged governments to back the frameworks that support volunteering, and recognized the contributions that volunteers make. Congratulating IAVE on its 40th anniversary, he asked the organization to continue its good work.
Stanley Tan, chairman of NVPC said volunteerism is a passion, because we feel deeply about the causes we serve, and we are convinced we can make a difference. Recalling his experience in Gujarat, Pakistan, after the earthquake, on the day of his 40th birthday, Stanley said he met volunteers from all over the world, who made him forget about missing his family, because everyone spoke the same language and was drawn together by the same spirit of volunteering.
Considering the fast pace of modern life, Stanley said it was difficult for people to find time to volunteer. However, NPOs should keep recruiting, managing and retaining volunteers. Stanley urged communities to be like homes, where helping a neighbor or stranger was as natural as helping a family member. The focus of the conference on volunteering to transform communities and change the world expresses this hope, Stanley said.
The NVPC chairman concluded by encouraging participants to let the passion of their desire to volunteer shine more strongly than ever.
Senior minister Goh Chok Tong congratulated IAVE on its 40th anniversary, and the UN on the 10th anniversary of the International Year of Volunteers. Goh Chok Tong said volunteers acknowledged the work of volunteers after major natural disasters and during major sports and other events. However, the senior minister said behind the scenes volunteers were helping people who fall between the cracks in society, providing a gentle human touch to the needy, and fostering social cohesion.
Behavioral economists can still not explain why people volunteer, yet the number of people who volunteer their time is growing. In Singapore, the senior minister said, the number of volunteers has almost doubled in the last few years.
Goh Chok Tong pointed out a number of modern trends that impacted volunteering. First, in the youth movement, which the minister called “Gen-Y”, volunteering helps young people increase their networks. Second, volunteering gave baby boomers the chance to stay active.
In Singapore, the government tries to make the volunteer experience more meaningful. Goh Chok Tong asked for volunteering to be flexible, satisfying and informal.
Flexible, satisfying & informal volunteering
Since many people struggle to find the time to volunteer, the senior minister called on volunteer organizations to make service-work easier and flexible, for example, the NGO New York Cares promoted a model which has been copied over the world - including Singapore, where SG-Care has recruited 8,000 volunteers, 60% are first timers. The UNV online program has recruited 14,000 flexible online volunteers.
Continuously recruiting but not retaining volunteers is a short-term solution. More than half US volunteers leave after one year of service, while that number is 17% in Singapore, the senior minister asked for NGOs to give volunteers meaningful tasks to encourage them to return.
In many societies volunteering started on a community basis. According to the World Index 2010 almost half the world’s population has help a stranger. The informal volunteering rate is 80% in Canada, 60% in the USA and over 30% in Singapore - where the number of hours a year is as much as 40 hours. Everyone can help a neighbor buy groceries, help a neighbor’s child with school work.
The Singapore government’s “vertical kampong” program encourages city dwellers to volunteer, in community watch schemes and so on, in an effort to help every single individual to become a volunteer. The Malaysian word “kampong” means “village” and “vertical” is used because most people in Singapore live in high-rise apartment blocks. So “vertical kampong” describes a high-rise hamlet.
Protect, recognize and promote volunteering
Tadateru Konoe, the president of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, Japan, said the theme of the conference: Volunteering to Change the World, is very close to the Red Cross’s ideals. There are 186 Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies across the world, which are run by volunteers. Today the Red Cross has nearly 13 million active volunteers, who contributed US$6b in 2010 in terms of time value. There are 20 volunteers per member of staff in the Red Cross, helping around 30 million victims in disasters, and many more vulnerable people on a daily basis.
For example, in DRC the Red Cross has protected 2 million people from polio, and in Kazakhstan the Red Cross helps prevent the spread of TB. In Singapore, Red Cross volunteers recruit blood donors, and organize activities for the elderly. All over the world, volunteers help cross cultures and bridge divides, thereby changing the world.
The president said the participants were changing the world in many different ways. He urged the conference to identify and help remove the barriers to volunteering. Tadateru Konoe invited voluntary organizations to join the Red Cross in its work to protect, recognize and promote volunteering; and urged governments to close gaps in areas such as liability, insurance and health and safety of volunteers.
The chapter president said the Red Cross was launching a campaign during IYV+10 called “Find the volunteer inside you”. Finally, as leaders of voluntary organizations, Tadateru Konoe urged everyone to come together in partnership to protect, recognize and promote volunteering.