In a world driven by capitalistic pursuits, the need for empathy has become somewhat of a social commodity. But despite the tectonic shifts in science and technology, there can never be a substitute for being a beacon of hope and support for those in need. Money helps to ensure that basic needs are met, but when you give your time to someone in need, you’re giving a part of yourself – that’s where the real magic happens.
Volunteering is described by the Cambridge dictionary as “offering to do something that you do not have to do, often without having been asked to do it and/or without expecting payment.” In other words, it is something we do with intrinsic motivation often driven by internal rewards and because it is naturally satisfying to us.
People engage in volunteering or responsible tourism for a great variety of reasons: first, to help eliminate poverty and to improve basic health and education, but also to tackle environmental issues, to reduce the risk of disasters or to combat social exclusion and violent conflicts. In all of these fields, volunteering makes a specific contribution by generating well-being for people and their communities.
According to the UN, more than one billion people volunteer globally, the majority of them serving in their own countries. Many are at the forefront of efforts to improve the way they and their fellow citizens are governed and cared for. Moreover, volunteers are playing a vital role in making governments worldwide more accountable and responsive to their citizens.
What Volunteering Means to Me
Some years ago, combining my career experience in sports and international marketing with my desire to make a difference, I set up two non-profit organisations empowering women out of Singapore, where I am based. The first, Women on a Mission focuses on helping abused women (survivors of war, domestic abuse, human trafficking and other forms of abuse) and the other, HER Planet Earth aims to protect our environment but also support underprivileged women affected by climate change. Both entities fundraise by organising challenging expeditions to remote locations around the world. These expeditions are self-funded by each participant who help raise funds through their networks, friends, and contacts for our charity partners.
Indeed, since 2012 with Women on a Mission and HER Planet Earth, I have had the great privilege of taking all-female teams (close to one hundred fifty women to date) to off the beaten track locations around the world on challenging, often pioneering, expeditions that really push them outside of their comfort zone. We’ve run expeditions so some incredible places. For instance, we’ve been trekking in the Arctic circle, climbed mountains that had never been climbed by anyone before in the coldest, windiest and most remote continent on earth, Antarctica. We’ve sailed across remote islands in Asia, and also climbed many mountains in the Himalayas, Mongolia, Iceland and more recently in Northern Kenya. As a result, all these expeditions have raised awareness and valuable funds for vulnerable women.
Setting up Women on a Mission and HER Planet Earth has given me so much fulfilment, peace, and happiness. It is as if everything that I have done in my life thus far has prepared me to do this very special thing, unique to me and fitted to my talents – which ultimately has more significance and meaning than the sum of my experiences to date.
Volunteering and Well-Being
A study by the National Volunteer & Philanthropy Centre (NVPC) in 2013 found that a person’s perception of well-being is positively correlated with giving, which includes volunteering or donating. Specifically, 66% of givers, as compared to 45% of non-givers, were more likely to report they experienced high levels of well-being. In short, being generous and engaging in volunteer activities contribute to your overall happiness. Moreover, such activities make you feel more grateful for your own life situation, and allow you to grow a bigger network of positive social relationships, along with a stronger sense of community.
In conclusion, volunteering offers an excellent way of empowering people, allowing us to show what we are capable of, while acquiring new skills and capacities. Volunteering also allows women to access sectors usually reserved to men, and to take on new roles, especially as leaders and managers in the community. Women volunteers can serve as role models, and inspire others to follow in their footsteps. Ultimately, volunteering is so important and vital for the wellbeing of our communities but also to our own personal happiness, growth and sense of purpose. And that is why, in my opinion, volunteering rhymes with empowerment.