Conversations with Wan Yan Tan

Wan Yan Tan is part of the programme architect team in Youth Corps Singapore (YCS), a department under National Youth Council (NYC). As part of her job scope, she coordinates training and mentors youth volunteer leaders who have their own volunteering projects. Tan’s mission is to champion youth volunteerism in Singapore by providing these youths the opportunity to turn their volunteer projects into reality by offering them advice and providing them the resources to do so.

Could you give me a brief introduction of yourself and job scope?

Wan Yan: Our mission is to champion youth volunteerism in Singapore and to build a caring community in Singapore. So in YCS our target group is 16 to 24. We want to encourage youth to volunteer beyond their school life. These youths will be able to interact with people in all walks of life. We have students from the Institute of Technical Education (ITE), Junior Colleges, Polytechnics and universities. Working adults volunteer with us too. We hope that our volunteers will find friends in a diverse group of people through volunteering.

In YCS, we have 4 programmes. First, there is the volunteering programme. It’s a one off ad hoc event, so we hope this will spark their initial interest. Then there is a regular volunteering in a weekly commitment for 6 months. We also have the Youth Expedition Programme (YEP), with a focus on overseas learning and volunteerism . It is currently under the purview of Youth Corps. There is also the Red Box program which is inspired by our late Minister Mentor Mr Lee Kuan Yew. They have different events that focuses on different social issues.

So for Youth Corps Leaders Programme – we call our participants “aspirants”. They are volunteer leaders in training. We try to empower them and help them actualize their envisioned service learning projects. It’s a six months project and we hope they will gain insight on national issues and encourage other youths to join the cause.

How do you search for these leaders or is it on an institutional basis?

Wan Yee: We base our selection on recommendation from institutions- they will send their students or we have a public run. In the public run, any individual can sign up. So in their journey, we will support them in terms of funding and mentors and we also have community partners who will be able to guide them through service learning

Just to clarify, so after the period of 6 months they can initiate their own projects?

Wan Yan: After 6 months they will be given funding.

So what inspired you to delve into this field of work? Is this what you planned or stumbled into?

Wan Yan: When I was a polytechnic student, I was involved in the service and volunteering CCAs and they focused on youth development. I benefited a lot through the CCAs and I wanted to give back. This inspired me to pursue this career. I majored in chemistry in university and this was very different from what I was doing now. I didn’t enjoy studying chemistry and it’s not something I wanted. I wanted to do something I was passionate and interested in.

What is the most satisfying part of your job?

Wan Yan: It’s seeing the growth of youths and venturing out of their comfort zone. The smiles of the beneficiaries and the opportunity to work with the community are also rewarding.

What is your favorite project?

Wan Yan: A group that I mentored last year had a project on empowering mothers from a particular community, and had aimed to encourage the mothers to step out of their comfort zone to initiate events. There was this girl who used to be very shy and didn’t know how to interact with the children and the mothers – she’s very young and only in JC. So she had difficulty in communicating. So seeing her step out of her comfort zone and and being physically present at events was an impactful experience for me. She grew a lot. Her mom was very shy and reserved – she would only speak in Malay and was dependent on her friend to translate. After time, she grew more confident and even led certain events.

In these institutes there are a lot of people engaged in these learning projects and overseas learning trips. What is your view on the sustainability of these activities?

Wan Yan: It’s the youth themselves – they are passionate and influential. I’m not sure this is the perspective have about volunteering. Youths will hopefully keep inspiring one another.

What’s the working environment and culture at YCS here like?

Wan Yan: We are quite open about things and we are very encouraging. Hierarchy is quite big. There is great teamwork. For example, different teams from different events will come together to support each other.

It sounds like a very collaborative job. How does that affect your typical workday?

Wan Yan: It’s a 9 to 6 job but we also have to work during the weekends to coordinate with volunteers.

What is a downside to this job?

Wan Yan: We work with different stakeholders and community partners and work with institutions and youth volunteers as well. It’s the managing of expectations and their own goals that they need to meet. We also have to compromise between all these stakeholders.

Then how do you go about reconciling these differences?

Wan Yan: It’s to negotiate and find middle ground.  Another challenge is the commitment because I still volunteer in poly and I have to make some compromises.

How do you think your experience or perception of this line of work has changed since you started?

Wan Yan: I think when I was younger as a student in polytechnic, our mentor would often tell us what to do and we would just follow. Now, the youth would want to have their voice and be empowered to make their own decisions. They are also very capable in getting things done.

Why do you think so many youths are so passionate about these projects?

Wan Yan: It’s about finding their passion and acting upon it for their own personal development.

Do you have any advice for youths who are passionate about volunteerism or who are looking to take this career path in the future?

Wan Yan: First, you must like to work with youth and work on the weekends as commitment is high. Secondly, it’s a bonus if you like to plan and organize.

What do you think are the 3 most important qualities or skill sets a programme architect must possess?

Wan Yan: You must enjoy coaching and encouraging youth and the next one is communication of stakeholders. You also should have a flair towards planning and organizing and conceptualizing events.