Insights from Discover@NJC: Social Impact

By Ng Wei En

Advisory visited National Junior College on 23 January 2020, hosting an informative session during which professionals involved in social impact shared about their career journeys in community work, as well as offered advice on pursuing opportunities in volunteering. 

On the panel that day, we had Dr Alvona Loh Zi Hui, a medical doctor at the Institute of Mental Health (IMH), and Ms Atikah Amalina, a Diversity Program Manager in Google.

Dr Alvona seeks to better healthcare efficacy and equity through her research in psychiatry, public health, and vulnerable populations. During her time as an undergraduate at the National University of Singapore (NUS), Dr Alvona helped develop the GoHelp (Global Health and Leadership) programme at NUS Medicine which focuses on nurturing humanitarianism amongst medical students. As part of IMH’s efforts to provide rehabilitation programmes, Dr Alvona is also an ongoing advocate for self-sustaining initiatives such as the hydroponics farm and Sedap Cafe, the latter of which aims to reintegrate patients into society and destigmatise psychiatric conditions.

Ms Atikah is actively involved in various social impact projects concerning education, diversity, and inclusion. Previously a secondary school teacher, she left to pursue a US Department of State Fellowship under the Community Solutions Program. She is a founding member of The Codette Project, a ground-up initiative that empowers minority women through technology, and has raised funds in support of vulnerable communities in projects such as Rainbows for Batam and the Sinar Sofia Shelter Home for Women with HIV. She is also a social media influencer under The Tudung Traveller where she posts compelling content on solo travel, philanthropy, and technology across online platforms.

Both panelists shared a few takeaways with the students:

Especially for non-profit projects, both speakers spoke on the importance of the sustainability of such initiatives and one’s personal financial security, especially under resource constraints.

While securing adequate funds are a key step in kickstarting initiatives, initial funding alone does not translate into financial sustainability: it is vital to develop a business model. For instance, one initiative began as a recreational activity for participants, but later morphed into a profit-making project which not only sustained itself but also provided participants with pocket money and raised funds for other projects. Sustainable initiatives can benefit their target groups for years to come, as opposed to one-off initiatives, and ultimately would bring about much more value.

On the matter of personal financial security while working in a non-profit organisation (NPO): many who work in NPOs often run the risk of overstretching themselves financially for their cause. This is especially so for those who give up a stable, salaried job to work in NPOs. Sometimes, a significant pay cut is involved, and one might have to dig deep into personal savings to support oneself. Being financially secure will allow one to work longer in an NPO than if one were hard-pressed to return to salaried employment.

Explore volunteering opportunities in areas related to one’s interests and find out what needs can be fulfilled among the community. Even if these activities might not have a significant impact, the knowledge and skills picked up in the process can set the stage for future opportunities. Working on developing an agile and creative mindset will go a long way, particularly when solving problems.

Have an open mind, check the progress of one’s initiative periodically, and assess the needs of one’s target group carefully. Sometimes, projects may end up benefiting the organisers more than the intended beneficiaries. Being self-aware of one’s efforts will go far in ensuring the project truly benefits the community.

Being willing to learn will also allow one to draw on experiences elsewhere to the benefit of social initiatives. It might aid in the building of one’s social capital or broaden the understanding of the communities being engaged, among others.

Being committed means finding a way to contribute continuously and sustainably. This means going beyond one-off initiatives, for one. Commitment to one’s cause can also mean orienting, in a more expansive perspective, one’s career towards the fields in which one’s initiatives engage in, as well as actively reaching out to a community of stakeholders. The demonstration of such commitment would bolster one’s image of authenticity, positively affecting one’s ability to influence others.

A commitment to the cause also means endeavouring to ask meaningful questions. Meaningful questions are productive and contribute greatly towards one’s work.

As they discussed how they developed a direction in their social impact work, the two speakers constantly emphasised that their paths in social impact started out as small initiatives, but grew into more impactful initiatives as they stayed on track and constantly sought to develop their passions.

Finally, the panel concluded by encouraging students to pursue their passions and seek out meaningful opportunities, as well as network and learn from others throughout the course of their journey in social impact.