Published on 27 May 2021

Skills for Good: Giving back through skills-based volunteering

Skills for Good, which started in April 2020, is a youth-led ground-up initiative that aims to be the platform connecting social organisations and volunteers.

“When we first started, we had no guidance, no instructions, and no fixed outcomes. I experimented a lot and failed in many instances, but these have led me to become a more confident individual with the ability to deal with ambiguity and failure,” said Skills for Good co-founder, Isaac Phua.

The circuit breaker that started in April 2020 was the catalyst for digital transformation for many companies. In a short time, businesses across several industries had to adapt and move their operations online.

For volunteer organisations, however, this was not as easy, as many generally lacked the skills and capabilities to digitalise, and struggle to attract and retain talent in this area. Moreover, the nature of work for most social organisations is physical activity, such as befriending and mentoring, so digitalisation was not something they needed to think about prior to COVID-19.

While volunteer organisations were faced with these challenges, the circuit breaker also presented an ideal solution. Many university students had their internships cut short or cancelled, leaving them with time on their hands to volunteer.

That’s how Skills for Good started. A group of three students with a passion to give back to community, identified an area where they would be able to contribute, and put their time and skills to good use.

Skills for Good, which started in April 2020, is a youth-led ground-up initiative that aims to be the platform connecting social organisations and volunteers. The team works closely with social organisations to identify their needs, develop the work scope, and reach out to potential volunteers with the right skillsets. These projects could be in the areas of strategic planning, marketing, operations, and technology.

“The motivation to start Skills for Good was two-fold. First, we wanted to provide opportunities for our peers to practise their skills in real life projects. Second, we wanted to help social organisations focus on their purpose of creating social impact without worrying about things like digitalisation and marketing,” said Ellie Lew, one of the three founding members of the group.

Ellie is a Year 3 student in the Double Degree in Accountancy and Business (ACBS) programme. The other two founders are fellow ACBS Year 4 students, Isaac Phua and Chow Kai Jin.

The beginning

As with any new initiative, starting out was difficult for the team, having no existing infrastructure or model to rely on. To start their pilot project, they pulled together their strengths and resources, along with their connections with social organisations.

“As head of business development, a big challenge I faced was getting our first project. With no past successes to showcase, I had to rely on the connections that I had built while volunteering to secure our first few clients,” Ellie added.

Growing the team

The team soon realised they needed other skillsets to be able to contribute more effectively and got their friends on board. Wu Pei Lin, ACBS Year 4, started a marketing department to recruit volunteers and find new clients. Clarita Chua, a year 3 student from the NTU Computer Science programme started a tech department to build a website and manage the digital requirements, while Zhao Ruyan, a SMU Business Year 4 student, created the volunteer management team.

As their list of projects expanded, so did the team, which now consists of around 30 people with a shared passion to create positive impact on society. Through recruitment drives in collaboration with the other local universities and online outreach activities, the team has attracted a pool of more than 900 skilled volunteers.

“This community of passionate and like-minded volunteers is our biggest asset,” said Ruyan.

Getting to work

Skills for Good strongly believes in lending a helping hand to any organisation with a keen social mission. The outreach starts with a phone call to personal contacts and referrals or via social media and cold emailing to learn more about the social organisation and introduce Skills for Good. If the team finds that the organisation contributes positively to society and are interested in engaging skills-based volunteers, they proceed to initiate a partnership. Their social organisation partners are categorised into three distinct groups: non-profit organisations, social enterprises, and ground-up initiatives.

Once a partnership is formed, they work together to outline the scope of work and the project brief is shared with the pool of volunteers. Those interested would have to apply and undergo a selection process to ensure the right fit before being chosen for the project.

Managing multiple projects at the same time proved to be a challenge. Ruyan explained, “With different types of projects and a large pool of volunteers, it was not easy to identify and match the volunteers to the specific set of skills and time commitment that a project required. Once the project starts, we also need to keep track of progress and ensure that everything runs smoothly.”

This led to the account management team being formed by merging two core functions – volunteer management and project management. The team established a standard operating procedure to streamline workflow and operate efficiently.

The SFG team meeting Member of Parliament (MP) of Brickland Constituency, Don Wee to promote entrepreneurship in the community

The Skills for Good team meeting Member of Parliament (MP) of Brickland Constituency, Don Wee to promote entrepreneurship in the community. From left to right:
Front row -  Wu Peilin, Clarita Chua, Isaac Phua, Member of Parliament Don Wee
Back row -  Zhao Ruyan, Ellie Lew, Chow Kai Jin

Creating impact

Amidst the operational challenges that the team faced, they had to take a step back to remind themselves of their vision and mission for Skills for Good.

“By setting that direction, every action that we took moving forward was to support our cause in empowering youths through skills-based volunteering opportunities,” said Clarita.

The team shared some of their memorable projects.

Social Media Marketing Project for SUN-DAC

SUN-DAC is a non-profit social service agency that serves and cares for persons with disabilities. To raise awareness and engagement for their fund-raising event, three Skills for Good volunteers developed a social media marketing plan, designed campaign collateral, and assisted in the re-design of the organisation’s fund-raising campaign website. This resulted in SUN-DAC receiving more donations than they initially projected, raising sufficient funds for their beneficiary programmes.

Virtual Fundraiser for REACH Community Services (RCS)

RCS specialises in providing care services for families, youths, and seniors, serving over 3,000 people annually. Skills for Good was engaged to facilitate their first ever virtual fundraiser in the form of a social media marketing campaign. Through this, RCS managed to exceed their target donation amount and reach out to far more people than they previously expected.

 Marketing Plan for SGExams

SGExams is a non-profit organisation that provides a platform for students to collaborate, share notes, and volunteer together in community service. Skills for Good was engaged to help build a strategic roadmap to develop regular career guidance programmes for students. Over three months, the volunteers had the opportunity to apply the concepts and techniques learnt in the classroom, such as market research, understanding consumers’ needs, and developing a clear value proposition for SGExams. They developed a go-to-market implementation plan for SGExams, which includes regular ask-me-anything sessions on Reddit for students to consult professionals on their career path as well as a career guidebook to provide advice on writing resumes and preparing for interviews.

In the last year, Skills for Good has partnered with over 30 social organisations and start-ups and launched over 60 skills-based projects which involved over 90 volunteers. “We aim to continue broadening our social organisational network and volunteer pool, as well as engaging more stakeholders to shape larger and more impactful social causes in the long run,” said Kai Jin.

Growing through volunteering

While Skills for Good created an opportunity for students to develop their skillsets, Isaac also learnt some life lessons along the way.

He shared, “At school and during internships, I was always given tasks with set outcomes, structured deliverables, and fixed key performance indicators. However, when we first started, we had no guidance, no instructions, and no fixed outcomes. We had to struggle with ambiguity and learn how to build our organisation’s assets and processes from scratch. I had to pick up many things on the fly. I experimented a lot and failed in many instances, but these have led me to become a more confident individual with the ability to deal with ambiguity and failure.”

The next step

While it seems that that they’ve come a long way in the last year, to the founders, it has only just begun.

Isaac spoke of their plans moving forward, I believe that Skills for Good is just getting started in our mission to empower youths to contribute to society. We live in an age where our community is more educated and more conscious of social issues than ever. In the next few months, we plan to involve working professionals in skills-based volunteering, expand into projects involving technology and analytics, and work even closer with our partner universities.”

Ruyan added, “I hope we can be a platform to reach out to more passionate individuals to make social impact in their own ways. Be inspired to inspire. This is the way to increase the ripple effect of volunteerism.”

If you want to create positive change and contribute to Skills for Good, contact Skills for Good at [email protected].