and vested interests

THERE is much talk about volunteerism these days and many groups purporting to be doing voluntary work in the community. There are individuals, friendly groups, corporate departments as well as registered charities and organisations who have defined for themselves the kind of work to be undertaken for the betterment of society.

Volunteerism can be defined as “a societal responsibility to join in, to give freely of one’s time to assist others”. In its purest form it is a selfless, altruistic and philanthropic deed that has as its motive the desire to do good, to help oneself and others achieve the same. Its manifestations however are huge and cover the whole gamut of societal concerns. There are movements and organisations galore declaring volunteerism as their modus operandi, all claiming to do selfless work and inviting people to contribute generously of their time and effort.

Indeed, the calling to do good is clear in all faiths and religions. In the holy books of each religion are urgings such as in Islam: “And everyone has a goal to which he turns himself, so vie with one another in good work”; in Christianity: “Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good work, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity and sound speech that cannot be condemned”; in Buddhism: “Teach this triple truth to all – a generous heart, kind speech, and a life of service and compassion are the things which renew humanity”; in Hinduism: “Through selfless work, love of God grows in the heart. Then, through His grace, one realises Him in course of time”; and in the Baha’i faith: “The fruits of the human tree are exquisite, highly desired and dearly cherished. Among them are upright character, virtuous deeds and a goodly utterance”.

Looking at the policies and programmes of government departments and agencies through grants, financial aid and welfare schemes; corporations and businesses through CSR; and charities, NGOs, citizen movements and community groups through their work on the ground, one can see that Malaysians are indeed striving to do good and contributing their bit to society. The country is not lacking in people who have the intention of helping the disadvantaged in society by giving in cash or kind, and by contributing knowledge, skills and expertise. It can be argued that Malaysia has all the characteristics of a welfare state with a well-developed welfare system in the making.

I am, however, more interested in the kind of voluntary work whose objectives are to improve the mindset of the people; to create awareness; to equip them with information and knowledge; to uplift their thinking and attitudes; to encourage good habits and conduct. Unlike voluntary work that focuses on meeting people’s basic need for food, shelter and physical comforts which are visible and more easily measured, efforts to improve the people’s mental and psychological capacities are more difficult to assess. Educating and creating awareness of issues that matter are a continuous process and require ongoing programmes and activities. While you may see immediate improvements in the former, the latter may defy short-term results and instead have long-term, more lasting outcomes.

Voluntary organisations which focus on engaging the rakyat in face to face interaction and discourse on issues of national concern are at the forefront of this important civil society movement. In the country’s current socio-political mood, it becomes all the more urgent that the people are not only exposed to sensible and reasonable arguments but that they themselves have the opportunity to speak up and make their voices heard (in speech or writing). It is crucial that ordinary citizens input the national discourse and express their views to be taken cognisance of by those in power. In this way, any societal change is executed with the people’s interest at heart.

These organisations then bear the responsibility of ensuring that the right target groups are mobilised to partake of these discussions. At a recent forum on religion and unity organised by Insap and Yayasan 1Malaysia, it was disappointing to see the dismal turnout and less than substantial input by the audience. As the moderator of the panel discussion, I wondered why the organising committee had invited such prominent speakers to volunteer their time to engage the public on a Saturday afternoon, and yet did not ensure a larger audience and a fuller participation.

For those of us who believe in volunteerism, let it not be said that we are doing it for “vested interests”. Let our objectives be transparently relevant to the groups we identify and let our outreach among them be impactful



  1. 1 Zaharuddin Dato' Badaruddin
    May 14, 2012 at 9:07 pm

    I’ve just join a voluntary group “KELAB ORANG HUTAN MALAYA” which is being led by a group of young professionals with degrees in wildlife management/ sciences . They’re totally commited to educating the public through conservative efforts, jungle cleanups of popular recreational spots at the same time enjoy camping /outings and their favourite- jungle trekking and mountain climbing ( which are way out of my league – spirit’s willing but…..). theres no monetary gains…. just a common concern for our disappearing jungle. my late mom use to tell me once there were rhinoes n bears in Linggi when she was little….thus henceforth one of my aunties was called Long beruang on account of her mimicking a bears’ call…..imagine that.

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