The organisation of senior volunteers

By Dr Philbert Chin, a private, passionate and committed founder behind RSVP’s success. A mover of people and resources, he never craves credit for his contribution rendered to various institutions.

RSVP grew out of the conviction that the golden years of older persons can be rich and fulfilling, a time when they can share their treasure trove of life experiences and skills. I do not subscribe to the stereotype that ‘the elderly are needy and frail’ and that they are ‘the void deck people’. In other words, I believe that older persons are an asset to society, able to adapt to change and remain relevant in the community.

I believe that the thinking of older people can be transformed through their services to the community. Based on this strong belief, a Pro-tem Committee was formed facilitated by the National Council of Social Service (NCSS) and supported by the Ministry of Community Development to establish RSVP. It was officially launched on 31 October 1998 by Mr Goh Chok Tong, then-Prime Minister of Singapore. RSVP has come a long way since, and this coming October marks RSVP’s 13th anniversary.

The early years were difficult because the non-profit sector was not as simple as it looked. The birth of RSVP was a humble one. As one of its founding members, I felt like a captain navigating a ship that went nowhere, or walking through a terrain with low visibility. However, Providence was kind and I managed to garner selfless support and co-operation from a group of dedicated people of diverse backgrounds in creating our vision and mission statement as well as mapping out social and community service programmes.

As a retired medical doctor, I used to advise my patients, especially the elderly, that it was of paramount importance for them to keep mentally and physically active. Our core values namely; life-long learning, active ageing, integrity, sharing experience and service are a testimony to this exhortation.

Against this background, RSVP started the Mentoring Programme in 2 primary schools – Bukit Ho Swee and Kuo Chuan Presbyterian. Within a span of 10 years, we have extended our service to 11 schools. Coming from all walks of life, our mentors find great satisfaction relating and bonding with children in primary schools, particularly the disadvantaged ones.

As a senior myself, I know that the elderly need as much help as the primary students, especially in the area of connectivity with our ever-changing society. Project Cyberguide was launched in mid-1998 with the view to create an Information Technology (IT) friendly environment for senior citizens and bridge the digital divide. This initiative was timely and crucial as computer usage has become the norm, and our seniors will lag behind in most ways if they are not IT savvy. Today it has become our most iconic programme.

Inspired by the immediate success of the two initial programmes, we soon added a few more, such as Mentally Disadvantaged Outreach Programme, Partnership in Health, Polytechnic Students Outreach and Public Education.

I am by nature an optimist and I always look forward to the challenges and opportunities ahead. One of the challenges facing RSVP is how to obtain funds to sustain existing programmes and to embark on new initiatives to cope with its growing membership. While MCYS and NCSS have rendered financial support to some of our community initiatives, we have to explore other means to raise funds in order to do more, and much more. To this end, events such as flag days and charity golf tournaments are organised besides public donations.

One notable aspect of fund-raising is our social enterprise – RSVP ProGuide Pte Ltd – which was established in 2004. We identify our members’ strengths, build on them and then convert their specific skills into a source of service that enables them to earn an income. This arrangement works well for us as income comes from providing consultancy services to SMEs and VWOs is ploughed back to RSVP for community service.

A rebranding exercise was undertaken in 2009 graced by the presence of Mr Lim Boon Heng, Minister in charge of Ageing Issues and Minister in Prime Minister’s Office, giving RSVP a clear brand name – henceforth, known as The Organisation of Senior Volunteers.

Thirteen years have passed since RSVP’s inception and during its infant stage I thought I would devote a few years with the organisation, and then let others helm it. But one term turned out to be 5 terms now, and it seems there is just more and more to do.

I am committed to ensure that the good work of RSVP remains relevant and sustainable. This is only possible if our membership, especially the leadership become Servant-Leaders – serving with moral authority the legitimate need of others. We must continue to “Share and Serve”.

Senior volunteerism is RSVP ‘raison d’etre’, and volunteerism challenges the challenge of age. Volunteerism energises and engages our members, enabling them to age gracefully and productively. I believe that through volunteerism, seniors can age gracefully delaying dementia. At the same time, seniors can and will take their rightful place in society as relevant and responsible citizens contributing to the well-being of our nation.