Making community service a must for its students has turned Singapore Management University into a hotbed of volunteerism.
Singapore Management University (SMU) is the inaugural winner of the President’s Award for Volunteerism and/or Philanthropy (Educational Institution) 2016
When it was established in 2000, SMU became the first university in Singapore to make community service a compulsory component of its undergraduate education.
Each student must serve a minimum of 80 hours in social causes that they feel strongly about, to ensure that their education at SMU is both knowledge- and values-based.
In December 2010, the university set up the Centre for Social Responsibility (C4SR) to guide students in undertaking meaningful and sustainable projects while helping them understand best practices in community engagement and social responsibility.
Every year, prior to the start of the academic term, C4SR works with senior students to facilitate three local projects – starringSMU, Inspirar and Kidleidoscope – which get more than 500 freshmen involved in community service before they start their journey at the university.
In 2015, together with close to 250 senior students, they reached out to over 5,000 children, elderly folk and people with disabilities from 18 non-profit organisations.
Students can join an existing project or initiate one. They are also free to carry out projects for local or overseas communities.
Over the years, projects by SMU students have developed to focus more on capacity building and empowerment of beneficiary communities.
They also leverage on their skills and strengths. For instance, for Project Gazaab (founded in 2009), they work towards empowering rural communities in India, Indonesia and Nepal to move out of poverty through micro social enterprises. And since 2015, through the SMU-MCCY Charity Transparency Framework Collaboration, accountancy students have helped the Charity Council Secretariat in assessing transparency practices among charities in Singapore.
The past academic year has seen students being involved in 582 local community projects and 161 overseas ones in 17 countries. In Kenya, a project team named SMU Pendeza spends more than a month every year helping an orphanage with education and financial empowerment.
Senior students lead by example
What is more impressive is how often these projects are led by senior students who have already met their own community service requirements. But their desire to keep making a difference has motivated them to lead their juniors. By keeping involved, they also ensure smooth continuity of the projects.
Besides motivating its students to do good, SMU has also actively sought out partnerships with other stakeholders. This has resulted in various collaborations to provide resources, raise awareness and bring people together to support causes that are in greater need. Some of these initiatives that were established in the past academic year include:
1. A three-year partnership with Central Singapore CDC
It involves student-driven collaborations to benefit the community, such as Free Kicks, a programme spearheaded by the SMU Soccer Club to conduct weekly football clinics for children from low-income families.
2. Partnership with Citi Singapore
SMU’s Sim Kee Boon Institute for Financial Economics co-organised The Financial Literacy Fiesta 2015 to equip local communities with valuable financial knowledge.
3. Collaboration with Wilmar International Limited
This collaboration was renewed and saw the agribusiness group injecting an additional $200,000 into the Wilmar Overseas Engagement Projects Grant. The grant enables SMU students to conduct educational programmes for primary school children in Wilmar schools across China (since 2011).
SMU’s community service requirement for its students have produced impressive results. By the end of 2015, students students have given nearly 2.3 million hours – equivalent to around 251 human years – in service to local and overseas communities in need.