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You get as much as you give

Lee Sze Yeng has been surprised at how rewarding volunteering can be.

“I always had a grand plan to do volunteering work after I had retired” says Lee Sze Yeng, an Audit partner for KPMG in Singapore. “So, when an opportunity arose a few years ago, my initial thoughts were that this was somewhat ahead of schedule.”

On top of this, the organization – the Singapore Environment Council – wasn’t one she had in mind as her first choice.

“I may have been environmentally conscious but I had little understanding about sustainability. However, I thought, there’s no downside, and gave it a try.”

The Singapore Environment Council aims to influence thinking on sustainability and coordinate environmental efforts in Singapore. And pretty soon Sze Yeng found the enthusiasm of the people involved highly infectious.

“Working on the board meant I was interacting with a group of very passionate people trying to move an agenda nationwide. It really inspired me and made me realize we can all do more as individuals and have the capacity to make a difference. In my case it was all about using my professional skills to provide guidance on finance matters and strengthen governance. We take these things for granted in a large firm, but charities don’t always have access to such capabilities.”

Sze Yeng’s next volunteering adventure was with the Singapore Business Federation Foundation. In this case, the charity’s goals are close to her heart, rallying corporates to do good, with a strong emphasis on supporting education and training for disadvantaged youth.

“One of our key activities is to grant scholarships, which reminds me of my own experience of joining KPMG, who granted me a scholarship whilst still at university. This was hugely beneficial, as it offered the prospect of a job on graduation, as well as essential mentoring during my early years with the firm.

“Giving everyone the chance of an equal start in life is so important, to avoid getting trapped in poverty. The Foundation leverages the network of business contacts to widen the range of opportunities for young people, including finding vocational positions. It’s very satisfying to get to know candidates and understand their family backgrounds and their hopes and aspirations. Such intimacy puts you in touch with those you’re most trying to help.”

In addition to her position on a charitable board, Sze Yeng is also the partner in charge of KPMG’s own initiative in Singapore, KPMG Cares.

“Many of us in Singapore are relatively fortunate to have a decent standard of life, but there are still some who – through no fault of their own – are displaced. One way in which the Singapore firm is making an impact is by rethinking where we purchase our corporate gifts or office items, which we try to source from individuals with special needs and social enterprises wherever possible. Our inclusive employment program is very hands-on, offering skills training and business coaching, to enable these people to build the skills to earn a living and become more self-sufficient.”

Community work has an added bonus in the form of bonding, as Sze Yeng explains: “It’s also a wonderful way to build team spirit. When you work with colleagues outside of the usual office environment, you often learn more about their private selves, which brings you closer together.”

As she contributes time to volunteering, Sze Yeng says she gets back as much as she gives.

“Initially, I only thought about what benefits we could bring to those we were helping. But soon I realized that you also take away so much personally. It’s been a very enriching experience for me, knowing that I can impact people’s lives in small ways. My advice to others is to keep an open mind – you won’t know if it’s right for you until you’ve given it a try, so get started now!”