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Friday, February 06, 2015

Volunteerism and Entrepreneurship are close cousins

Guest post by Richard Moh (Share your stories and advices with fellow Malaysian students)

Entrepreneurship, a term synonymous to Gen-Y can be traced back to voluntarism. Education provides us with the fundamentals and opens the gate towards entrepreneurship. Volunteering becomes the vehicle that will drive each and everyone of us along the road entrepreneurship. Let us now gaze into how these components (Gen-y, entrepreneurship, education, volunteerism) jives together and creates that unique experience most of us dream.

Malaysia Volunteerism Social Entrepreneurship

Gen-Y and entrepreneurship

The new generation (Gen Y) is filled with individuals driven in owning their own startups and ride the waves of entrepreneurship, but what does that has to do with volunteerism? In my experience with corporates and non-government organizations, volunteerism has a lot to do with entrepreneurship, to a great extent spawns entrepreneurship.

Entrepreneurs are visionaries, constantly looking for opportunities to create an impact on the society through viable and sustainable business models. Notice the keywords in the sentence: societal impact and business model. In creating the social impact that one seeks, one has to live in the society. This is the point where most would question, “I am in the society and living in it. What do you mean?”. Living in the society means dwelling in the social issues that run through society, may it be illiteracy, language mastery, unequal opportunity in education, green designs etc. None of these could be experienced if people do not step out of their comfort zone and volunteer themselves into the situation, in understanding the environment that governs the issues. Before we dwell deeper into the topic of entrepreneurship and volunteerism, let us first understand ourselves better.

Volunteerism meets entrepreneurship

Volunteerism adds value to knowledge imparted to us via formal education. It interrupts with the logics of professions. It breaks the artificial barriers that were formed by education. How? Living and breathing textbook, digesting articles and answering examinations puts us at a comfort zone where all arguments are based on situations ceteris paribus, comparing the extremes and looking into materials that were pulled from the studies made by others before us.

Volunteerism challenges us to bring ourselves to where rubber meets the road. The knowledge that we gained needed to be adapted and improvised to tackle real situations, management textbooks are not entirely similar to managing real people. Volunteering in student bodies, societal organizations and/or community activities let us bring our learning to application. We are required to challenge the knowledge complied in book by our predecessors and lay it out to the test of reality where it constantly evolves and creates new opportunities.

Volunteerism allows us to capture knowledge that was not encapsulated in books; it allows us to view our environment in a different perspective. By taking us out of the constraints of the logics that we were trained for, we are able to observe new opportunities to impact the society via entrepreneurship. For example, the logics of the conventional banking system were challenged by the concept and execution of the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh where micro crediting brought the hardcore poor into sustainable village based industries and this began with Nobel Laureate Professor Muhammad Yunus because he have the desire to change the community, he volunteered.

My case in volunteer work and entrepreneurship

Passion for the people steered me to volunteer in multiple organizations including Malaysian Red Crescent Society and AIESEC Malaysia. Unbeknownst to me, I have embarked on a journey that changed my life forever. During my stay in every voluntary work, I have learnt more than what any textbooks could have thought me. I have learnt of skills that would otherwise only available in the corporate arena. Managing people, finance, expectations and stakeholders to name a few are the things learnt through volunteering. Volunteering equipped me with the skills to launch entrepreneurial ideas of my own. Growing people around becomes a passion I am privileged to pursue as a career of my own.

Challenges I’ve met along volunteer work and entrepreneurship

“The graveyard is the richest place on earth, because it is here that you will find all the hopes and dreams that were never fulfilled, the books that were never written, the songs that were never sung, the inventions that were never shared, the cures that were never discovered, all because someone was too afraid to take that first step, keep with the problem, or determined to carry out their dream.” – Les Brown

After several years of dabbing myself in the scene, I’ve noticed a common pain point. There are some of us who are driven to create projects to drive positive impact for the society. We all have heard individuals speaking of ideas on how they aspire to improve individuals and communities around them but lacks the skills and confidence to kick it off the drawing board.

Overcoming the challenges

With every challenge comes solutions. In the recent years, multitude of volunteer communities are mushrooming in Malaysia. There are AIESEC (offers local and international volunteer experience), DoSomethingGood (a local platform connecting volunteers and projects) and the latest one in the block is Rebaem (project validation platform that nurtures ideas into actions).

Richard Moh is passionate about activating youth potential in personal and professional development. When he is not at work, he would be hustling in the kitchen preparing meals for his friends. Connect with him on twitter @richard_moh for more awesome sharing.
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