Leaders today face two main challenges: to juggle increasingly paradoxical demands (to do more with less, cut costs but innovate etc.) and to keep up with the influx of constant change. This year, in particular, change and transformation has become synonymous with everybody’s daily routine.
In the final interview of the series featuring the faces behind YWLC’s Community Engagement (CE) subcommittee, the team chats with Minerva Lim, CE’s Deputy Director*, as she shares more about her experiences leading the CE team through the challenges wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic, the importance of innovating and adapting to change, and building a culture of service leadership.
Driven by a strong desire to be part of a community of motivated women with the heart to change the world for the better, Minerva first became a member with YWLC in April 2018, and joined the CE subcommittee the same year.
Prior to joining YWLC, Minerva’s past volunteer experience had already seen her leading social impact projects and working closely with the elderly and disenfranchised families. With her unwavering passion for volunteerism now steered towards women’s empowerment at YWLC, Minerva has supported a number of YWLC CE initiatives to date, including the inaugural ‘Women for Women’ Hackathon in 2018; leading the 100 Wishes programme, one of CE’s flagship programmes where members run life-skills workshops, with SCWO’s Star Shelter in 2019; and coordinating the first-ever CE awareness campaign this year.
You have been part of YWLC, and the CE subcommittee for more than two years. What made you decide to step up and undertake a larger portfolio as Deputy Director of the CE subcommittee?
Having led 100 Wishes in 2019, I experienced first-hand how our workshops brought joy and insights to the residents at the Star Shelter. I also participated in our Pay It Forward (PIF) Mentorship Programme as a mentor and supported the organising team at our annual Female & Fearless, a confidence-building event for underprivileged female students.
Through these experiences, I realised that our CE programmes have immense potential to make a difference to women and children in Singapore. I wanted to see how my ideas and past experience in the social impact and charity sector can take our initiatives to the next level, hence my decision to step up as Deputy Director.
For example, having previously worked with charities that prioritised volunteer welfare and support, I wanted to ensure that we had more structured training and feedback platforms for our volunteers so that they are emotionally and mentally prepared to support our beneficiaries. I also saw scope to expand our existing programmes to new non-profit partners, so that we could reach out to more beneficiaries.
What do you hope to achieve in this role?
When I first started, my main hope was to ensure that our programmes continue to impact and uplift our beneficiaries positively. In order to achieve this, we had to increase the number of beneficiaries, whilst simultaneously expanding the pool of capable volunteers who could lead and drive our CE initiatives.
In this past year, I am proud to see that not only have we achieved this objective, but our CE team has in fact managed to significantly broaden our impact on the community. We brought on board new partners and beneficiaries (such as SHINE Children and Youth Services and the Anglican Family Centre), successfully streamlined our PIF Mentorship Programme, and even conducted a whole series of online workshops via Zoom.
For the rest of my term, I want to continue deepening the partnerships we have built and reaching out to new volunteers. Even as we bring new partners on board, we have to continually work hard to strengthen the relationship and to design programmes that will engage and meet the needs of their beneficiaries. Meanwhile, as YWLC continues to grow in size, it is also CE’s responsibility to continue offering meaningful volunteering experiences for our members, which means that we have to always think of ways to scale up our pool of volunteering opportunities.
Share with us some key leadership challenges and learning points you have learnt.
The biggest challenge I have experienced in this role was coping with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Community engagement is service-oriented, which means that often, face-to-face contact with our beneficiaries is essential in delivering impact.
Limitations on social gatherings meant that most of our plans for in-person workshops and events in 2020 were no longer viable. The team had to make the decision to either postpone them indefinitely, or adjust to the ‘New Normal’ by holding virtual programmes. It was a real challenge at the start as none of us had run a virtual event before. We didn’t know what to expect or if it would engage the beneficiaries.
We didn’t want all the prior work to go down the drain nor did we want to stop our work because of the situation, so we decided to take a leap of faith and went ahead with the PIF Mentorship Programme Virtual Kick-off Workshop in April 2020. After numerous trial runs and a lot of preparation by the team, the event was an eventual success! Since then, we have organised four other successful online workshops for the PIF Mentorship Programme and 100 Wishes.
In fact, doing them online may have actually improved attendance, for example, amongst our youth beneficiaries who may be more comfortable participating online than in person.
Through the experience of leading these projects in these uncertain times I realised the importance of being adaptable and that even though change is uncomfortable, I have an amazing team who is willing to take the leap of faith with me and can innovate when circumstances change.
How has your current role shaped your perspective in contributing back to society?
The most heartening thing I’ve seen in my role is that there are many people out there – our volunteers, the many speakers and trainers who have conducted our workshops pro-bono, our partners in non-profit organisations (NPOs) – who are willing to contribute their time and effort to make a difference to someone else’s life. I’ve realised that often, people do want to give back; they may just not know how to do so.
It is thus crucial that organisations such as YWLC continue to actively publicise volunteer opportunities and support volunteers with training and advice, so that they are empowered with concrete tools and platforms to make a difference.
Within our CE team, we have rolled out training sessions and maintained open feedback channels so that our volunteers are better equipped to understand the beneficiaries’ needs and solicit support if they need it.
Wan Xin, our CE Director, and I have also tried to encourage a culture of “service leadership” within the team through appointing dedicated programme leads for our flagship CE initiatives, as we felt that it was important to give our regular volunteers a chance to go beyond ad-hoc volunteering. As CE leaders, they are empowered to step up to lead projects and co-create programmes with our partners and stakeholders, and are responsible for seeing the project through from start to finish. This makes every CE initiative “ground-up” in the sense that our volunteers actively take ownership of the project and bring it to life by contributing fresh ideas and perspectives.
Over the course of this year, we have built up a strong and committed team of CE leaders - Nithya, Stacey, Rachel and Angie for 100 Wishes; Helena, Cheng Hui, Jodi and Serene for the PIF Mentorship Programme; and Jerene, Min Hui, Eliza and Abigail for F&F. Wan Xin and I are very proud of and grateful for all our leads, as none of our events would be possible without their commitment and hard work. Such small steps can go a long way in nurturing the ‘spirit of giving’ that is already inherent in many of us.
If you could have lunch with anyone from the past or present, who would it be and why?
As I majored in History in university, that person would be Queen Elizabeth I, who ruled England for 45 years from 1558 to 1603. While she obviously lived in a very different day and age, what is striking for me is that the challenges faced by women leaders today remain largely similar to those that she faced during her reign.
Like Queen Elizabeth I, women leaders today still have to continually prove themselves in comparison to men; they face the similar pressures to juggle marriage and family commitments alongside their careers (and in many cases, the pressure to compromise their professional lives to devote themselves to their families).
I would want to understand and learn how she reconciled these struggles while maintaining her authority and integrity as Queen and without ceding her power to a spouse through marriage (which was what her councillors would have preferred).
Lastly, what did you wish you knew at the start of your career that you know now? What words of advice would you give your younger self?
I would tell my younger self to be less anxious about the future and to be more open to change. It has been my experience that whilst we often plan and set goals for our lives with the intention of controlling outcomes, very often, these plans may be altered or even completely thrown off course.
Rather than to complain or resist, a better approach is to embrace this change and to see how best to capitalise on the new opportunity or path presented to us. Sometimes, the change may be serendipitous in allowing us to achieve an even better outcome. To do this, we need to be emotionally ready to accept change and uncertainties, and willing to think out of the box.
*At YWLC, we are committed to building a pipeline of young women leaders. We are looking into pilot efforts to introduce more leadership opportunities as YWLC scales, while taking into account the unique needs of each subcommittee. More information to be shared in time.
If you would like to volunteer with the Community Engagement subcommittee, please contact us here. Stay tuned to our social media (Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn) for more information on volunteering opportunities.
Please note that only YWLC members can take part in CE activities. If you would like to volunteer with us but are not a member yet, you can sign up to be a member here or find out more about membership here.
Click here to subscribe to YWLC's monthly newsletter and be the first to get our latest updates in your inbox!