Karen Wee has worked in the social service sector for 11 years. However, few know that her passion began in her youth. Today, she is the Deputy Executive Director for Lions Befrienders. From her extensive volunteering experience to helming leadership roles and board duties, Karen takes us through her growth journey, experiences and plans for Lion Befrienders.
1. What was your previous work experience before you joined Lions Befrienders?
I started my professional career in auditing and marketing before joining the Social Service sector. Thereafter I went on to serve national bodies such as Community Chest (the National Council of Social Service fundraising and engagement arm) and National Volunteer & Philanthropy Centre (NVPC). I was involved in planning and development, and knowledge management respectively.
Prior to joining Lions Befrienders, I took on leadership and management roles in various Social Service Agencies (SSAs) as well. These include the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA of Singapore) and Children’s Cancer Foundation, where I oversaw operations, fundraising, programme development, and volunteer management. Additionally, I am also on the boards of directors and committees of international and local charities in healthcare and public health.
2. How has your experience in your previous roles prepared you for your current role?
I am very thankful for all the learning opportunities, experiences and guidance I’ve received throughout my journey in Social Service and Community Care.
Having volunteered actively for over 34 years, I understand the challenges that volunteers face and appreciate the sacrifices they make. As an officer in the National Council of Social Service (NCSS) and NVPC, I learnt to see the bigger picture and make strategic decisions for organisations. As a leader or board and committee volunteer in SSAs, I recognise the need to build consensus and bring together multiple stakeholders to make key decisions.
In a distressing time like this Covid-19 pandemic, many seniors may feel isolated and in need of assistance. Hence, I believe my social service and volunteering experiences will be vital as I work with the Lions Befrienders’ supportive board, staff and volunteers to explore new ideas to serve seniors better. I am grateful for the opportunity to continue serving alongside my colleagues.
3. What are some of the new plans you have for Lions Befrienders?
To sum up our plans for the near future, Lions Befrienders is looking to expand on these three areas:
a. Further strengthening the spectrum of integrated eldercare via collaborations
Lions Befrienders seeks to ensure that there are no isolated seniors, especially those in rental flats who may fall through the cracks. To prevent duplicating our resources and efforts, we will continue to collaborate with our partners to serve these seniors.
b. Rolling out the One Volunteer Management
We are often called upon by various sector administrators to share our expertise on volunteer management and to train other SSAs in their rollouts as well. With the centralisation of the One Volunteer Management, we aim to efficiently allocate resources and focus on training and consultancy work so that we can help other SSAs implement volunteer management.
c. Embracing technology
One project on the technology continuum is the AIC Careline Phone Deployment. AIC is kindly providing 250 phones for us to hand to uncontactable seniors in phase one of implementation. Our Lions Befrienders have been trained and in turn will train other SSAs to ensure seniors are familiar with the Careline, Whatsapp, and video call functions. Lions Befrienders has successfully rolled out telemedicine and teleconsultation projects islandwide with almost all public hospitals to reduce travelling, hospital waiting time and efficiently allocate healthcare resources.
Plans to develop our seniors holistically are only possible with a co-creation and collaboration culture, and an open and innovative mindset in our Lions Befrienders. We also have the support of our board and committees and the generosity and support of the Ministry of Health, AIC, Ministry of Social and Family Development, and NCSS.
4. Tell us something about yourself that not many people know about?
Very few people know that I actually started my journey in social service when I was 13 years old. I began serving with the Society of St. Vincent de Paul Singapore (SVDP) where we assisted the destitute (mostly seniors) cared for by the Missionaries of Charity (Mother Teresa’s order). It was a humbling to witness the nuns hand-washing seniors’ clothes, and assisting them with love and patience. In my time with SVDP, I also enjoyed serving the inmates of the Institute of Mental Health because of their different outlook on life.
From the age of 15 to 18, I joined the Interact Club of Raffles Girls Secondary and Hwa Chong Junior College (now Hwa Chong Institution). We worked with children on a weekly basis at the Jurong Gardens School (now MINDS Lee Kong Chian Gardens School) and an NTUC Childcare centre. Those were some of the most memorable years of my life as a student volunteer which brought me joy and satisfaction, and egged me on to continue volunteering all these years.
Serving directly helps me understand the needs of different societies and how people of different cultures think and perceive. It has been a blessing to be able to serve all these decades.
5. Can you share with us your hobbies?
I enjoy reading, music and travelling. I read as widely and as deeply as I can. Currently, I’m reading research papers on eldercare, healthcare matters and biographies of inspiring people.
Music helps calm me down; I usually like to work with music playing in the background and try to explore different genres. In recent years, I have discovered my love for Asian orchestra and Eastern New Age music.
Travelling allows me to explore and understand different cultures. I enjoy observing and engaging with people from different walks of life. Besides travelling with my family, I also take solo trips, short retreats or breaks overseas.