“I am the Operations Executive Director at international law firm Baker McKenzie Wong & Leow. As part of this role, I have been driving the firm’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programme for the past eight years.
My first CSR project was with ISCOS. As you know, ISCOS aims to provide support and friendship to ex-offenders and their families to help them lead meaningful and productive lives.
They were looking to work with us in supporting the children of ex-offenders. This particular cause appealed to us as our firm had been doing similar work with another charity organisation to help disadvantaged kids.
On a personal level, I was very keen to be part of this project because my brother was a former drug addict and an ex-offender himself. It’s not easy, but I’m there as his moral supporter.
My church background has also taught me the importance of acceptance, family support and extending a helping hand to those who need it.
When I discussed with my colleagues about the possibility of collaborating with ISCOS, the idea was very well-received. That’s when I thought: why should we just stop at providing funding or sponsorship?
I wanted our staff to have the opportunity to be involved in volunteering as well, which will make it more meaningful for both parties.
Hence, five years ago, we started this CSR policy which sets the goal of putting in at least five hours of community work per year for our staff. As part of this CSR commitment, our employees are actively involved in the ISCOS Family Day, which is a key CSR event for us every year.
As our relationship with ISCOS evolved over the years, we continue to work with them on the Fairy Godparent Programme, particularly the Mentoring Project where our staff volunteers befriend or mentor the children of ex-offenders.
We want to let these kids see the light in their situations so that they don’t focus on their parents’ problems. By linking them up with mentors who are there to provide healthy influence in their lives, hopefully these kids will be motivated to move towards a positive direction.
I don’t have set criteria when choosing mentors. As long as they demonstrate the enthusiasm and interest in volunteering, I’m delighted to have them on board. Once they have that, it’s easier for them to stay committed to the cause because mentoring requires a nine-month commitment.
Our volunteers would need a certain amount of resilience, and I think that’s the main challenge. Some mentors approach mentoring with an open mind, but when paired with mentees who are introverts or are not responsive, they feel discouraged and lose their desire to continue mentoring.
That is the reason why we piloted a new programme with ISCOS called the Booster Bonding Session. Instead of having one group activity and then leaving it to the mentors to organise follow-up meet-ups with the kids, this programme involves a series of group activities for the mentors and children to break the ice, build rapport and deepen their relationship.
I was assigned my current mentee last year. He’s in secondary school, and I had a chat with his mother to better understand how I could help. I learnt that he loves football and is the school team’s goalkeeper, and he would often sleep late to watch the Champions League.
Looking at his results, I told him that it might not have anything to do with intelligence but rather, how he managed his time. I advised him to prioritise his academics first and CCA second because as an ambassador for his school, he should set a good example.
I wasn’t sure how much he would take my words to heart, but two weeks later, he told me that he had passed his maths and history tests for the first time. When I asked him how he did it, he told me it all boiled down to time management. I was pleasantly surprised to see such quick results!
Volunteering with ISCOS also brings a lot of value to our employees as it makes them more empathetic towards the plight of others. Some of them do even more than what is expected of them. I’m heartened to see my colleagues get so much satisfaction out of giving back to society.
Here at Baker McKenzie Wong & Leow, we have a long history of CSR being part of our DNA. When ISCOS came knocking on our doors, we wanted to help them in the best way that we can.
Sometimes people tend to shun from ex-offenders, but it is important to bear in mind that given a sufficient level of support and help, they will be able to regain a foothold in society.
As an international law firm, we wanted to lead by example and demonstrate the importance of giving people a second chance.
Sometimes, my colleagues tell me they don’t know where to start or how they can get involved. I’d say just come to our CSR events like the ISCOS Family Day. It’s always about taking the first step. After spending three hours with the ISCOS members and their families, our staff are always glad that they were part of this worthy cause.
Even if it is taking charge of a simple booth or helping to distribute food or drinks, the feeling of being able to give back to society is immensely satisfying. The bottom line is, don’t be afraid to try. ” – Edmund Ng, 49
Edmund Ng is the Operations & Facilities Management Director of Baker McKenzie Wong & Leow, which has an ongoing collaboration with ISCOS since 2011.
Humans of ISCOS is a collaboration between The Everyday People and ISCOS, a co-operative that helps ex-offenders in Singapore. Read more here.