Speech by President Halimah Yacob at the RSVP 20th Anniversary Charity Gala

Mr Koh Juay Meng,

Chairman RSVP Singapore,

The Organisation of Senior Volunteers


Distinguished guests


Thank you for having me as your Guest of Honour this evening.

 Let me begin by offering my heartiest congratulations to RSVP Singapore for achieving a milestone of empowering our seniors to share and serve in the community over the past 20 years. From a humble organisation of 100 volunteers in 1998, RSVP has grown to its current strength of 2,500 volunteers. Well done!

 My relationship with RSVP Singapore started in 2012, when I attended your Volunteer Appreciation Night (VAN). An annual event, VAN is RSVP’s way of thanking volunteers who have contributed actively to the organisation. During the event, I presented the Volunteer of the Year award to Ms May Young. An active RSVP volunteer since 2007, Ms Young is a role model for fellow volunteers with her can-do attitude and her willingness to learn and share her knowledge and experience. I am pleased to note that even in her mid-70s, Ms Young is still very active with RSVP today.

I am heartened with RSVP’s unwavering efforts to advocate senior volunteerism at a national level. When we volunteer, not only are we helping the beneficiaries or social causes, but we are also gaining from the experience personally. It brings us joy, and gives us more meaning in our lives. Volunteerism also brings people from diverse communities closer to one another, fostering a more caring, compassionate and inclusive society. This is the spirit of SG Cares – a national movement to support the goodwill of Singaporeans, and to build the belief that we should leave no one behind.

Many seniors are indeed starting to recognise this.  A 2016 survey conducted by the National Volunteer & Philanthropy Centre showed that senior volunteerism rate has been growing steadily from 13 percent in 2008 to 29 percent in 2016. Many also see the benefits of volunteering, and are making an effort to do so regularly. Among the senior volunteers, 51 percent are regulars, significantly higher than the 35 percent for our national population. The situation may have even improved further since then, with the launch of the Silver Volunteer Fund (SVF) supported by President’s Challenge. Over the last three years, President’s Challenge SVF has created 3,500 new volunteering opportunities for seniors. This includes the “Enriching Lives of Seniors” programme by RSVP, which offers seniors the opportunity to forge meaningful friendship with lonely peers at Senior Activities Centres and Residents’ Committees. I am heartened by these trends and would like to encourage more seniors to volunteer. We are also seeing new programmes, services and activities that are attractive to our senior volunteers, even tapping on technology. Our seniors can be tech savvy if they want to.

Last year, I attended the third National Senior Volunteer Month (NSVM) at ITE College Central. With over 2,000 participants many of whom in their 70s, the event was one of the largest outreach events for senior volunteers in Singapore. Till today, I am still amazed by the energy of these seniors, their eagerness to spread the joy of volunteerism and their enthusiasm to live life to the fullest.

Today, it brings me even greater pleasure to announce that RSVP will be stepping forward to become the national centre of excellence in senior volunteerism, in line with the SG Cares movement.

 As a centre of excellence, RSVP will reach out to new partners, coordinate efforts among stakeholders, and pool resources to grow senior volunteerism, particularly among the baby boomers. This generation of Singaporeans are in their mid-50s to 60s, and approaching their retirement years. They are generally well educated and IT-savvy. RSVP will tap on their diverse strengths and interests, and provide them with meaningful, enriching avenues to give back to society.

RSVP already has a suite of programmes to match seniors with volunteer opportunities. These include food distribution, befriending, and organising learning journeys. In addition, RSVP offers training, development and recognition for senior volunteers. As the national centre of excellence in senior volunteerism, RSVP will further develop its services and reach out to the baby boomers to recruit and retain volunteers so that they can be part of the larger giving ecosystem. Seniors are likely to be able to volunteer more frequently and over a longer period of time as they may have fewer duties and responsibilities at home. Senior volunteers are an important resource to tap in order to ensure volunteerism is sustainable in Singapore.

In closing, let me once again congratulate RSVP on your 20th anniversary. You have done well not only in encouraging senior volunteerism but also in changing perception about retirement and the elderly. As Singapore’s population ages, RSVP, as a centre of excellence, will play a critical role as a thought leader in engaging our seniors so they continue to make meaningful contributions to our society. I look forward to RSVP soaring to new heights as a steward in the area of senior volunteerism.  

Thank you.