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Fewer than a third of Hongkongers volunteered in the past year, despite a majority agreeing they should give back to the community. Photo: Sam Tsang

Donating time can be just as generous

Many Hongkongers have no problem in giving money to charity, but they are less generous with their time. While the city’s hectic lifestyle means that offering volunteer work is difficult, more can be done to facilitate those willing to do so

Hongkongers have a reputation of being generous in donating to charities. While many have no problem in giving money to some good causes, they are less generous with their time. According to a survey by data research firm Nielsen and non-profit group HandsOn Hong Kong, only 25 per cent of respondents had engaged in volunteer work during the past 12 months, even though seven in 10 said they intended to do so. The findings, which came on the eve of the International Volunteer Day last Wednesday, do not square with our image as a caring society.

The low level of participation in volunteering is perhaps unsurprising. The city’s hectic living makes work-life balance a luxury, even without sparing time to help out others in need. Currently, only some major firms and public bodies have developed corporate social responsibility policies. The lack of general support from employers means workers can only engage in volunteering on their rest day or outside office hours during the week.

If there is any comfort in the survey findings, it would be a continuous improvement in the level of participation. According to a similar study by the Agency for Volunteer Service in 2009, the percentage of those who had done volunteer work in the previous 12 months was only 18.6 per cent. The situation presented by the Volunteer Movement, a Social Welfare Department’s initiative since 1998, is even more assuring. The numbers of bodies and registered volunteers in its network have risen from 122 and 173,000 respectively to 2,999 and 1.27 million in two decades. Last year, the total number of hours of services added up to more than 26 million.

The benefits of volunteering go beyond helping the needy. It brings out the best in human nature, helps achieve self-fulfilment and fosters social cohesion and harmony. But it takes more than individual endeavour and commitment to instil a wider culture. Companies can help by adopting a more accommodating staff policy. The government and NGOs should also make volunteering more accessible to those who are available. The concerted efforts, hopefully, can nurture a more caring society.