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White collars trade in karaoke and clubbing to become 'red-collar' volunteers

MORE and more young professionals these days are caught up in the pursuit of money, advancement and pleasure. When they have spare time, many go shopping, clubbing, to karaoke, or just hang out.

But many of them do feel a void and ask, "Is that all?"

Increasingly they turn to volunteering - not donating money but giving off their time and talents to help others.

There's not much of a tradition of volunteering in China, but the Sichuan earthquake, the Beijing Olympic Games and the upcoming World Expo 2010 have brought out - and are still inspiring - the best in young people.

It's easy to give money, but not so easy to give time. Yet it's the time spent face-to-face with others in need that's most satisfying, or the time spent helping the community and the nation.

But people do volunteer for reasons other than a sense of social responsibility: Some want to try something different, some want to meet Mr or Mrs Right, some who have not achieved at work want to excel and be appreciated for other work.

Zhang Ning, a lawyer, found he was spending more and more time organizing volunteer events, so he resigned to become a full-time organizer. In 2007, one-third of his working time was devoted to volunteering; in 2008 it was two-thirds.

"I decided to resign because life is more meaningful and pleasurable through volunteering," he says.

Zhang first volunteered in 2006 when he helped a friend raise 200,000 yuan (US$29,260) at a charity event.

At that time, he had just returned after earning a master's degree in economics in the UK.

"I mobilized almost all of my lawyer friends to contribute," says Zhang.

"I was inspired by the outcome and saw great potential, so I paid more attention to volunteering and wondered how I could start my own organization."

Zhang and others point out there are many reasons for volunteering, and motives beyond a sense of social responsibility and desire to help others.

Some people do it to experience something different, some to find Mr or Mrs Right, some to escape office politics and some - who haven't achieved professionally - find a sense of satisfaction and success in volunteering.

"Materialism is overwhelming most of today's office workers," says Zhang. "All this pursuit of vanity makes them feel empty sometimes. Volunteering can truly enrich their lives."

Organizing volunteers, however, is more demanding. It's not hands-on the same way.

Capability, experience, contacts and the ability to network are essential.

Zhang and his partner have organized many activities involving last year's Sichuan earthquake relief, education and environmental protection.

Today, as World Expo 2010 draws near, volunteers are being recruited. Shanghai Charyou Youth Service Center, formerly, is a work station for Expo volunteers.

It is in charge of recruiting and organizing foreign volunteers and white-collar volunteers.

Zhang is looking past Expo. He wants to use the Expo to promote volunteer culture, build a city volunteer system and help achieve a harmonious society.

He is trying to organize a Red-Collar League, an umbrella group for volunteer teams from different enterprises.

Red is the color of passion and dedication. The league will share information on volunteering and projects and encourage more white collars to volunteer.

Around 20 teams have answered the call. Zhang says the willingness to help out is deeply rooted in his family and influenced him when he was a boy. His parents and relatives are all warm-hearted, he says.

"There are nine teachers in my family, including my parents, so I have been greatly influenced by our tradition of teaching, educating and helping people."

His family gave financial support to a needy student in his father's class, and the child's family. Now that former student and his family from Jiangxi Province have moved to Shanghai to work and frequently visit Zhang's family, still thanking them for their kindness.

We hope to help and to bring about change," says Shi Wenjun, chairman of the IBM Shanghai Volunteer Association. "Volunteering does take up spare time, as we can't do it during work. Personal leisure time is cut, but one's social responsibility doubles and your value triples. I will try to volunteer until the day I die."

She is deeply involved in the East China Normal University's joint program with IBM Cultural Caring. In the past year, around 170 university students from disadvantaged families have received free job training and English courses from 68 IBM volunteers.

The volunteers and students jointly worked out six different volunteer programs themed "I am a World Expo volunteer."

The programs: producing brochures to introduce Shanghai, offering classes explaining World Expos to kids, holding barter/recycling fairs to encourage environmental protection, visiting rural areas to promote Expo to farmers, and bringing mentally challenged children to the Expo.

"The young generation needs to be inspired. The more help we provide them (such as ECNU needy students), the stronger the volunteer legacy we leave them. Our work influences young people and hopefully can get them involved in volunteering, either for the Expo or other events and causes. They can be one of us one day and can do better than we do."

Shi started volunteering two years ago, first in community services for people with handicaps and schoolchildren of migrant workers. Now she's an organizer and finds that very satisfying, due to a multiplier effect.

Many people are enthusiastic volunteers at first, she says, but passion alone doesn't make someone a good volunteer. Time can dull the excitement.

"Only by 'smart' volunteering can we sustain the interest and inspire more people. Innovation matters a lot," says Shi.

The IBM Shanghai Volunteer Association, founded in 2004, has organized and carried out Young Volunteers Day for Science and Technology, Engineers' Week in eight city schools, Science and Technology Week Showcase for Senior Citizens, voluntary blood donation and first aid volunteers training.

All IBM employees are welcome in a "Donation Hub," in which everyone's time, labor and ideas are appreciated.

Shi has been inspired by Zhang Ning, who in 2007 founded, a volunteer service provider in the city. For Zhang, volunteering is "a way of life." The two became friends through volunteering. More expats are volunteering and joining River of the Heart, a charity program of the Community Center Shanghai.

One of the volunteers is IBM's Laura Wang, assistant to the vice president of operations and transformation for growth market.

"Foreigners and others can donate recyclable clothing at our drop-off locations around the city," says Wang. Every year in February, May and November there are parties to sort, catalogue and pack clothing.

Wang is working in another program, "Let the Blind See the World Through Your Eyes," in which volunteers record audio books for the visually disabled, in cooperation with the Shanghai Library. She is also interested in environmental initiatives to make the city greener. Some office worker volunteers are involved in Junior Achievement China (JAC), an international nonprofit organization that promotes business and urban responsibility.

Xu Ke, a market development manager from Dow Chemical (China) Investment Co Ltd, and Kenneth Zhao, from Dow's R&D department, have been volunteering with JAC for two years.

They take part in JAC's "Our City" school course that helps students "build" a city.

Students lay out a city, construct paper buildings, write news articles, open restaurants and other commercial outlets, and examine how banks work and why they are important.

The program will be expanded to more than 30,000 elementary school students nationwide within three years. Since last autumn, more than 70 Dow employees have taught pilot courses in 11 elementary schools in Shanghai and Beijing.

"This is my commitment to society. I take time from weekends to help the kids," says Xu. "Volunteering keeps me young at heart."

Volunteering for World Expo

Apply at, or Or call 962-010, the Expo hotline.

Applicants can visit one of 19 official Expo outlets in the city's 18 districts and Chongming County, or Expo offices in 53 universities.

For more information on volunteering for Expo, e-mail to or call 6248-5030.

Volunteering for Junior Achievement China

First register at Applicants are screened and trained for volunteer work.


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