#edGY: Bringing back Malaysia’s gotong-royong spirit

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WHEN Azlan Rudy Malik was younger, he didn’t quite understand what volunteering was about. He thought it was about doing something for other people and getting a token in exchange.

But a few years ago, Rudy, as he is commonly known, had his first real taste of volunteerism when he signed up for a community clean-up programme.

“I saw the effort people put in. People didn’t care about themselves… You will feel good but the feel-good factor will come after you achieve something. Money can’t buy this. You wouldn’t know until you try it,” he says.

Rudy is now the chief operating officer of 1Malaysia For Youth (iM4U), a government-funded initiative with an enviable RM100 million allocation to promote the spirit of volunteerism among Malaysian youth.

“The name iM4U has stuck with us. It means ‘I am here for you’. It means a lot,” he says.

The brainchild of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, iM4U’s mandate is to organise volunteer events around the country by tapping into its network and leveraging its outreach centres.

It administers the RM100 million DRE1M fund that disperses financial assistance to groups or projects for volunteer-driven activities.

iM4U also has a radio station that plays local and international songs and disseminates messages about unity and volunteerism. The radio station, on 107.9 FM for Klang Valley listeners, is run on a social enterprise model intended to generate revenue to be self-sustaining.

According to Rudy, iM4U has carried out 3,000 volunteer events nationwide since it began operations in July 2012. It is planning to hold a further 1,500 events next year.

Some of its previous projects include the Public Art Movement, War on Dengue, ReachOut Tour, Volunteer Malaysia and Outreach Centre activities. It plans to organise similar events in years to come.

So far, RM7 million has been used to activate and organise various initiatives, says Rudy. He explains that for each activity, the funds are not disbursed in any specific amount but tend to be low and must be based on the scope and needs of the activity.

On average, an event recruits 30 volunteers, and bigger-scale activities may involve 100 to 200.  

“Volunteer events do not cost much. We will give about RM5,000 for logistics, food and tools. Like, sometimes for gotong-royong activities, we need cangkul, and if it’s a beautification campaign, we buy paint and brushes.

“Some activities will require more money, maybe around RM10,000, but we will review it first,” he says.

Rudy, who is the drummer for local band Pop Shuvit, first joined iM4U as its director of corporate services and was promoted to his present role in May.

As for the DRE1M fund, Rudy says iM4U receives about 200 applications a month and has approved about 60, which got about RM5,000 each.

There is a list of requirements for those wanting funding, but generally, it is open to individuals, non-profit groups, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and uniformed bodies.

“After two years, we realised that in the first year, we saw so many low-hanging fruits. It’s time for us to focus on activities that have a big impact. I don’t want it to become a quantity-over-quality matter,” says Rudy.

The hurdles in the way

Bearing the 1Malaysia brand name can be both a boon and a bane for iM4U. Like other 1Malaysia-branded initiatives, there is the perception that this is linked to a political agenda or mission.

When asked about it, Rudy shrugs it off. “We don’t delve into politics. Sometimes I do ignore it, but I can’t avoid [the fact] that some people will often associate us [with politics]. When you step into the office, you don’t see any political overtones,” he says.

iM4U tries to combat that assumption by focusing on carrying out activities that can benefit everyone, regardless of their skin tones and religious and political beliefs, he says.

“My mission is to always tell our volunteers to come and see what we are really doing and you can tell if we are doing any propaganda. We haven’t done any political campaign or anything.

“It’s something that I think the rakyat need to see. Of course, we have that 1Malaysia name, [but] I believe we can achieve something through our content, which is more important,” Rudy says.

The other hurdle iM4U faces is getting people out of their comfort zones and offer a hand through volunteering. The main challenge, he finds, is changing the mindset of people, especially the older generation.

He says it was not difficult getting youth to volunteer, but persuading the older generation to allow their children to engage in social causes was a challenge.

“We notice that the older generation tend to hold the younger generation back. They say, ‘If you join this, it’s just a flash in the pan.’ It’s very demotivating for some, so we keep pushing for volunteerism to be in the youth’s hearts.

“We respect their thoughts, but give some time for the youth to do volunteer work … They need to embed this kind of spirit in them,” Rudy says.

This year, iM4U’s biggest programme was the Volunteer Malaysia event on Dec 6 in conjunction with International Volunteer Day on Dec 5. It is a biannual event that mobilises volunteers from every state to take part in three different activities at designated locations.

Growing iM4U’s strength

iM4U is slowly becoming one of the nation’s biggest non-profit organisations, with over

1.2 million registered volunteers who are between 18 and 40 years old. 1Malaysia For Youth’s Facebook page has over 550,000 followers.

Rudy shares that the volunteer profile is mostly young Malaysians, with slightly more women involved. The organisation, however, does not keep data based on volunteers’ racial groups.

He believes that youth are opening up to the idea of volunteering but has observed a subtle urban-rural divide.

“What we notice, with the rural crowd, they will be the ones to put their hands up first. With the urban crowd, they are more influenced by the social media and they … think twice or thrice before participating. However, we have seen an increase in the number of people volunteering in the past two years,” he says.

The growth is reflected in iM4U’s staff strength, which has risen from 21 in its early days to over 50 now.

In the longer term, Rudy wants iM4U to be recognised as a global and successful non-profit organisation.

To achieve that, there are several key areas that it needs to look into, he says. iM4U needs to work on mobilising all its volunteers and organise more activities in Sabah and Sarawak. It also needs to ramp up social media engagement and engage and work together with more corporate entities, established NGOs and ministries.

“If we really focus on these things, we should be achieving our ambition soon,” he says.

iM4U has also opened five outreach centres overseas to target Malaysian students in Japan, China, Britain, the US and Indonesia.

“The most active has been the one in New York. They have done close to seven activities in one year and they are growing. They already have volunteer camps and they really do amazing activities.

“We want to focus on going international because there is a lot of value there. The students always tell us that they want to do activities but no one is funding them,” Rudy says.

This article first appeared in #edGY, The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on December 8 - 14, 2014.