Giving Back As A Volunteer

As part of our Men of SAFRA series, Terence Quek highlights how anyone, as individuals or companies, can support National Service in ways big and small.

By Yong Shu Chiang      26 October 2021

In our Men of SAFRA series, we shine the spotlight on the leaders of SAFRA who have also made outstanding contributions to the community. One such leader is LTC (NS) Terence Quek PBM, BBM, member of the SAFRA Management Committee. We find out what drives him to help keep SAFRA relevant in supporting NSmen and their needs, particularly in a post-pandemic world.

Q: When people ask you why you continue to support National Service as a volunteer, instead of purely focusing on your own career and leisure, what is your answer to them?

Terence Quek (far right) with participants at the Gift for a Reason event in 2019.

Terence: Most people who come to know of my volunteering commitments tell me they are amazed and puzzled at the amount of volunteering commitments I have.

To be honest, I don’t view what I do as anything special. I do what I do because I believe in the causes, and because I believe I have the ability to make a difference. When I’m able to channel my time and energy into something I believe in, and work with people who are smarter, wiser and more experienced than me, solving challenges that are bigger than my own life’s challenges, I think it is both fulfilling and fun.

I am also lucky to have people who are supportive of what I do, whether at work, home or in the community. In most organisations I work at or volunteer with, there is a strong team of staff and volunteers. Working with teams allows me to multiply my efforts and achieve more.

Q: As an NSman, did you ever expect your involvement with NS to extend to the present day, as long as it has done?

Terence: Before I became an NSman, I served a 13-year contract as a naval combat officer with the Republic of Singapore Navy. During my time as a regular, I was given numerous opportunities, including two awards – one to train at the prestigious Britannia Royal Naval College, UK, and the other to read a degree in psychology at the University of Sheffield, UK.

For all the opportunities I have received from the Navy, I feel a deep sense of gratitude, and have always sought to give back to the Navy in as many ways possible. That’s why I readily accepted the Navy’s invitation to attend the SAF Command and Staff Course (National Service) at Goh Keng Swee Command & Staff College and volunteered as an NSman to be part of the Navy’s team sent to Bahrain to helm the Combined Task Force as part of the international coalition to combat piracy at the Gulf of Aden.

Similarly, I see my volunteering with SAFRA as another way for me to give back to the Navy, to MINDEF, to National Service, and to the bigger cause of defending Singapore.

 Q: How do you retain your enthusiasm and endurance for the challenges and tasks at hand in these various roles?

Terence Quek (first from left) with winners of SAFRA Lil’ Stars 2019 at SAFRA Toa Payoh.

Terence: Knowing the purpose and the big picture helps. I always think back to the big picture and remind myself that whatever I am doing is for the bigger cause of defending Singapore and our everyday way of life. I am convinced that the small part I play, while insignificant on its own, adds to the collective effort.

Having clarity is also key. While I find volunteering fun and fulfilling, I am fully aware that it is still “work”. It is a service. Doing service requires time, energy, hard work and commitment. Doing service also means that there will be times when things don’t go well, or when there are tough situations. Being clear allows me to focus on what I need to do, and give my 100%, without having unrealistic or unfair expectations, or getting drained by unnecessary thoughts or emotions.

I’ve been blessed to have a strong and supportive social system – whether in life, at work, or when I’m volunteering. I’ve had many role models to learn from, especially my mum. Before she passed away four years ago due to cancer, she was an active volunteer. Almost every other weekend, she would be out doing something for the community, such as singing at old folks’ homes or at charity dinners. I’ve also learnt from other volunteers, especially senior volunteers. They have set great examples and modelled the way.

Q: Should more people approach NS, as they now do with education and career development, as a matter of lifelong commitment and lifelong learning, as you do?

Terence: While I am convinced that National Service is important and hope that Singaporeans commit to supporting it throughout their lives, I don’t think it’s fair for me to prescribe how anyone should approach it; simply because everyone’s life journey, experience, priorities and needs are different, and may also change depending on their life stage.

I do, however, hope that Singaporeans, at some point in their life, take a moment to see the big picture, make a connection between National Service to all of us being able to enjoy our everyday way of life. And in so doing, make a decision to take positive action to give back, advocate, or support National Service.

Q: What drives you to support NS as you have?

Speaking to media at the SAFRA Punggol Groundbreaking Ceremony.

Ever since I was young, I’ve been ingrained with the belief that I must not take what I have been given for granted, to 饮水思源 (to not forget the source of the water from which I drink) and 取之社会 用之社会 (to give back to the community what has been received).

I’ve benefited from my time with the Navy, from National Service. I’m able to enjoy my way of life in Singapore – to live, work and play in a peaceful Singapore – all because we have a credible defence force so we are able to defend our home. I feel it is a sense of moral obligation that I give back and support National Service in any way I can.

 Q: What are some of the exciting new developments in the works at SAFRA?

Terence: SAFRA is constantly evolving to meet the changing needs of NSmen, SAFRA members and their families. I’m privileged to be part of the working group that oversaw the review of SAFRA’s strategies over the years and to make recommendations for strategic programmes to embark on over the next few years. More details will be shared by SAFRA in due time, but I for one, can share that we have exciting plans for 2022, which is the year we will be commemorating 50 years of SAFRA. So do look out for them!

Q: Could you share how the Covid-19 pandemic has altered some of the initiatives you’ve overseen at SAFRA or other NS-supporting platforms?

Terence Quek (front row, second from left) with winners of SAFRA Photographer of the Year 2020.

Terence: At the Clubhouses, the most evident impact is to ground operations. The staff on the ground had to adapt to frequent changes to ensure the safety of club patrons. With the various restrictions in place across the nation, large gatherings and mass participation activities cannot be held in-person.

Yet, we cannot completely stop our engagement of NSmen and SAFRA members and their families. In this aspect, SAFRA has done an amazing job converting some of the signature programmes to online or hybrid versions, such as SAFRA Toa Payoh’s “SAFRA Lil’ Stars” talent competition for kids – where we successfully took this yearly in-person event to Facebook LIVE and still received good participation by SAFRA members and their families.

If anything, I think the pandemic has demonstrated SAFRA’s commitment to its mission to engage NSmen, SAFRA members and their families, and shown the resilience and unity of its staff and volunteers in overcoming challenges brought about by the necessary Covid-19 restrictions or frequent changes to the operating climate.

Q: As a business leader, what professional advice would you give to NSmen who are just starting out in their career and NSmen who are leaders in their work organisation?

Terence: After I left the Navy, I co-founded a consultancy which I later led through a merger and assumed the role of CEO, Emergenetics APAC*. I recently made an exit from the business after a successful acquisition by my US partner and have since relinquished my role as CEO.

Looking back, I’m grateful for the lessons, principles and philosophies about leadership, strategic thinking and professionalism that I had learnt from my days in the Navy and through National Service, which I had applied to the way I ran my business, formed my team, and served my customers.

I’m happy to share something I learnt from my former Navy commander in the hope it would be useful to someone out there. He taught: “Take Charge, Look Ahead, Think Safety”. This adage guided me a lot, especially when I’m about to embark on something new.

Q: As an employer, what are some of the advantages that you’ve observed in hiring NSmen?

Terence: As an employer, especially at an SME, every hire is important. You want someone who is not only competent, but has the right kind of values, attitude and character.

For individuals who are eligible for National Service, how they respond to this call of duty says a lot about their character and attitude towards life and work. In the same vein, how an NSman continues to approach his National Service duties beyond the two years of full-time national service says a great deal about the individual – regardless of what his role was in the two years.

A candidate who has demonstrated his commitment in National Service, to me, also displays the capacity to take on challenges, and has the ability to harmonise the different demands in life, such as work, personal and family commitments, and community, and to make it all work.

Several years ago, my company hired an NSman. Incidentally, I got to know him through volunteering at SAFRA, and was able to observe him through working together in the Executive Committee where I was the Chairman. When the opportunity came up, I sent his CV to my team. The hiring panel was impressed not only by his work experience, but also by his commitment to National Service and also his volunteering with SAFRA. Today, he has risen up the ranks to take on a senior leadership position in the company.

Q: You’ve received the PBM and now the BBM (Bintang Bakti Masyarakat or Public Service Star) – what are your thoughts on getting such accolades in recognition of your public service?

Terence Quek receiving the SAF NSman of the Year Award from the Minister for Defence Mr Ng Eng Hen in July 2018.

Terence: I was pleasantly surprised and feel grateful towards MINDEF and SAFRA for nominating me for the award and for giving me so many opportunities to continue serving the National Service cause in various capacities. While winning any award is not why I volunteer, I treasure this unexpected award and view it as a pat on my back and an encouragement for me to do more.

I owe a debt of gratitude to so many staff and volunteers at SAFRA whom I had the opportunity to work alongside over the years. This award would not have been possible if not for them.

*Emergenetics APAC is accredited with NS Mark (Gold) for the company’s exemplary support towards NS.

This article is brought to you by SAFRA and NSD.

Featured image: Victor Chick, SAFRA Photographic Club. All other photos courtesy of Terence Quek.


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