Staying Young At Heart

Soh Yi Da talks about the affinity he has felt for SAFRA since he was a youth, and his role now in engaging with NSmen from the younger end of the spectrum.

By Yong Shu Chiang        15 February 2022

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 and volunteer is Soh Yi Da, Vice President, Investor Relations, at United Overseas Bank Limited (UOB), who chairs the SAFRA Youth Network Committee (SYNC) and a member of the SAFRA Toa Payoh Executive Committee (ExCo). We find out what drives him to help keep SAFRA relevant in engaging with younger NSmen and addressing their social, lifestyle and learning needs.

Q: You were President of the Students Union at the National University of Singapore (NUS) and a member of the National University of Singapore Society (NUSS) Management Committee. How did those experiences help you in your current roles with SAFRA?

Yi Da: Having prior experience in organising large-scale events means that I’m not daunted doing the same at SAFRA. I see my current roles as an extension of my journey where I continue in my mission to bring people, sometimes from diverse backgrounds, together. This is something that really drives me.

To be an effective volunteer, you have to be able to harmonise ideas and marshall resources. From being involved in community work from a young age, I have built up a wide and useful network of partners, friends and resources to tap on. With SAFRA, I also know that my work as a “connector” brings me joy and can have quite a huge impact. The work is challenging but, equally, it can be very rewarding.

Q: How do you see your roles at SYNC and the SAFRA Toa Payoh ExCo?

Yi Da: The mandate of SYNC is to engage young NSmen – we’re talking about a spectrum including pre-enlistees as young as 17 up to 35 years old – and to forge a stronger and more cohesive NSmen community. Our strategy is to engage youths from three broad angles: entrepreneurship, entertainment, and sports and wellness.

For this role, we need to be familiar with the youth landscape. As I am not old but older, turning 33 this year, it’s more important for me to remain young at heart, to try to think and feel like a younger person and to know the trends of what is relevant to this person.

For SAFRA Toa Payoh, I am focused on events and engagement with members and their friends and family. SAFRA clubs must move with the times and constantly come up with innovative programmes to engage changing demographics.

We are constantly mooting new ideas to make the clubhouse an attractive place for members to call their “second home”.

Q: What are some of the top concerns of young NSmen that you consider?

Yi Da: With my background in banking, I’ve been paying attention to concerns such as personal finance and investing, work-life balance, as well as lifestyle needs, entertainment, and sports and wellness for young NSmen.

Together with our team, we piloted the Investment Management 101 series online, which was very well received, and we hope to be able to organise physical networking sessions for SAFRA members to exchange ideas about personal finance and investing in the future, when Covid-19 restrictions can be eased.

We have also held many eSports tournaments to engage with and encourage many of the younger NSmen. It is important for us at SAFRA to remain relevant to NSmen and to address the evolving needs of our members.

Q: What is SYNC’s focus for the next 5 years?

Yi Da: For the upcoming five years, SYNC’s focus would be to forge a stronger NSmen community by connecting younger NSmen and deepening engagement with them along the following three pillars:
  • Personal finance and entrepreneurship: Empowering NSmen with knowledge to better manage their personal finances; supporting them with their enterprise ventures while promoting thought leadership in sustainability
  • Lifestyle entertainment: Creating excitement for NSmen by developing and curating lifestyle events and entertainment content
  • Sports and wellness: Engaging NSmen by organising competitive sporting events and convening eSports tournaments

Q: What have been some challenges in engaging NSmen and SAFRA members, especially during the pandemic?

Yi Da: Simply put, our vision is to build a strong community of young NSmen and our mission is to bring NSmen together.

As a volunteer, it has been most rewarding and satisfying to see the smiles on people’s faces when they participate in our events. And I derive a simple joy in bringing people together and building a more cohesive community.

I am a firm believer in quality interaction and, for me, nothing beats face-to-face engagement. The biggest challenge with the pandemic is that we have restrictions in place and many of our plans for such engagement were upended.

It has, nonetheless, been a good opportunity for us to be creative and innovative in challenging times. We’ve had to pivot and move our engagement online.

As a volunteer, it is rewarding and satisfying to see the smiles on people’s faces when they participate in our events. And I derive a simple joy in bringing people together and building a more cohesive community.

Q: What prompted you to volunteer with SAFRA when you were still in university?

Yi Da: I started volunteering with SYNC in October 2011, when I was 22 and still studying at NUS. I was actively involved in the youth sector and was subsequently invited to join as a member of SYNC, and became inspired by the energy and dedication of the volunteers at SYNC.

Q: When did you first become acquainted with SAFRA?

Yi Da: Before I started volunteering in my 20s, I had fond memories of SAFRA earlier in my life where I enjoyed swimming at the clubhouses and celebrating my birthdays at NSRCC.

After I took up shooting as my co-curricular activity during secondary school, something I continued with until junior college, I would train regularly at the SAFRA Yishun Air Weapons Range, sometimes as much as six or seven times a week. The friendships forged and memories made with fellow shooters at the range over the years are among my most cherished.

When I was offered SAFRA membership during my basic military training phase, I signed up without hesitation. This affinity and emotional resonance I had with SAFRA then made it meaningful for me to volunteer and contribute to SAFRA later on.

Q: Have you ever had concerns about the time commitment needed to volunteer with SAFRA, and the balance you had to strike with your work and life?

Yi Da: I haven’t had any concerns, because it is truly something I enjoy doing. You can say that volunteering is like a hobby to me. I’m somebody who likes to fill my calendar to the brim, and I like to keep occupied.

My family and friends have also been very supportive, to the point that they have also joined in events organised by SYNC.

Their support has encouraged me to continue on this course of volunteering. For me, I try to just enjoy this journey, enjoy the camaraderie with my fellow volunteers, the friends I have made over the years, and enjoy brainstorming and curating ideas, and translating them into action.

Q: You have received the Meritorious Service Bronze Award and the 5-year Long Service Award from SAFRA – what does this recognition mean to you?

Yi Da: I see this recognition as a tribute to the great teamwork and camaraderie that I have had together with my fellow volunteers. This also includes the wonderful staff we have at SAFRA. It shows that SAFRA values and appreciates its people and the time that volunteers put in to contribute to the community.

This is also an affirmation of my commitment to serve and inspires me to contribute even more.

Q: Do you have any advice for others who may also wish to volunteer?

Yi Da: I would say that SAFRA, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, offers a national platform where volunteers can translate our innovative ideas into action, to contribute in serving fellow NSmen and their loved ones.

I also believe that the more you give, the more you receive. What I mean is, the more one contributes, the more one will get in return in terms of experience, joy and satisfaction.

Follow the SAFRA Youth Network on Facebook, or learn more about the SAFRA Entrepreneurs’ Club.

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Hair and make-up: Chris Siow