Serving Others Gives Her Purpose

As we commemorate International Women’s Day, we cast the spotlight on four women who have been working with the Singapore Red Cross (SRC). Charis Chan, 35, began her journey with the SRC as an Executive with the International Services department in 2012. Her team was involved in disaster response, recovery efforts, international collaboration, and capacity building. Since then, she has risen through the ranks to become SRC's Assistant Secretary-General, Operations. In this role, she manages SRC's humanitarian programmes and operations in the local community to ensure they operate efficiently and effectively. This includes programmes that uplift lives and enhance community resilience. Charis finds her work with the SRC meaningful and fulfilling, and she is hopeful that more people will aspire to do the same.

Like many people, Charis Chan often associated the SRC with “first aid,” “marching,” and “blood donation.” As Charis was in the Girls' Brigade in her youth, her limited interaction with SRC led her to believe that was all it was.

 While pursuing her tertiary education at Peking University in Beijing, China, she gained exposure to charity work through her roommate, who was volunteering for the AIDS community. Inspired, Charis applied for a position as an Executive with the Singapore Red Cross' (SRC) International Services department upon her graduation from university and her return to Singapore in 2012.

“I wanted to do something meaningful after my graduation. I felt that making a positive difference in a non-profit organisation was more important than earning a high salary in a corporate career,” she said.

She aced the interview and embarked on her successful and illustrious career with the SRC in 2012, where she has been working for 11 years. Over the years, she has learned that the SRC engages in humanitarian work beyond first aid, marching, and blood donation. It has several services and programmes that benefit the local and international communities as well.

Responding to Disasters, Building Capacity

As a member of the International Services department, Charis was part of the team responsible for managing disaster response overseas, which includes relief distribution, medical aid, psychosocial support, water and sanitation, and Restoring Family Links. In addition to disaster response, the department also focuses on recovery efforts, international collaboration, and capacity building. In recent years, the International Services Department has established a disaster surveillance team.

"Disasters have become increasingly complex and challenging to manage. Climate change has exacerbated the severity and magnitude of disasters. The Singapore Red Cross leverages global interconnectivity to extend aid to people affected by disasters overseas," Charis said.

Capacity building is another focal point of the department, aside from responding to disasters. Charis cited the 'Better Together' forum that the Singapore Red Cross organised in 2019.

"The forum provided a platform for the Red Cross and Red Crescent National Societies in the Southeast Asia region to collaborate, share information, and learn from each other to develop more efficient and robust systems and frameworks to deal with disasters. That empowers communities to be better and stronger together, which will be beneficial in the long term," she said.

Exposing Gaps, Raising Awareness of Global Issues

The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on individuals and organisations alike since it struck in 2019. The outbreak has exposed gaps in the community, which the SRC has recognised. To better manage and deal with future pandemics, the SRC established the Centre of Excellence for Pandemic Preparedness, which plans humanitarian and relief responses and proposes recommendations for business continuity plans in preparation for future pandemics.

"One of the positive outcomes of this unfortunate COVID-19 pandemic is that it has exposed gaps in the community. Now, there is heightened awareness and exposure to global issues that were not visible previously," she said.

However, one organisation alone cannot achieve objectives in silos. It requires the support of employees, volunteers, donors, organisations, and partners. Indeed, establishing partnerships with organisations is key to overcoming stumbling blocks and advancing SRC's various causes.

"Several large organisations stepped in to lend their support amid the COVID-19 pandemic. By leveraging their reputation, brand name, and resources, we could reach out to help those in need. We are thankful and appreciative of their strong support," Charis said.

Enhancing Resilience, Uplifting Lives 

In addition to her work with the International Services department, Charis oversees and manages the Singapore Red Cross' humanitarian programmes and operations in the local community, ensuring they operate efficiently and effectively. She was promoted to the position of Assistant Secretary General, Operations in March 2023.

"The SRC has launched a new local programme called '1,000 Responders for Resilience', which offers a four-day training course for the public to learn Standard First Aid and Psychological First Aid. This programme is part of our efforts to enhance community resilience. In addition to this training, we are expanding our local humanitarian programmes to uplift the lives of the elderly, families and children in need, and persons with disabilities," Charis explained.

Overcoming the Challenges

Undeniably, every career, regardless of profession, will have its hiccups along the way. Charis shared her experiences, citing the adage that "when it rains, it pours". She explained that if a problem persists, it will only lead to more problems.

Locally, despite Singapore's affluence, there are still vulnerable people in our midst who require assistance. These include skipped-generation or single-parent families, seniors and persons with disabilities. Besides assisting these individuals through its humanitarian programmes, SRC has been engaging in publicity efforts to enhance the visibility of these humanitarian services to shore up voluntary, monetary, and corporate support.

Passion, Compassion, Neutrality & Voluntary Service

Charis believes that passion and compassion, core values of the Singapore Red Cross, are key attributes for people to thrive in this non-profit sector.

"In a small and affluent country like Singapore, one's remuneration is typically based on one's educational qualifications, skill sets, and experience. With passion, a person will be motivated to stay within the organisation and continue to do good. My passion for serving the vulnerable outweighs what other organisations can offer," says Charis.

She believes that the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement is special because of the Fundamental Principles it upholds. Among the Fundamental Principles of the Red Cross Movement, neutrality and voluntary service resonate most with her.

"We embrace neutrality; we provide aid to anyone in need regardless of their race, language, and religion. As a charitable organisation, the SRC relies heavily on volunteers to support its programs and deliver aid to those in need, while enhancing community resilience locally and beyond our shores," she said.

Finding a Sense of Fulfilment 

It has been 11 years since Charis started working with the SRC, and she has no regrets.

"I am glad to be working at the SRC, a non-profit organisation where everyone works joyfully together for a common cause, without any politics involved. I am fortunate to be working in a career that serves others. It fills my heart with purpose and gives me a sense of fulfilment," said Charis.

As part of the management team, one of her proudest moments is bringing new people on board who are proud of their jobs and take ownership of the programmes.

"It is inspiring to see that the entire team feels the sense of fulfilment, not just me. It has a positive multiplier effect," she said.

By Serena Ng, Volunteer
Copyedited by Nitisha Venkatachari, Volunteer

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