Young Changemakers Make Meaningful Contributions through JWB Fellowship Programmes

September 24, 2020
Category: People Profile
From Left: Fong Yihui, Irene Cheong, Wisha Jamal, David Ong, Shani Samtani, Douglas MacLean, Nicholas Quek (Not in picture: Kay Lee)

University student internships are essential for lean non-profit organisations like Justice Without Borders (JWB).  For legal students who join our Legal Fellowship programme,  they play an active role in projects that include case work preparation, strategic legal research and legal training workshops.  For communications students who join our Public Relations (PR) Fellowship programme, they are exposed to strategic research, content development and management of JWB’s public relations, social media platforms and digital assets.  

These Fellowships offer an excellent opportunity for bright young adult students who have a passion for social causes to work in a regional NGO environment, and apply their knowledge and skills to projects that contribute to JWB’s overall body of work and make a tangible impact to the lives of migrant domestic workers we serve.

Every year, JWB takes in an average of 30 university students who spend between 2 to 6 months undergoing our Legal and PR Fellowships.   We collaborate with top local universities across Hong Kong, Singapore and Indonesia including Hong Kong University, Chinese University of Hong Kong, City University, University of Indonesia, Nanyang Technological University Wee Kim Wee School of Communications and Yale-NUS College. 

In this story, we feature six Singapore undergraduate PR Fellows who joined JWB’s PR Fellowship programme from late May to early July 2020 –  Wisha, Nicholas, Irene, Yi Hui, Kay and Shani.  Having joined JWB right in the middle of the Covid-19 ‘Circuit-breaker’ period, they share their most memorable experience and learnings with JWB.

Discovering JWB

When asked about what drew him to apply for the fellowship, Nicholas cited his interest in migrant worker issues.  He recognised that JWB’s initiatives filled a gap in economic justice that was not previously apparent to him. 

“The solutions I had in mind were related to advocacy and policy, but I was compelled by JWB’s ability and willingness to work within the given confines of existing legal frameworks to pursue tangible outcomes of economic justice,” Nicholas added. 

Migrant worker rights and mechanisms of safeguarding these rights have been a pertinent issue to Singapore.  This came to the fore in the face of Covid-19 with many migrant domestic workers citing fatigue and higher stress levels owing to prolonged stay-home-measures.  

“When I applied to be a PR Fellow, there was a heightened public interest in migrant worker issues,” Irene shared. Watching the migrant worker cases climb up in real time compelled her to seek out a position with JWB. 

A Day in the Life of a PR Fellow

In the world of public relations, it’s those that are most adaptable and willing to try new things that appear to thrive. 

Yi Hui came to the above realisation during her time with JWB, as she was whisked between crafting media pitches and producing corporate videos. “Doing a wide variety of tasks helped me better understand JWB’s goals and how they align with external publicity efforts,” she said. 

Yi Hui was most heartened by the positive response to JWB’s recent webinar videos that she helped produce. “When I learned that there was an increase in referrals of migrant domestic workers who need assistance, I felt that the long hours of editing had paid off.” 

Meanwhile, Kay took on the role to monitor, evaluate, and strategise JWB’s social media assets, an experience that allowed her to see the power of online networks in supporting the efforts of an NGO. 

Kay said that she thoroughly enjoyed researching, envisioning and discussing ideas for JWB’s social platforms, especially using data analytics to better understand the audience. “I learnt a lot more by working alongside Anna, a fellow JWB volunteer and PR professional, who was very willing to share her experiences in social media marketing with me and check in with me to see if there is anything I want to learn from this Fellowship, which I’m thankful for,” she added. 

An Internship Like No Other

Although most Fellows came in with some prior exposure to NGO or public relations work, few had experience working at the intersection of both areas. 

“Looking back, I really underestimated the importance of public relations and fundraising activities to NGOs like JWB, and this Fellowship changed my perspective,” Wisha shared, adding that it has been an eye-opening experience for her to see how various elements of the work come together, something she has not seen in previous internships.

Echoing Wisha’s sentiments, Shani recalled her previous internship where she was not given the opportunity to see the bigger picture of various functions. “Because of that, my understanding of public relations had been pretty hazy until the JWB fellowship, where I really benefited from being able to see what my peers have been working on through our thrice-a-week meetings,” Shani explained. 

Irene added that her learnings are augmented through JWB’s novel approach to the programme – the Fellowship is regarded as a professional engagement, with students treated as junior staff in the organization.  Compared to previous internships, Irene benefited from the skills-based project assignment and team management, which helped her track individual progress whilst having oversight of the end goal.

Adjusting to a New Covid-19 Reality

Despite initial hesitancy about work from home, PR Fellows grew to appreciate the benefits of remote working. 

Both Kay and Wisha found their frequent check-ins with David Ong, Head of PR at JWB, very helpful in terms of maintaining a sense of routine and accountability. For homebodies like Shani and Irene, working from the comfort of their homes allowed for more flexibilities. 

Almost all agreed that they would have appreciated more in-person meetings and collaboration had circumstances allowed. “One of the downsides of remote internships is that you aren’t quite able to bond with the other interns, especially those you aren’t working directly with,” Irene added.

An added bonus was being given virtual face-time with JWB’s founder and Executive Director, Douglas MacLean who regularly conducts introductory sessions on JWB’s work for all new JWB Fellows.  

“I wasn’t expecting to get to speak to Doug, JWB’s founder. It was amazing learning about the organisation in-depth with him,” shares Kay.

An Experience that Points towards the Future 

Beyond a newfound arsenal of skills and industry knowledge, PR Fellows also developed personal growth as workers and changemakers. 

Kay commented that a supportive company culture is a key consideration in her search for a future employer. “I really appreciated not being micromanaged in any way by JWB staff — rather I was given the freedom to accomplish goals in my own way,” Kay shared. “This gave me lots of room to exercise creativity, which is key in the world of PR.” 

For Nicholas, working with JWB has strengthened his desire to pursue social justice to serve the marginalised in Singapore. He hopes to explore policy as an avenue for change in areas where Singapore could improve on. 

Similarly, Shani plans to return to her home country, the Philippines, upon completing her tuition grant bond in Singapore. She hopes to contribute to the country’s widening access to affordable housing, potable water, and efficient public transportation. 

Highlighting how her time with JWB reignited an inner sense of hope that has been “fading” for a long time, Shani said, 

“the sheer magnitude of the issues we are faced with today has made even the smallest of victories appear unattainable, but working at JWB has served as a timely reminder that systemic change is indeed possible and that we just need to be patient along the way.”