Bridging Communities Together: Q&A with Joanna Portilla, PBM, Co-Founder of The Collective Effort

Joanna Portilla, PBM (Pingat Bakti Masyarakat), is the Chairman of the People’s Association Women’s Integration Network Council (WINC) and the Honorary Secretary of the Singapore Council of Women’s Organisations (SCWO). In addition, she also sits in other councils and committees and having served in the grassroots organisations for more than 20 years.

She is a dedicated and passionate volunteer who has demonstrated strong leadership capabilities in the many initiatives and projects she had undertaken. For her dedication to community service, Joanna was conferred the National Day Public Service Medal (Pingat Bakti Masyarakat) by the President of Singapore in 2011.

The effort of one is limited, but a group of passionate, like-minded people contributing to a common cause and desiring to make a positive impact in this world can create big results.

Q: Tell us about more about ‘50 Experiences for 500 Kids’…

A: The “50 Experiences for 500 Kids” project aims to create and provide 50 meaningful and educational outings annually for 500 children from the Financial Assistance Schemes (FAS) by working with the schools. Experiences could be learning an art and craft skill or perhaps challenging the kids in self-development and self-actualisation in activities beyond the classroom.

Q: What was the inspiration behind The Collective Effort?

A: We hope to serve as a bridge between those who need help and those who have the ability and means to help, so as to successfully and efficiently create positive changes in the community for a long time. The effort of one is limited, but a group of passionate, like-minded people contributing to a common cause and desiring to make a positive impact in this world can create big results.

Q: How can the community contribute to the uplift vulnerable or financially challenged through The Collective Effort?

A: We hope that more people would come together to support us through the sponsor-a-project or sponsor-a-kid project so that we can organise more educational and fun outings for the children. Individuals may support through the “Sponsor-a-kid” programme, or purchase our products or services from our online store.

As a social enterprise, The Collective Effort also runs learning journeys, courses and workshops for kindergarten and primary school children. We provide job opportunities for mums who need flexible working hours to support their families. So do support our cause to help women and their families.

Q: What are some the most memorable programmes/outings you’ve organised?

A: I would say that the outings to rock-climbing and to iFly have been most memorable because it helped the children overcome their fears and has helped to push them beyond their own expectations – to conquer the fears the children had initially.

While on the rock-climbing experience, many were fearful, apprehensive and were very worried made them reluctant try. Through encouragement of their peers, trainers and teachers, they gave it go and when they achieved their goal, that is reaching to the top, you could see their smiles of relieve that later became sense of pride. They felt a sense of achievement having conquered their fear of heights and they now believe nothing is impossible and have become more confident.

Likewise, another group of children were brought to iFly. Many were unsure if they wanted to try because they cannot imagine how a man can fly. After going through the briefing and training, they soon had a better idea and braved themselves to go for it.

In both of the above experiences, we were delighted to learn that they were very appreciative of this opportunity to try out new adventures which they never thought they would have a chance to. We could tell that they have become more motivated and garnered greater confidence through the activities.

I feel that people should never think that their effort is too small to make a difference. Everyone is an expert in their own area. If you have the means to contribute money, do so. If you have the expertise to teach, step forward to volunteer your time and skills.

Q: What were the challenges you faced starting The Collective Effort and how did you overcome the challenges?

A: I have always wanted to start my own social enterprise or perhaps a charity to continue to help others in need especially women and children. I knew I could not do this alone and hence it took me quite a while to finally find a friend who shares the same vision, interest and passion as I do. I would say that the greatest challenge I have is fund-raising.

Not that I do not have the experience in fund-raising but it’s different when you are fund-raising for a project which you have an interest in. I have always and regularly fund-raised for others, both locally and for overseas, but now that I have to fund-raise for my own project to kickstart the “50 Experiences for 500 Kids”programme, I found it challenging. What’s more there are many other fund-raising initiatives out there and hence it takes more time and effort to explain to people what we do and what we hope to achieve.

We decided to do video to explain what the project is all about and how people can make a difference in the community by chipping in to support us. We believe with everyone’s collective effort, we can do so much more.

Q: From your observation, what can the community do more to create a meaningful impact in our society?

A: I feel that people should never think that their effort is too small to make a difference. Everyone is an expert in their own area. If you have the means to contribute money, do so. If you have the expertise to teach, step forward to volunteer your time and skills. Or you can simply share all the good initiatives, projects and programmes that are already in place and connecting people together. If everyone keep a look out for one another, especially Singapore being such a small country, each of us can create meaningful impact in their own little ways. We are all symbiotic beings, and the relationships we have with each other are connected in one way or another. Therefore, everyone’s little contribution will add up to create a great impact on society and it will ensure that no one will be left behind.

Q: Who are you thankful for your success?

A: I am very thankful for the very strong family support, especially to my husband who gave me his full blessings to continue my social work in helping the people in the community. Also to my parents who are often there to help me out when I had to juggle my busy schedule, without which I would not have been able to cope. And of course my son Max, who tags along with me from time to time to my events. This also enables him to understand the work I do and I hope that he will also follow in my footsteps, to volunteer his time and expertise too.

Q: What motivates you personally?

A: I am a go-getter. I always feel a need to do more and do better and so this character keeps me going. One experience builds upon another and I always feel being on the ground allows me to see many problems and issues people are facing. Whenever I have executed a successful project,  I feel my adrenaline shoot up, and it pumps me up to keep thinking of ways to create more avenues that can benefit others. Seeing how a programme or project has benefitted the beneficiaries makes me really happy and the cycle continues where I feel re-charged to keep going.

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This article was written by the LadyBoss team. Want to be a contributor? Drop us an email at editor@ladyboss.asia

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