Joining an NGO in Malaysia 101

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Eric Thoo provides a step-by-step guide on how to choose and get involved in an interest group that works on a cause you are passionate about.

NGO means non-governmental organisation. Such groups have been in Malaysia for a long time.

The reason you don’t notice them is the same reason you don’t notice a chair. It is all cosy and dozy when the chair is functioning properly. If the chair breaks a leg, however, that is when you are reminded (painfully) of its presence.

Each NGO may function differently, but they usually have a core interest in a specific field. So you can join an NGO whether you are looking to tackle an issue or just widening your circle.

NGOs have their own specific goal.

The following article is my personal take on how to join an NGO. Obviously, not all options are covered. So comment below if you have more suggestions!

Getting started

Joining an NGO means you volunteer or work full-time for them. The methods below apply either way. Now let’s dive into this.

So what is your superpower?

The first thing to do is very simple. Ask yourself a question: what is my area of interest?

One quick way to know is to just be mindful of yourself. Notice what kind of news you pay most attention to. And observe what world issues usually cause an emotional response in you.

Do you feel sad about animal abuse? Or perhaps you have had a personal experience of harassment just because you are a woman?

Ultimately, do you want to be part of the solution to improve the situation?

Quick tip:

You don’t have to consider your area of expertise unless you plan to work full-time for an NGO. Usually, NGOs expect volunteers to start from zero. So, chill!

The good old website

You can only be sure of something after testing it. So, no worries even if you are not entirely sure about your interest.

Start by looking for the relevant NGO websites.

Google it

Search using this format: [Interest]  NGO  [Area]

I googled:

women NGO penang

The search result is good. It shows Women’s Centre for Change and WAO Penang. There is also Penang Women’s Development Corporation further down the search results.

If you are interested in animal welfare issues and you are available to volunteer in Kuala Lumpur, then you should google:

animals NGO Kuala Lumpur

I hope I am not insulting your intelligence here.

Stalk the NGO like how you follow someone on Instagram and Facebook

Now pick an NGO of your choice from the search result and click the link to its website.

Look for the “About us” page

The first thing you should do is confirm they are the type of NGO you are looking for. Just read the About Us section to figure this out. (Believe it or not, some NGO websites do not even have an About Us section. I would stay away. It could mean they are not well organised.)

Next, you will want to assess if the NGO is still active. Check out the photos and posts on their website or social media pages.

Just type the organidation’s name in the search bar in any social media.
It is more likely the organisation is still active if their photos and articles are posted in recent years.

Quick tip:

Use the photos to check out the members. This is useful for newcomers who are more comfortable with people from the same age group.

Dare to take the first step

If you are happy with what you see, just drop them an email!

Look for the “Contact us” page in their website or social media. Most NGO websites have their email address in their “Contact us” page. So just drop them an email! My email template looks something like this:

Dear [NGO]:

I came across your website. I am interested [perhaps add why you are interested] and wish to volunteer for your organisation.

I currently reside in [the area where you live]. Please let me know if you need more details.

Looking forward to hearing from you.

Regards,
[Your name]

I know many of us are shy. But don’t worry too much; people in NGOs are usually friendly!

Personal experience:

I really like an article that I came across by chance on social media. So I googled the author for his website. I sent him an email; he agreed to meet me; I joined the NGO and we have been friends ever since. He is Anil Netto from Aliran.

Click here to learn more about Aliran’s fight for social justice.

Websites are not your only source of information, of course. The next option is something called The Real World.

Social events

Pay attention to the social events happening in your town. NGOs and local authorities sometimes have events to connect them to the public.

The carnivals!

Look out for events on social media or WhatsApp.

For instance, the Penang Green Carnival is an annual event in Penang.

Carnivals such as the Penang Green Carnival are where a lot of NGOs, community science working groups and private corporations have their work on exhibition.

Fancy the latest green technology? They have a live demonstration.  Interested in primate study? Got you covered too. I was there in 2017. To my surprise, there are animal conservation groups on dolphins and seahorses in Malaysia!

Just surf the exhibition centre and check out booths that interest you. Listen to their sharing, check out their products and booklets if any. You don’t have to sign up on the spot unless you want to. So take your time. But don’t forget to get the contact details for your candidates.

Personal experience:

This is where I met the Langur Project Penang (LPP). I visited all of the exhibitors to have an idea about their work. I later emailed two organisations from my home. I volunteered for both of them. And stuck with one of them.

Click here to learn more about the Langur Project Penang.

Langur Project Penang is not an NGO but a community science working group under the Malaysia Primatological Society.

The talks

Also, pay attention to talks being promoted on social media and Whatsapp.

Check out whether their work interests you.

Remember to make sure the talks are open to the public. Some of them are open to members only. Check who the speakers are and what their topics are to decide whether you want to attend the talk.

Now, approach them if you like their presentation. Tell them that you are interested and you are available if they need any help. Remember to exchange contact details. You might be able to volunteer on weekends only.

That is fine.

Personal experience:

Approaching the speakers in person is the best way. But if you are occasionally shy like me, you can save their emails and contact them later. Arrange for a meeting on another day. There is no shame in that!

That’s all, folks!

I hope you have something to take away from this article especially if you are looking to join an NGO in Malaysia.

Please share this article if you find it useful. Leave your comment below if you have more questions or better suggestions!

Thanks for dropping by! Apart from the views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed, the opinions in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

Our voluntary writers work hard to keep these articles free for all to read. But we do need funds to support our struggle for Justice, Freedom and Solidarity. To maintain our editorial independence, we do not carry any advertisements; nor do we accept funding from dubious sources. If everyone reading this was to make a donation, our fundraising target for the year would be achieved within a week. So please consider making a donation of whatever amount you can afford to sustain Aliran. Please make payments to Persatuan Aliran Kesedaran Negara, CIMB Bank account number 8004240948.

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Eric Thoo, an Aliran member, is an aspiring environmental writer, avid reader and pluviophile (lover of rain). Climate change and the doomsday scenario beyond 2050 may be unnerving, he says. “In the eyes of modern environmentalism, however, this also means we have been presented the opportunity of our time – and I have decided to be part of it through writing!” Eric participated in Aliran's Young Writers Workshop on Elections and Change in March 2018.

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