Is Subject Matter Expertise Essential In Volunteer Work? This Lawyer Says No.

Koh Chye Hock

Chairman on the board of PhilWinds, Koh Chye Hock.

Lawyer Koh Chye Hock doesn’t play a musical instrument but sits on the board of PhilWinds.

He has never learnt to play a musical instrument, but that does not deter Koh Chye Hock, who is senior counsel in an American oil and gas multinational, from volunteering with the Philharmonic Winds (PhilWinds), a non-profit wind instrument orchestra in Singapore.

In May this year, Koh formally became the chairman of its first board. Some might say he is stepping into shoes too big for his feet but he clearly does not think so. “Since I was a boy, I have always loved music. Music cultivates the soul and stirs the spirit. Because I don’t play any instruments, I enjoy listening and watching others play even more.”

PhilWinds was one group which he kept returning to watch. “My family have attended the concerts and have seen the quality of their performances and programs grow from year to year,” Koh remarks. This provided him with an opportunity to get acquainted with the orchestra.

So when the non-profit needed someone with legal and corporate experience to provide support and leadership, its founding members invited him to take on the position of board chairman, to which he gladly accepted.

Combined with his passion for music, Koh’s professional skillset makes him a perfect fit for the PhilWinds board. He hopes that his background as a legal specialist can help the 17-year-old orchestra develop into a more sophisticated collective.

One of his key priorities at the moment is helping PhilWinds transform from a society into a company limited by guarantee and registering it as a charity. His corporate experience, especially in developing organisational capability, is therefore of great value.

To this end, Koh has partnered with the Centre for Non-Profit Leadership (CNPL), the leadership consulting arm of the National Volunteer & Philanthropy Centre. Board members have undertaken the Pulse Check initiative run by CNPL to identify the expertise, competencies and dynamics within the board, helping them develop strategic action plans.

“We have had some fruitful engagements with CNPL,” explains Koh. “Some non-profit organisations lack the resources and experience on corporate governance, regulatory compliance and proper policy development. But this can be achieved with some assistance in providing knowledge, training and awareness. It is in this space that I think professionals like lawyers, accountants and corporate leaders can contribute most.”

He does not let his lack of knowledge about playing a musical instrument interfere with the work he does at PhilWinds, “My approach has been to let the musicians play music and not to interfere in areas where I know the least.”

When it comes to managing his time and commitment, Koh recognises he is fortunate to work for companies that encourage pro bono work. In addition, the founders of PhilWinds, its music director and many of its players are all volunteers. “It was easy for me to volunteer with volunteers,” he explains.

Outside of PhilWinds, Koh is also involved in other charities, “I have always contributed to causes quietly and happily, in particular in the performance arts.” He is on the board of trustees of the Business Times Budding Artists Fund and a member of the Sengkang Hospital ethics committee.

But there is nothing like music that stirs his soul. Since volunteering with PhilWinds, his love and appreciation of the range of wind instruments has increased. “[It is amazing] that a pure wind instrument orchestra can produce marvellous music just as well as a full orchestra.”

Ask him if he’s now compelled to learn an instrument and he is candid in his response, “I am quite ‘lazy’ when it comes to learning a musical instrument. I think I have always enjoyed listening more than playing.”

CNPL’s Pulse Check for non-profits builds board effectiveness through assessment. Click here for more information.

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