Straits Times: "Not a Penny For Their Thoughts"

· Press,Conjunct
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Mr Kwok (left) and Mr Au set up Conjunct Consulting - which offers pro-bono consulting to non-profit, social sector clients - after heading different non-profit student groups while studying overseas.

Volunteerism has often been about putting in long hours doing good work, but two recent graduates reckon the smart application of skills and brainpower can count for more.

Old friends Kwok Jia Chuan and Jeremy Au, both 24, have put their ideas into motion by setting up Conjunct Consulting.

The volunteer-based service offers pro-bono consulting to non-profit, social sector clients, allowing them to get professional advice that would normally cost an arm and a leg.

The duo's tech skills allowed them to jump-start the process when they began Conjunct's development last June.

They prepared a Powerpoint presentation about their idea and sent it to friends and family via e-mail, Facebook and Twitter, asking everyone to pass their message along. By August, there was a core team of professionals in place.

"We're very proud of the fact that so many people have come out and put in so much time and effort - people who are really dedicated to helping out," said Mr Au.

The consultants are volunteers - university students and professionals from diverse industries, including engineering, finance and the civil service.

Though anyone can apply to be a consultant, not everyone is chosen.

Conjunct set up chapters at the National University of Singapore (NUS) and Singapore Management University (SMU), and is in the process of establishing one at Nanyang Technological University.

Students with a passion for social causes undergo a semester-long consultancy training course led by one of Conjunct's volunteer professionals. They are then evaluated and interviewed before being selected as consultants.

So far, 20 students from NUS and SMU have been selected to work under the direction of the professionals, who act as team trainers and project managers.

Conjunct has four projects under way, though it declined to say with whom, citing client confidentiality.

Its 30 professionals also receive monthly consultancy training sessions to stay informed on consultancy techniques and social sector issues.

Consultancy teams, composed of five students and two professionals each, are matched based on relevant skills, sector experience, and interest in the client's cause.

Their business model is strategy with a heart, said Mr Au, who recently received a double degree in business administration from the University of California, Berkeley. "Students bring their passion and professionals bring their skills. It works in a synergistic way that leverages both of their strengths."

The idea for the consultancy emerged last May when Mr Kwok, who had just returned from graduate studies in political science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Mr Au discussed problems in Asia's social sector.

The men, friends since secondary school, were also both heads of non-profit student groups while at university.

Mr Au was president of The Berkeley Group, a student-led organisation that provides consultation services to local non-profits and became the inspiration for Conjunct Consulting.

Mr Kwok headed the London School of Economics chapter of Aiesec, the world's largest student development organisation, when he studied government and history as an undergraduate.

Volunteerism, they note, is often based on hours and manpower. "A lot of the time volunteerism is labour-based whereas most of the skills we have are professional," said Mr Kwok

"This is a platform to use our skills and provide these services to clients free of charge."

Both men say they will stay focused on Conjunct's development even though their careers are taking off, with Mr Au starting at Bain Consultancy in October and Mr Kwok joining the Ministry of Defence later this month.

Their office, Mr Au said jokingly, is "anywhere with coffee and free Wi-Fi".

This article was originally featured in the Straits Times.