Partnerships wanted: “The government wants to work with you”

The Singapore Government Partnerships Office’s Coordinating Director Dawn Yip says citizens play an increasingly influential role in Singapore’s future.

  • 25 Apr 2024

“Early in the pandemic, we had a nationwide shortage of hand sanitiser. At my HDB block, someone just strapped a bottle of it to the elevator handrail,” Dawn recalls, “there’s nothing special about my neighbourhood. Without fanfare or naming themselves, someone saw a need and shared their resources.”

Dawn has witnessed the ingenuity of her fellow Singaporeans time and time again: “when citizens see a problem in their communities, they come up with a fit-for-purpose solution and implement it very quickly.”

Government agencies also act on ground-level issues, but when circumstances change quickly in a crisis or complex situation, sometimes citizens can step up to solve them more efficiently.  With issues from climate change to mental health growing more complex, Dawn believes that government-citizen partnerships — which the Singapore Government Partnerships Office (SGPO) has been set up to promote — must become the norm.

Listen and observe

Citizen engagement sessions are important touchpoints to forge stronger partnerships between citizens and the government.  For example, in 2022 the Forward SG exercise brought more than 200,000 Singaporeans together, where they contributed ideas through 275 partnerships and engagement sessions. 

The Forward SG exercise and its resulting report articulates how the government will work with Singaporeans to refresh our social compact for the road ahead. Photo credit: Ministry of Communications and Information. 

The lived experiences and perspectives of citizens are invaluable to policymakers, and inclusion is key to the citizen engagement process. 
Dawn has been a public engagement practitioner for more than two decades but is still growing in her understanding of how to facilitate inclusive events like citizens’ panels.

“One time, we had sign language interpreters in a session,” she remembers, “and when they briefed us, they stressed not talking over each other because there’s no way to sign around that. It’s a simple thing many of us do habitually. It taught me how everyone has a role to play in making an engagement inclusive by intention.”
Inclusion is important because diverse voices must be brought to the table for effective national policymaking, explains Dawn. This needs to go hand in hand with everyday citizen action to create change. 

“For example, we need policies to expand employment for people with disabilities; at the same time, we need fellow colleagues to adopt the right attitude and habits in the workplace, even if it’s just simple actions like pushing your chair back after a meeting so you don’t obstruct wheelchair users.”

Dawn and the SGPO team work to help citizens bring ideas to better their communities to life by connecting them with relevant government agencies.

Voice of the people

Dawn has participated in several nation-building exercises starting with Singapore 21 in 1999. She notes that the scale and range of citizen engagement has grown manifold, but at its heart, it is simply about citizens wanting to contribute.

“During Our Singapore Conversation in 2012, I saw a mother attend an evening session with her young children,” Dawn recalls. “She was so keen to participate despite her kids running around and being a little disruptive. I thought to myself, ‘This is marvelous, it’s exactly what active citizenship should look like.’”

Singaporeans are far more vocal today than they were at the beginning of Dawn’s public service career, which she attributes to higher levels of education and financial empowerment.

Our citizens are interested in so many things, and they want to get more involved with their ideas and resources.

For instance, during the Forward Singapore exercise citizens expressed a desire to be more involved in shaping their communities and co-creating policies. This led to the launch of the SGPO.

Nowadays, there are more channels than ever before for Singapore citizens to partner the government. Image: Ministry of Communications and Information.

A first-stop guide to partnering the government

SGPO’s website is full of resources and links for where to volunteer, how to tap on existing initiatives, and how to get resources like funding and venues. If you are keen to kickstart a partnership with the government to better your community, SGPO is here to help open doors and forge connections.

“If you don't know where to start, we provide you a sense of what's possible,” Dawn says, “and if you still can’t find what you’re looking for, there is a form where you can share the problem you’re trying to solve, your idea, who will benefit, and what support you need.” 

“We’re committed to connecting people with the right agencies to kickstart their projects. Sometimes it’s very clear who needs to be on board, but other times… it’s more complicated,” she continues. 

“If a proposal falls in a tricky or grey area, we work to bring everyone together. Think of us as your friend in government that will guide you along the way.”

Since its launch in January, the SGPO has received a plethora of proposals ranging from hyper-local to nationwide issues. 

As Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance Lawrence Wong shared at the launch of SGPO: “We can do more to harness the expertise, experience, and passions of Singaporeans towards our shared goals. We can achieve much more when we work together as partners.”Have an idea to create impactful social change, and keen to partner the government to  bring it to life? We want to hear from you at