From panel to policy: how youths are shaping Singapore's policies directly

With their eyes and ears on the ground, how will two active volunteers shape Singapore's policies with Generation Z's perspective?

  • 12 Mar 2024

Outside of school, Hafiz (left) and Reann (right) spend their free time co-creating policies with the government.

When Nurhan Hafiz Bin Mohammed Nazri was in a taxi bound for the National Youth Council (NYC), the driver asked him, “Why are you doing all this? You should go and watch a movie, enjoy, and have fun.”

By “this”, the driver was referring to the 19-year-old’s involvement in NYC’s youth-led panels – an initiative that allows young Singaporeans to work closely with the government and co-create new policies.
Recognising that youths are increasingly willing to engage with the government in policy making, four panels have been established to tackle key concerns of theirs: financial security (#LifeHacks), career development and lifelong learning (#JobHacks), technology and digitalisation (#TechHacks), and environmental sustainability (#GreenHacks).

Championing digital safety on #TechHacks

For Hafiz, joining the #TechHacks panel was a no-brainer.

“Because I’ve dealt with issues such as cyberbullying, it’s close to my heart and I know that more can be done,” shared the final-year student at Temasek Polytechnic Diploma in Law and Management, who has also been volunteering as an appeals writer in his neighbourhood for nearly two years now.

“I’m also able to bring up some of the issues people raise and what I’ve heard, so I’m not only representing my own voice but also that of other youths,” Hafiz said.

The #TechHacks panel comprises sub-committees focusing on inclusion, wellbeing, and safety in the digital space.

NYC has gone to great lengths to ensure that the panels are well-equipped and sufficiently exposed to the rigour of policymaking. Over a hundred youth panel members have attended workshops that helped them to understand the complexities of policymaking, and acquire skills such as problem definition and stakeholder mapping to better craft their recommendations.

“We were trained to have deeper levels of questioning, asking ‘why’ several times, for example. Only by getting to the root of the issue are we truly capable of thinking of a solution,” he explained.

The #TechHacks panel has identified digital wellbeing, inclusion, and safety as key priorities where the youth’s voice proves invaluable. Take cyberbullying for example. If a young person confides in their parents about being a victim of cyberbullying, the latter might advise them to stay offline — a suggestion that may be impractical for a generation of digital natives. To Hafiz, this refrain of the older generation does not address the problem at hand.

“I think that isn’t understanding the issue that youths are facing. As a youth, we’re able to offer a different level of perspective. This is genuinely an issue, so let’s see what we can do about it,” Hafiz explained.

Through NYC’s workshops, the youths are trained to consider the trade-offs involved in policymaking. 

Hafiz’s role in the #TechHacks panel is to conduct research, understand past efforts to address the issue, and engage stakeholders in the digital space, such as government agencies and social media companies.

“My generation revolves so much around the Internet, but as research shows, prolonged usage of social media does impact our mental health,” he said.

“We believe that Multinational Corporations (MNCs) actually hold quite an influence in terms of the conduct of the cyberworld. So, if multiple companies can work together…they can make a change.”

Towards the end of the one-year runway, the four panels will submit their policy recommendations to the government. Some may be addressed in parliament and even implemented; others may be referenced or tabled for future discussion.

I am hopeful that we are able to provide new perspectives as youths…I feel like I'm able to make a difference, and maybe the work can be meaningful down the line

Recognising that policymaking is a marathon and not a sprint, Hafiz is managing his own expectations about the outcome. Nevertheless, he hasn’t lost sight of what he had gleaned in the process.

“What’s important is we are given the necessary exposure and opportunity for policymaking, and we’ve definitely learned a lot,” he said.

“I am proud to be able to serve the community and give back to society.”

Supporting youths’ career journeys on #JobHacks 

Similar to Hafiz, Reann Khor Xin Lei, a Secondary 4 student at Raffles Girls’ School, is a volunteer in her community. At 13 years old, she kicked off music projects for children and seniors alike, and by the time she turned 16, she was a petitions writer at Meet-the-People sessions.

But where Hafiz had gravitated towards the #TechHacks panel due to his lived experiences, Reann chose the #JobHacks panel for the opposite reason. “I wanted to join a panel that’s more foreign to me,” she said.

While she had been exposed to the other domains, she felt that she had limited knowledge about career progression as a secondary school student – something she’d have to reckon with in due time.

Because I’m a youth, this is something that’s going to impact me. So, I think it’s better to learn in advance and see how we can shape the future of my generation.

Reann’s unfamiliarity with the working world made for a steep learning curve, but one she took on with enthusiasm. Candidly, she told us that she struggled to relate to her seniors on the panel at times.

“In the discussion itself, I cannot guarantee that I will get all their points, even though I try to. After the youth panels, I would sit at my computer and do research on what they were talking about.”

Reann added that the panel’s diversity made the learning opportunity even more rewarding, as hearing from peers from different walks of life painted a holistic picture of what the modern Singaporean workforce contends with.

“Our panel is filled with people of different ages and industries, and what I really value is getting to learn more about their lives. It’s really interesting to see how people with different passions are finding the beauty in what they do.”

The #JobHacks panel endeavours to create more opportunities for the workforce to build healthy and stable careers. 

The #JobHacks panel is looking into challenges Singaporeans face in their careers such as development and growth. For young Singaporeans, the challenges include  a lack of knowledge about their options, which can lead to a misalignment between one’s interests and the jobs they land in.

“We don’t necessarily have the information needed to match ourselves with the jobs that we like…We’re looking at how we can bring this to youths so they can make a more informed choice when stepping into the working world,” she explained.

Her fellow panellist also raised an oft-overlooked demographic: male youths who, as a result of National Service (NS), may not receive as much guidance as their female counterparts.

“Also, they may struggle to adjust and to balance job-hunting and university applications. This is something I thought was quite interesting, and I don’t think that any panel has thought of this before,” Reann added.

One of the panel’s goals is to extend industry exposure – once reserved as internships for tertiary students – to 16-year-olds. On the cusp of turning 16 herself, Reann represents the demographic who will benefit most from such a change.

“My biggest contribution is offering insights from my position, so the panel can hear from someone who will be directly affected by the policy if it’s enacted,” she said.
“When we are directly involved, we’ll know what to take note of and the opportunities that we can leverage when we grow up and step into the working world.”