Deepening partnerships in the integration journey
Speech by Ms Grace Fu, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth & Chairman of the National Integration Council (NIC), at the NIC Convention “What Brings Us Together”, at Intercontinental Singapore
03 August 2019
Ladies and gentlemen,
- Good morning.
- It is my pleasure to be here at the National Integration Council Convention, as part of its 10th anniversary. I thank everyone for supporting the NIC over the years. A decade is not a long time, but it is a good juncture to take stock and consider the next phase of our work together.
Our integration challenges past and present
- Being open and integrating newcomers in Singapore began well before 10 years ago. Our Bicentennial commemorations remind us so. As an immigrant society, our forefathers came from different lands to build a life for themselves and their families. At the start, they faced insecurities and misunderstandings across different communities, which sometimes resulted in violence and unrest. Over time, our forefathers began to trust one another as they worked together and benefitted from the co-operation. By the 1960s, they saw themselves as one people, and went on to build a nation after independence.
- While our past inspires us, we should also recognise that our integration challenges are different today. First, we have developed our own set of distinct culture, norms and shared values since independence. As our Singaporean identity became stronger, it has also become easier for us to observe differences in newcomers, rather than what we share in common. Second, during this period of technological and trade disruptions, there could be concerns about workplace competition or security, and workers could question the need for newcomers. Third, it is easier for divisive narratives to spread to our shores thanks to greater connectivity and social media. These could threaten our social cohesion.
- With such challenges for integration, is it still worth it? As a small and open economy with an ageing population, increasing numbers of trans-national families, and a low replacement rate, we have little choice but to continue being open. In fact, our openness and ability to work with people from different backgrounds has become our competitive advantage and a strength of our economy. These qualities will help us as we strive to be a hub in areas such as technology, infrastructure development, and research and innovation. We also benefit when people with resources and ideas continue to invest in Singapore, injecting vibrancy in our economy, and creating more opportunities for Singaporeans and our businesses.
National Integration Council
- Therefore, it is imperative to remain open despite our challenges. NIC was formed to pull together members from the people and private sectors to promote integration in the communities, workplaces, schools and the media. On its 10th anniversary, I would like to recount some of our efforts in helping newcomers ease into Singapore, addressing issues in the work place, and enhancing the momentum in integration.
- To induct our new Singapore Citizens, the NIC developed the Singapore Citizenship Journey in 2011 to deepen their knowledge of our history and cultures, and to provide them with opportunities for meaningful interaction with the community. To educate newcomers on our way of life, the NIC produced and distributed more than 150,000 handbooks via major touchpoints, such as Ministry of Manpower’s (MOM) Employment Pass and S Pass centres, the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA), People’s Association (PA) and others such as autonomous universities.
- To address workplace concerns, we worked closely with MOM and our partners from the trade chambers and the unions. Our studies show that Singaporeans understand that foreign manpower is intended to complement the local workforce as well as build up our local knowledge and skills, but some remain concerned about job competition and fairness. MOM has put in place initiatives to encourage fair employment practices, such as the Fair Consideration Framework. OneWorkplace.sg was launched in February this year to provide resources and funding support to help companies better harness diversity in workplaces. One useful resource is the OneWorkplace.sg Starter Kit, which outlines actionable measures for an employer to build an integrated workplace. We worked with partner companies to fine-tune the measures for greater relevance. Many companies would have received these resources, and I encourage them to implement the good practices contained in the Starter Kit and the integration programmes offered by NIC.
- Our partners from the grassroots organisations, immigrant associations, schools and business associations have also stepped forward to help newcomers settle into our larger community. The Singapore Federation of Chinese Clan Associations (SFCCA), has helped to orientate newcomers to the importance of Singapore’s multi-cultural context, through visits to heritage places of major races. ConneXions (Read: Connections) International, a non-profit organisation, has also connected international students with local students through host family programmes and home gatherings. Lastly, Mr T. Raja Segar from the Hindu Endowments Board, convened a taskforce to promote understanding and interaction of newcomers within the Indian community in Singapore. We appreciate everyone’s efforts, including those who have contributed in their own quiet ways or helped in navigating sensitive conversations. I would like to thank you for your contributions and I encourage you to continue with your good work.
- Earlier, Dr Mathew Mathews pointed out that concerns over immigration have moderated and have been manageable over the past few years. This shows that NIC’s initiatives have made progress. While this is a good sign, we are not quite done yet.
- As presented, we organised a series of dialogues from March to June to hear your views and ideas on what more the NIC should do. Although there are difficult and sensitive issues, it is important for us to share them with you in order to jointly find solutions. For instance, we picked up that one of the major stumbling blocks is the limiting beliefs and perceptions about each other due to stereotypes, fear of rejection and lack of trust. To overcome this, many of our participants agreed that daily interactions at the personal level is the best place to start from but we need to first overcome our initial inertia. This calls for the involvement of all of us – all of us as individuals, all of our partners – in the workplaces, social and civic spaces - to step forward and do our part in our respective spheres. There is a role for everyone and every little effort will go a long way.
- Our Community Integration Fund is designed to support ground-up integration initiatives and collaborations. If you have good ideas, like those shared by our speakers earlier today, we will be happy to support you through the CIF and link ups with potential partners. Mr Victor Mills spoke about the importance of collaborating with the business community, trade associations and chambers to improve integration in the workplace. Ms Shahrany Hassan spoke about the importance of an open mindset in facilitating meaningful conversations in the community. And Ms Keely Cheong shared her input on this topic. The more we pool our strengths and resources, the more effective we can be in building our shared future together.
- After 10 years of working together, we want to add new ways of partnership and to involve more parts of our society. As a start, we will form a workgroup with Singaporeans to refresh the content of our Singapore Citizenship Journey. The workgroup will develop content that explains our values and obligations as Singaporeans, the norms of our society, and create a common understanding of our culture and national history. Citizens will have a say in what it means to be a Singaporean. We value your input and we invite you to participate in choreographing this journey for new members to our Singapore family.
- Integration between locals and newcomers in our society is an on-going journey, and is part of our evolution as a young nation. We have progressed over the past 10 years but there is still much to be done. We want to do it together with you, through stronger partnerships, wider outreach, and new approaches. We have heard some good ideas, and hope to spark other new and innovative ones. We welcome your views and look forward to a lively discussion at our panel discussion.
- I know that many of you have made sacrifices just to be with us here today. This is indeed a very busy time for those of us who are involved in community and grassroots work, because it is very close to our National Day and our country’s birthday. But I think many organisations, including those in MCCY, have actually planned our activities around this period of time, because it is such an important time for us to reflect on who we are and what we do for our beloved country. And as we celebrate Singapore’s National Day, it is important to reflect on the past 54 years, especially this year where we commemorate Singapore’s bicentennial.
- If you look at the first three quarters or so of the 200 years, we were not a nation. In fact, the British government actually drew lines on the planning maps, on jobs that each race would occupy, and they would have immigration policies around races. In other words, this place we know as Singapore was not built for mixing. It was built to separate, and peace and harmony were maintained by separating the communities. This concept of multiracialism, multiculturalism, actually came only after we achieved independence.
- And racial riots happened just a few years prior to that. Just imagine – telling people who had witnessed clashes between groups of people, that they now have to live together in the same block; in the same estate; work side by side and share common spaces with one another – it took tremendous courage and leadership for that generation to lay the foundation for what we have today. Not just on the part of the political leaders, but also the community leaders and the people as they live and work together day to day.
- So on this National Day, I think we really should celebrate how far we have come as a multiracial, multicultural, harmonious society. I think we can safely say that we have achieved that relationship of trust. The fact that we are all sitting here discussing this issue among different groups shows that Singapore has something to be proud of. Every one of you can be proud of your contributions, because every part of society is important in building this relationship of trust between people.
- As one of our NIC partners said to me, “All we need is courage to change. And we are better off if we are able to pool our resources together.” On this National Day, I want to send this signal to all of you – that the Government cherishes your contributions. When you sing the national anthem or wear red and white to celebrate National Day, be very proud that you have a part to play in building our Singapore.
- Thank you very much, and happy National Day!
Last updated on 05 August 2019