Speech by Ms Sim Ann, Senior Minister of State for Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth & Ministry of Communications and Information at the Committee of Supply Debate 2019
08 March 2019
Mr Chairman, our Bicentennial is an excellent opportunity for us to reflect on what makes Singapore. The spirit of sharing and helping others, as encapsulated by the SG Cares movement, is really one of the oldest strands in our DNA.
Many of our forefathers arrived on this island, hungry, tired, but hopeful; often bringing not much more with them than the clothes on their back, their energy and their pluck. With few of their needs provided for in a fledgling port colony, they learned quickly to self-organise and support each other. Although wealthy philanthropists did emerge, much of the help that our forefathers gave to each other was modest and informal, made all the more meaningful because the givers often did not have much themselves. Over the years we gave names to this sense of fellow-feeling. We called it “gotong royong”, or the “kampong spirit”.
Other strands, equally old, also exist in our DNA. Almost all trades and professions that our forefathers engaged in depended directly or indirectly on our free trading port. Livelihoods and fortunes were tied to the world’s inclination to buy and sell, and the laws of demand and supply. Such an environment favoured the qualities of ruggedness, self-reliance, and a pragmatic focus on material well-being.
“Gotong royong” and self-reliance – they sound like opposites, but are longstanding and complementary elements of what makes Singapore. They pre-date the emergence of independent nationhood and also pre-date taxes and transfers as a way of redistributing wealth from those who have more, to those with less.
Indeed, as Members know, help for vulnerable members of our society is delivered in no small part through the mechanism of taxes and transfers. We actively debate the merits of such schemes in this House, and no doubt will continue to do so. But relying on taxes and transfers alone to deliver help is not enough. It is not enough to create the social bonds that arise from assistance voluntarily given and warmly received. It is not enough to bring about the intangible goods that do not come in the form of subsidies, vouchers and rebates – intangible goods like companionship, shared experience, individual autonomy. This is why we should not forget how we came to value both “gotong royong” and the spirit of self-reliance. This is the “why” for SG Cares.
Several Members have spoken on the importance of volunteerism and giving, including Ms Irene Quay and Mr Yee Chia Hsing.
My Ministry’s approach is: to get more people involved in volunteering; to drive volunteerism within our other domain areas like arts, sports and heritage; and to support the giving sector through capacity-building and funding.
Boosting Corporate and Senior Volunteerism
Promoting corporate and senior volunteerism are two key strategies to get more people involved. Our findings have shown that volunteerism rates dip at two life stages – when youth transit from school to work, and as people approach retirement. The Individual Giving Survey by the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre (NVPC) in 2016 highlighted that volunteerism amongst young working adults, aged 25-34, is at 29%, compared to 41% for youths aged 15-24. Similarly, the volunteering rate decreases from 43% for those aged 45-54, to 20% for those aged 55 and above. We will focus our efforts on connecting more young working adults and seniors with volunteering opportunities.
We recognise that many young adults devote much of their time at work. The workplace is thus a natural touchpoint to reconnect with those who have volunteered as students, and reach those who have yet to experience volunteering. Currently, only half of our companies are engaging in Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) efforts. We want to encourage more to start, and to help those which already do to expand their efforts and reach.
We agree with Mr Yee that it is important to ensure that CSR efforts are beneficial to both the giver and recipient. Companies that lack the knowledge and expertise to develop meaningful initiatives can tap on informational resources available under the Company of Good programme, created by NVPC.
Starting later this year, NVPC will serve as the first port of call for companies embarking on CSR. Companies can approach NVPC directly to be referred to volunteer opportunities that meet their interests and requirements. NVPC will closely partner key agencies like the National Council of Social Service in this effort.
Businesses currently enjoy a 250% tax deduction through the Business and Institutions of a Public Character Partnerships Scheme (BIPS) when their employees volunteer at IPCs. To encourage more corporates along their volunteering journey, we will simplify the claim process of the existing BIPS. Fixed man-hour rates can now be used in claiming tax deductions on wage expenditures incurred on CSR efforts. We will also engage companies and IPCs more proactively on BIPS through NVPC.
As Singapore’s largest employer, the Public Service will set a good example and take the lead by rallying officers to volunteer under the Public Service Cares (PS Cares) movement. MCCY will partner the Public Service Division and support Government agencies’ CSR representatives to develop more varied and impactful giving opportunities. While working in MHA headquarters as a former policy officer, I was first introduced to volunteering opportunities by my Home Team colleagues. They encouraged me to tutor girls from troubled backgrounds living in a residential facility, and later, inmates studying for the ‘A’ levels in the Prison School. I will always remain grateful for these opportunities. Without these first steps, I would not have discovered my interest in ground work, nor have gone on to seek out more volunteering opportunities in the community.
Volunteering also gave me a better appreciation of the wide range of issues and challenges faced by my public sector colleagues. Within the domain of any one public sector agency, there are already good opportunities for its staff to give. With a strong PS Cares movement, these opportunities will multiply, and more good matches can be made between a wider range of needs, and a wider range of needs, and a wider range skill sets and interests among givers. Not only can more public officers derive personal satisfaction from helping others, they can also gain new insights into domains of public service that they might not otherwise be exposed to.
We can encourage officers to do more, and engender greater impact from the ground-up. Mr Kwok Jia Chuan from the Smart Nation & Digital Government Office for example, co-founded Conjunct Consulting in 2011. Conjunct is a non-profit social change organisation borne out of Jia Chuan’s goal of strengthening the capabilities of the social service sector. Over the past 7 years, Jia Chuan has helped create sustainable strategies for many organisations. He also encouraged other professionals and civil servants to mentor and guide student volunteers in Conjunct projects. Conjunct has since worked with 140 non-profit partners across various sectors, while mobilising more than 1,400 student and professional volunteers and creating over $3 million worth of social impact.
I will now talk about senior volunteerism. A growing number of our seniors are educated, skilled, socially active, and keen to contribute impactfully to our society. Many of them are among the Merdeka Generation, and some are even Pioneers. We want to welcome more of them into the ranks of volunteers, as volunteering is one of the most rewarding ways in which to age actively.
MCCY is working with community partners such as RSVP Singapore and Centre for Seniors to engage seniors at their workplaces and raise pre-retirement awareness. To begin, roadshows and lunchtime talks will be held to highlight the many ways in which seniors can volunteer.
For example, “Retire with a Purpose” by RSVP Singapore is one programme that introduces employees aged 40 and above to volunteering opportunities, equips them with relevant skills, and plugs them into an active and like-minded community. Another platform for seniors to consider is the Mentoring Alliance, a recent ground-up initiative by 11 youth and social service organisations. The Alliance’s goal is to deliver 100,000 hours of mentoring and companionship to youths who need guidance and support. This is an ambitious but not impossible goal, because I believe there are many untapped potential mentors out there, especially among older Singaporeans. Those who are prepared to offer their wisdom and life experiences can make extraordinary impact in shaping the lives of young Singaporeans.
We also agree with Ms Quay that it is important to tap on the skills and expertise of business and public sector leaders. The Centre for Non-Profit Leadership’s BoardMatch Programme reaches out to professionals across industries, to identify candidates who can serve non-profit organisations (NPOs) in a leadership capacity. Candidates are matched to various leadership roles depending on their skills and seniority, according to the needs of the organisation. Over 500 matches have been made to NPO Boards and Advisory Councils to date. Such matching enables retiring or retired business and public leaders to contribute impactfully, while NPOs benefit from their expertise.
Driving volunteerism in MCCY’s domain areas
MCCY will continue to develop volunteerism in the other domain areas we oversee – the arts, heritage, and sports.
Arts – Update on ArtReach
In the arts, we will sustain current efforts to promote arts access to under-reached communities through ArtReach initiatives. The WeCare Arts Fund has supported over 100 social service organisations in Singapore, and over 12,000 beneficiaries. Our Befrienders Arts Toolkit, created by local artists, has helped volunteers and staff at care centres befriend more effectively by introducing hands-on arts activities and new conversation topics with beneficiaries. Since its roll-out last year, 1,200 kits have been distributed to 11 social service organisations.
Heritage – Update on HeritageCares
Since HeritageCares began in 2016, over 3,200 volunteers, including corporates and youth, have been engaged as befrienders or guides for various NHB programmes. Our volunteers go the extra mile to make our museums and heritage institutions inclusive. Last year for example, HeritageCares partnered MINDS (Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore) and the Cerebral Palsy Alliance Singapore School to organise training sessions for volunteers and museum docents. This helps our volunteers provide quality experiences for visitors of all abilities to our museums.
Sports – SportCares & Team Nila
In sports, we seek more sporting opportunities for vulnerable and underserved communities. Since its inception in October 2012, SportCares has engaged over 26,000 individuals through various sports programmes, empowering many of them in the process.
SportCares will also develop Communities of Care, an initiative aimed at addressing the needs of the vulnerable and underserved groups, such as youths-at-risk and isolated seniors. This initiative marks SportCares’ shift in focus towards network building and scaling up.
Communities of Care will bring together Family Service Centres, Social Service Organisations and key sports partners within the same neighbourhood, to help identify and reach out to beneficiaries in a more targeted way. Communities of Care will commence in Bedok and Jurong later this year. For example, SportSG will partner Glyph, a social service organisation, to organise weekly SportCares swimming sessions for children from lower-income families to build up their resilience and confidence. More details will be shared in due course.
Today, Team Nila comprises a diverse group of 20,000 volunteers spanning all backgrounds, races and ages; united by their passion to give back through sports. They have proven themselves to be a vibrant and energetic volunteer force. We can do more to tap on Team Nila’s enthusiasm, skills and networks.
SportSG is helping volunteers to step up and assume larger leadership and organisational roles. Starting this year, SportSG has extended five of its initiatives – Academies & Clubs, Active Health, SportCares, Sport Centres and Sports Events as Team Nila Giving Platforms, so that more Team Nila members can spearhead their own initiatives and promote active living in the community.
Support for our giving sector
Over the years, we have put in place various grants and funds to grow our climate of giving. These funds serve to encourage contributions by donors, and level up sectoral capabilities. In addition, these matching funds are tailored to meet each sector’s specific needs and challenges, and promote shared ownership by deepening partnerships within the community.
For example, the Cultural Matching Fund seeks to promote cultural philanthropy. We also have the One Team Singapore Fund in support of Team Singapore Athletes.
Minister Heng earlier also announced that a $200 million Bicentennial Community Fund (BCF) will be introduced this year. The Fund is meant to encourage a spirit of giving in our Bicentennial year.
The BCF is a one-off boost to our local giving eco-system, channelled through our IPCs. Our IPCs are held to a higher standard of regulatory compliance and governance by the Commissioner of Charities. Today, there are more than 660 IPCs. As more donors start the habit of giving, we expect a ripple effect in the wider giving ecosystem, which includes NGOs and ground-up groups.
We are mindful that some charities, especially smaller ones, may face resource constraints in their governance efforts and in meeting regulatory requirements. To help them, the Commissioner of Charities will streamline and simplify regulatory reporting requirements, particularly for smaller charities. Clearer guidance to charities will be provided via the Charity Portal.
We will also expand various outreach initiatives, such as shared services and training sessions. The Commissioner of Charities has plans to increase the number of shared services, to help smaller charities be more cost-effective. This year, charities will also have access to a wider range of learning opportunities to develop their capabilities for good governance. For instance, we are collaborating with the Singapore Institute of Directors and the Charity Council to kick-start our inaugural series of “In Conversation with the Commissioner of Charities” in April, with the first session focusing on Board Culture, Ethics and Governance.
Looking forward and creating our future together
Mr Chairman, I began my speech by referring to “gotong royong” as a very old strand in Singapore’s DNA. With the Bicentennial commemoration, we will have opportunities to examine and appreciate many other elements that make Singaporeans who we are, and reflect on our past, present and future.
Dr Lim Wee Kiak asked how our nation’s shared values will be brought out through the Bicentennial programmes. Our values of openness, multiculturalism and self-determination are reflected, first and foremost, in the enthusiasm of community groups to take the lead in commemoration activities. More than half of the nearly 180 Bicentennial-related events are community-led or initiated, and MCCY is supporting more than 30 of such efforts.
One of these ground-up projects is “Forge of Nations”, a family card game developed by Mr Wan Jun Yan. As village chiefs in 20th century South-East Asia, players have to make decisions on their population and infrastructure to transform into a nation. The game allows an appreciation of the challenges our predecessors faced, and the values that have shaped Singapore over the past 200 years.
Our multicultural heritage will also be commemorated through the Bicentennial. Singaporeans can look forward to the Eurasian Festival in July supported by Our Singapore Fund, as well as special upcoming exhibitions on the lives and contributions of early migrants. These exhibitions will be featured in the Malay and Indian Heritage Centres, and the Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall.
SG Youth Action Plan
As we look back at our past and examine the present during our Bicentennial year, it is also timely to look ahead and ask “What next?”. The exercise of charting our future would be incomplete without engaging our youth.
Mr Henry Kwek and Mr Darryl David asked for an update on the Youth Conversations as well as MCCY’s plans to give youths a bigger voice. The younger generation in any given era can always be expected to think, behave and communicate somewhat differently from those who are older. However, the rise of digital technology and social media have now accelerated changes in how youths produce and consume goods, services and information; relate to one another; and derive meaning and identity. This has created more diversity in our midst but also the potential for significant divergence in values and choices between the generations. We need to understand these shifts in the youth sector well and to respond to them meaningfully.
Since the launch of Youth Conversations, we have reached out to 8,000 youths through online and face-to-face sessions. They spoke candidly and eloquently on their aspirations and hopes. Many care deeply about their relationships with their parents and families, and want to make them proud and happy. They also care about achieving personal success on their own terms, in the eyes of their peers and society at large, and wonder whether they can do so, all at the same time. They sometimes worry about whether there are gaps between what they love to do, and what others want for them.
They also have a keen desire to help shape a future Singapore that is even better than today – by opening up more pathways to success, doing more for the environment and becoming a more inclusive society. They are interested in understanding more too, about the viewpoints, preferences and choices of those who are older than them. In attending Youth Conversations, I encountered some views that I had anticipated, and some that I had not – all of which were intriguing and rewarding. More insights from Youth Conversations will be available in an interim report, to be released later this month.
The Youth Conversations have given us a good sense of youths’ aspirations, needs, and interests. We know the youths want to move these conversations into action. To do so, we will support the creation of the SG Youth Action Plan, to give them a clear say in the Singapore they want to build. I will be co-leading a Panel comprising youth leaders from various sectors and organisations to develop this Action Plan. The Panel will work closely with Government agencies and the National Youth Council to engage youths from all walks of life, and other stakeholders.
The Action Plan will articulate our youths’ vision for Singapore in 2025, and identify priority areas. From the Youth Conversations, we know that such issues could range from jobs and employment to mental well-being and environmental sustainability. These engagements will be carried out both online and face-to-face, and details will be announced later this year. The Panel will also identify opportunities for youths to provide recommendations on policies, and create partnership projects with the Government, communities, non-profits and businesses, to spearhead the change they hope to see.
Seeds of change are being planted even now. For example, Lee Ying Ying and a fellow Youth Conversations participant co-founded the School of Ability and Recovery (SOAR), following a Youth Conversation on mental well-being. SOAR aims to combat the social stigma associated with mental health issues through community workshops. Other youths from the same Youth Conversation have also stepped up, with some forming a panel of resource persons for the Health Promotion Board (HPB). They have provided feedback for HPB’s programmes and collaterals, shared insights into mental health-related issues among the young, and raised awareness of HPB’s initiatives in their own networks.
Within the Action Plan, youths can also get involved in the transformation of the Youth Belt. As part of the larger Orchard Road rejuvenation plan, we want to develop a vibrant youth district at Somerset that supports our youths’ aspirations. Spaces along Somerset Road, such as *SCAPE, The Red Box and Skate Park, have already been serving as congregation points for youths, featuring music and media, entrepreneurship, learning and urban sports. But as Orchard Road renews itself, we have a unique opportunity to re-imagine the Youth Belt. We will be engaging youths through a place-making exercise, with online and face-to-face sessions, so that they can show us how to take this youth precinct to the next level.
The Youth Belt is but one of the many partnerships we hope to engender under the Youth Action Plan. Let us give youths a head-start in leading the way into the future. Let us help them get going on the next chapter of the Singapore Story.
Our shared values, as embedded in our DNA, will be an important guiding light as we chart the future of Singapore. MCCY will continue to actively partner the community in building a caring and inclusive home together.