Speech by Mr Edwin Tong, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth & Second Minister for Law, at launch of SG Cares Giving Week 2021
06 December 2021
A very good afternoon to all of you. Thank you very much for joining us here today. What a wonderful experience it is, to be back together in-person, even if we are socially distanced in our seats. I am honoured to join you today for the launch of SG Cares Giving Week 2021.
For those of you joining us online, thank you for joining us and making us a big part of your afternoon today too.
Singapore as a Giving Nation
Urban societies, where we live in, have been widely perceived to be impersonal, cold and transactional.
a.This is unlike in a village or kampong. Wherever you live, you tend to know almost everyone you meet, and they would know you too. There tends to be a closer sense of camaraderie.
b.In large cities, the vast majority of people you meet on a daily basis are strangers. It is a very different environment, but this cold and somewhat impersonal nature of the city is not something that we have to live with forever. It really is up to the people who live in that city, even if it is urbanised, to make a true difference.
c.I think that it is in SG Cares and the efforts of all of us, that we can make the difference, to transform that cold, urban feel into something that is like a kampong, where camaraderie, friendships and interpersonal relationships are built on warmth, trust and friendship.
The SG Cares movement is therefore very important to make all these happen.
a.It is a movement that emphasises the importance of giving, kindness, and reaching out to help those in need, even before those who need help ask for help.
b.And it builds on the good work that charities and other community organisations in Singapore have already, over the past years and decades, have put in place.
Today, we have come together to launch the SG Cares Giving Week.
a.It is a very special week that celebrates the spirit of giving our Time, Talent, Treasure and Voice. I’m sure you can find some way to give in any of these four respects.
b.This week is also to affirm and emphasise the importance of giving as a nation collectively. All of us have seen through the pandemic is the past almost two years now. This has underscored how important it is for us to not just give, but to give with care.
The theme for this year’s SG Cares Giving Week is “Giving Gives Life”.
a.Anne Frank wrote that “no one has ever become poor by giving.” And I think that rings true in many respects.
b.Giving – and the broader spirit of charity in general – benefits broader society. It also reflects on the giver, who in many cultures and practices and religions is exemplifying moral character and conviction by giving to society, particularly to the needy.
So, in this backdrop, where are we in Singapore today?
a.I mentioned COVID-19 earlier, that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused financial strain on not just individuals, but businesses and corporates too.
b.With the current tight fiscal climate, people are more reserved in their giving. And I don’t blame them. People have to first worry for their families. From the Individual Giving Survey 2021 conducted by the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre (NVPC), we see a decline in donation and volunteer rates .
c.However, despite the drop in giving rates, our values of caring and sharing have not changed. The survey showed that one in two individuals are likely to donate and volunteer in the future. So, they might not be able to do it in the same way now, but the willingness to do so has not changed.
d.These are hopeful signs that our community remains committed to long term giving as we slowly recover from the pandemic.
e.In addition, new forms of giving have emerged.
f.The survey also showed 1.6 times increase in informal volunteerism and 2.8 times increase in informal donations . Each of you, in your own sphere of life and experiences in the community can attest to that. I certainly see that in informal volunteerism, where people come together through ground-up initiatives. For example, when a beach got dirty. Just one phone call, one message, and you get 50 people on the beach cleaning up. We are a society that is still fundamentally very motivated by the spirit of giving.
g.Givers are also found to be more welfare-focused with a 10% increase in giving to the social service sector.
h.This reflects a growth in ground-up initiatives to care for one another as well as giving beyond just monetary donations. As I mentioned earlier, it is not just about giving, but giving with care, heart and empathy.
Acknowledging the Resilience of the Community
In particular, I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge and thank the often-extraordinary efforts undertaken by our volunteers over the past two years.
a.The COVID-19 pandemic has placed demands, pressure and strain on everybody.
b.But nevertheless, our volunteers are soldiering on to plug the gaps among those in need. This spirit of thinking about somebody else, even in times of crisis, is what defines us as Singaporeans and what makes us special. And as we thrive to build our kampong spirit, these are the qualities that will be enduring.
As we celebrate International Volunteers’ Day this week, let me once again reiterate and express my heartfelt appreciation to all our volunteers.
All our volunteers have chosen stepped forward to help in these difficult times.
a.As part of the SG Cares Lean Forward Initiative, volunteers from the SG Cares Volunteer Centres (VCs) ensured that essential services like food distribution and medical escorting were undisrupted. This was especially so for our vulnerable seniors, or those who are frail and unable to look after themselves.
b.We have also seen how you played a crucial role in equipping seniors with digital literacy skills. It is already very useful in any other time, but all the more so now, where everyone has to use TraceTogether, and download apps to look for services, communicate with one another and keep in touch with family. Digital literacy has become an essential item.
a)SG Cares VCs partnered Youth Corps Singapore and Heartware Network to empower approximately 250 seniors with these skills to ensure that seniors are not isolated amidst the pandemic. They may be physically isolated, but they are not socially distanced and will not lose connection with their friends and families. Thank you very much for these initiatives.
All our volunteers have also displayed tremendous resilience to step forward and adapt to new modes of engagement, rising above challenges posed by COVID-19.
I am also happy to share there is a more focused effort on skills-based volunteerism, led by MCCY’s SG Cares Office.
a.Over the past year, it has initiated partnerships with professional bodies to grow skills-based volunteerism.
b.The goal is to bring together professionals in various sectors to expand how we can all help to meet the needs of the community.
All professionals contribute by sharing domain knowledge and expertise with community partners, supporting individuals and non-profit organisations.
a.I know volunteer lawyers in Law Society Pro Bono Services spend an extraordinary and immense amount of time and effort to go through legal cases, to make sure that even though they are pro bono recipients of legal services, the level of services they receive are unquestionably high.
b.The accountants and chartered secretaries from Institute of Singapore Chartered Accountants (ISCA) and Chartered Secretaries Institute of Singapore (CSIS) provide pro bono accounting and audit services, governance, and compliance advice, to our non-profit organisations so that they can do better. Governance is important, and it does not come cheap. But the stronger we are in governance, the more confidence the public has in our systems and propriety, the more likely they will share and eventually contribute to your cause. And so, the role that ISCA and CSIS can play to strengthen corporate governance and financial propriety is important as we grow this sector.
These are very good and productive partnerships.
a.Skilled volunteers complement the work of full-time professionals and staff in our charities and non-profit organisations.
b.This allows them to better serve the community, while volunteers feel fulfilled and engaged in giving their time and resources for meaningful causes.
Forging Forward as a Giving Nation
Finally, let me speak a little bit on how we move forward as a nation. Our partners are growing the spirit of giving in the community in many years. That has been going on for some time now.
I am encouraged to know that this year, we have seen more than 300 partners from the people, public and private sectors pledging their support to uplift the lives and spirits of beneficiaries and the larger Singapore community as part of SG Cares Giving Week.
a.For example, SAFRA’s Let’s Gift For A Reason initiative will be doubling their outreach this year by bringing cheer to more than 3,000 individuals, ranging from seniors, low-income families, and less privileged children. This is to share the joy and celebration of the season, and to ensure that all can remain, as far as possible, equally blessed. This will be done through the donation of gifts to fulfil their wishes, and care bags containing household necessities.
b.Another example is Gojek, which will be providing 1,000 subsidised rides to seniors and less privileged individuals for them to attend their medical appointments as part of its Medical Transport Subsidy Scheme.
c.Individuals like you and I are not left out. We can also make donations to fund food, stationery, and even social service programmes such as rehabilitation sessions for patients through Giving Machines launched by Endowus. These innovative Giving Machines are located in four shopping malls and all donations will be channelled to beneficiaries from 15 charities . In short, there is really no excuse. If you go shopping, you will stumble upon one of these in no time. Please do not ignore it, they are neither TraceTogether machines, nor orange juice machines for you to buy from. They are for you to make donations.
In closing, I would like to thank once again the SG Cares Office, NVPC and NCSS for organising this event. But beyond that, to put heart and soul into what we do, to generate the buzz for giving week, and infect others not with the virus but with a strong giving spirit that will redefine our community and society. We might be an urbanised, very busy country. But if we can have the spirit and ethos of a kampong, caring and looking out for one another, we will go very far. And this will be what defines a future Singapore, for a future generation of Singaporeans to enjoy.
This tripartite partnership represents the best of what we can do in Singapore - the essence of the SG Cares movement - where we come together to build a stronger, more caring, cohesive, confident and forward-looking Singapore.
On that note, we wish you all the best. Season’s greetings for the year end and I wish all of you good health. Keep well and keep safe.