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Partnering Singaporeans to Shape a Better Singapore

Speech by Mr Alvin Tan, Minister of State for Culture, Community and Youth & Minister of State for Trade and Industry at the Committee of Supply Debate 2024


  1. Chairman, our Forward SG exercise brought together over 200,000 Singaporeans to share their hopes and dreams for Singapore, and how they can contribute towards our refreshed social compact. 
  2. Our community and corporates have answered this call.
  3. Today, I will share how MCCY is creating more spaces, more platforms, and more tools for them to give back and shape a better Singapore. 
  4. A city and nation that inspires, as MOS Low just said in her speech.

    Community – individuals and stakeholders taking the lead to give back and create impact 
  5. First, our Community. Our community’s response to the call to shape a better Singapore starts early on – with our youths. 
  6. As Deputy Chair of our National Youth Council, I get to spend a lot of time with our youths. They are hungry, they’re inquisitive, and they have diverse dreams and passions, ideas and ideals. Dr. Syed Harun and I know this in our work with our youths at NYC, and I thank him for serving alongside me as an NYC Council Member. 
  7. Dr. Harun and I know that our youths have an unwavering can-do attitude and spirit and want to take action.

    Youth Action Challenge 
  8. They care deeply about giving back, and making a positive impact on the causes that they believe in. And that’s why we’ve been listening to them, listening to what they want and providing them with the space, the support and the platforms to lead this change. 
  9. Ms. Hany Soh asked how we are supporting our youths to experiment and execute their ideas. She specifically mentioned the Youth Action Challenge, or YAC.  
    • Over the past 5 seasons of YAC, we have awarded funding to more than 1,000 youths and over 280 youth projects that tackle issues like sustainability, social isolation, and mental well-being. These projects have created positive outcomes in our community. 
    • Recently, I spent an evening with Grace, Jun Han, and Valencia from Friendzone – a social enterprise that organises events to connect people and to build new friendships. Since receiving funding in YAC Season 2, Friendzone has scaled their outreach, connecting more than 4,000 participants over 200 gatherings.
  10. So if you’re a young person with exciting ideas, please watch out for YAC Season 6 coming up.     

    Youth Panels 
  11. Sir, our youths also want a greater say in policymaking in areas they care deeply about. 
  12. That’s why we set up the four inaugural Youth Panels, to partner them to shape national policies. Dr. Harun asked how we are harnessing our youths’ creativity to shape our future and if we’re tapping a wider pool of youths.
    • I’m happy to share with him that around 140 youths from diverse backgrounds are indeed on our Youth Panels.
    • And they comprise a good mix of young working adults and schooling youths – each with their unique lived experiences and perspectives. 
    • I recently caught up with Damien and Salwa from ITE College West and Kaplan Higher Education Institute respectively. Despite their busy studies, they spent time at these meetings, and they found them very meaningful, and also very valuable. 
    • They got to exchange perspectives with other members from different backgrounds, and deliberate on complex issues to shape their policy recommendations. 
    • They are only 17 years old, and their level of maturity and insightfulness, and indeed their questions were really inspiring.
  13. Sir, our Youth Panels mark a shift in how our Government is creating more space for our youths to take ownership in nation-building.
    • Our youths have a direct role in deciding the issues that the Youth Panels would address.
    • These panels also receive support from government agencies throughout their term – including access to agencies’ policy considerations, expertise, and data to inform their policy deliberations.
  14. We will ensure that the views of our youths are incorporated into the panels’ recommendations, and then – either table these recommendations in Parliament for debate, implement them, or address them via other channels such as written responses.
  15. So I look forward to seeing our Youth Panels’ recommendations.
  16. If you’re keen to share your perspectives, please join us at our inaugural Youth Policy Forum later this year. Our panels will present their policy ideas and debate them, before finalising their recommendations.

    SG Cares Volunteer Centres (VCs) 
  17. Sir, another segment of the community that have answered this call, in addition to our youths, are our volunteers at the SG Cares Volunteer Centres. These are individuals giving back and offering peer support in neighbourhoods they grew up in or areas that are close to their hearts.
  18. Now an area that is close to my heart is Jalan Kukoh, where I started my volunteering journey as a youth 20 years ago, serving children, youths, seniors and vulnerable families there. 
  19. Jalan Kukoh is now home to one of 24 SG Cares Volunteer Centres (VCs) across Singapore making an impact in their respective communities.
    • Since 2018, close to 100,000 volunteers have served with these 24 VCs, reaching over 600,000 beneficiaries. 
  20. I recently met Mrs. Chan Swee Fen, a volunteer with SG Cares VC @ Kreta Ayer, which also covers Jalan Kukoh. Swee Fen has a master’s degree in counseling, and trains volunteer befrienders in practical counselling skills – giving them confidence to conduct home visits and befriend vulnerable seniors in Jalan Kukoh and also the Chin Swee area.
  21. She is one of 20,000 volunteers who regularly serve with VCs, and is a forerunner of what we call skills-based volunteerism – where individuals volunteer their professional skills to meet specific community needs.
  22. And more professional bodies are adopting this model of volunteering. For example, MCCY is partnering Pro Bono SG to grow and develop their pool of volunteer lawyers who provide legal advice to non-profit organisations.
    • 40 volunteer lawyers have served over 800 clients at the Community Law Centre at Tian De Temple in 2023 alone. 
    • Last December I met Ms. Cai Chengying and her Pro Bono SG team, and they told me that they will be expanding their reach beyond Tian De Temple. True to their word, Pro Bono SG launched their second Community Law Centre in the Northwest District earlier this year.
  23. But this is just the start. Mr. Baey Yam Keng asked about sustaining our VCs’ impact and how they are strengthening volunteer management. Ms. Rahayu Mahzam asked about reaching senior volunteers. 
  24. Now our VCs equip community partners with skills to attract, engage, and retain volunteers of all ages – the young and the young at heart.
    • For example, SG Cares VCs @ Geylang and Serangoon train MOE educators to design more meaningful values-in-action (VIA) programmes and projects, encouraging students to continue volunteering even after completing their VIA requirements.  
    • Our VCs also work with community partners like RSVP Singapore and Active Ageing Centres to avail more volunteering opportunities that meet the interests of seniors, such as mentoring, befriending, and supporting non-profit organisations.
  25. MCCY also works with the National Council of Social Service and the Singapore University of Social Sciences to equip our VCs to better do their outreach, their training, volunteer management, and enable them to learn from one another’s best practices. 
  26. Mr. Baey asked how we manage when SG Cares Volunteer Centres change operators to keep up with the town’s shifting needs. Over the past five years, only three towns have changed operators – and in every case, we ensure a smooth transition. Disruptions are limited, and our volunteers have continued to serve on the ground consistently.
  27. So those keen to volunteer with our SG Cares Volunteer Centres please visit our SG Cares website to find your nearest VC and to learn about volunteering opportunities that matches your interests and your specific skillsets. 

    Racial and Religious Harmony 
  28. Sir, from youths to volunteers at our SG Cares Volunteer Centres to our racial and religious groups, our communities in Singapore are giving back. And there is no more important cause to contribute to than our precious racial and religious harmony, a point that Mr. Sitoh Yi Pin, Mr. Darryl David and Mr. Raj Joshua Thomas made yesterday. 
  29. And as what Minister Edwin Tong said, it is something we must cherish and protect. I agree with them that we must press on with these efforts and I am glad to say we are far from starting from scratch.  
  30. Our community and religious leaders have worked hard over the years to achieve this. Leaders from key ethnic and religious groups contribute to our National Steering Committee on Racial and Religious Harmony.
    • This Committee has helped foster closer ties among these leaders, who in turn bring their communities together. 
    • Committee Members even take turns to organise the annual Harmony Games. Just last Saturday, the Catholic Archdiocese were the lead organisers, and they will hand over to the Taoist Federation to organise next year’s Games.
  31. On the ground in our communities, our Racial and Religious Harmony Circles have seen an increase in membership and activities since we refreshed them last year. I’ve joined a few of these such activities, including:
    • Last year’s Harmony Sports Fiesta at our Sports Hub that reached more than 31,000 people, thanks to the support of our 1,000 HC members; and also
    • Marymount Harmony Circle’s Ultimate Frisbee Tournament with over 200 youths and the young at heart. Beneath the roaring energy on the field, I witnessed a shared sense of mutual trust and understanding among participants from different religious organisations and community groups at Marymount. So well done, Marymount Harmony Circle. 
  32. But our work is only just getting started. And we have much more to do. 
  33. By 2025, we will equip 800 key Harmony Circle leaders with skills, such as mediation and crisis preparedness, to bolster social harmony in peacetime and in times of crisis. And our Harmony Circle Coordinating Council will continue to strengthen efforts to make our Harmony Circles more diverse and more digital. 
  34. So if you are passionate about preserving and strengthening our precious racial and religious harmony, please join your nearest Harmony Circle. 

    Mental Health and Well-being 
  35. Sir, beyond our youths, volunteers in VCs and racial and religious groups, we see another group taking on a new challenge confronting us – our society’s mental health and mental well-being, which DPM Wong has affirmed as a national priority. 
  36. This group comprises our SG Mental Well-Being Network, which Ms Hany Soh mentioned. We set up this Network in 2022 – so that individuals, community stakeholders, and private partners can work together to build mental resilience in our communities. 
  37. Ms. Hany Soh asked about the work done by the Network thus far. It has made good progress. 
    • We now have 12 Well-Being Circles at various locales. They have trained over 600 individuals in peer support skills and reached more than 3,000 people through their programmes. 
    • The three newest Well-Being Circles are located in Queenstown, Marymount and Singapore Management University. And we welcome a Woodgrove Well-being Circle as well.
    • And we have made progress beyond these “community or locale Well-Being Circles”. 
  38. Our Network’s members such as Growth Collective SG and Happiness Initiative have introduced their own peer support programmes, running more than 900 peer support “circles” across workplaces, educational and healthcare institutions. 
    • Studies done with selected partners found that these peer support circles helped improve mental well-being and sustain it over time. 
  39. We will launch a guide later this year on how to set up a Well-Being Circle.  
  40. So If you want to set up one, please connect with our Network or join our Partners Networking Night on 25 March at 7pm at the Lifelong Learning Institute. 

    Corporates stepping up to do good and give back to society  

    Building Companies of Good 
  41. Sir, I’ve shared how our community – including our youths, VCs, racial and religious groups, and our mental health advocates – are answering the call and giving back. 
  42. And alongside our burgeoning community are corporates who have also answered the call. 
  43. I recently caught up with Razif Yusoff, co-founder of Push Pull Give, a fitness social enterprise. Push Pull Give allows non-profit organisations to use their fitness studios for free and offers scholarships and employment opportunities for young adults from disadvantaged backgrounds. 
  44. Push Pull Give is one of 55 companies that have committed to the National Volunteer and Philanthropic Centre’s Company of Good Programme – pledging social impact as the core of their business. 
  45. Corporates who actively give back to society rarely do so alone – in fact, mutual support and opportunities to network with like-minded businesses are hallmarks of NVPC’s Company of Good Programme. 
    • Couple of weeks ago, I visited Unilever’s campus to meet 16 local SMEs who signed up for the Unilever-NVPC Purpose for Growth programme. Unilever mentors helped these SMEs define their business strategy and how to make a positive impact in Singapore. I’m sure many more companies will do the same. 
    • I invite them to come because all companies, big and small, can play a part, work together, and amplify your social impact on the ground. 
  46. I would also like to thank Mr. Neil Parekh and the Singapore Business Federation, SBF, for working with us to set up the Environment, Social and Governance Coordination Office in SBF.
    • I look forward to working with him and his team through quarterly industry engagements, to reach SBF’s 28,000 members and encourage more corporates to follow in the footsteps of Companies of Good. 
  47. Mr. Mohd Fahmi asked how we can better support our Co-operatives, who are already contributing to society. I meet with our Co-operatives and the Singapore National Co-operative Federation (SNCF) leaders regularly. We are working closely with SNCF to groom emerging leaders and provide targeted funding – to ensure our Co-operatives remain relevant and also well-governed. 

    Mentoring SG 
  48. Sir, corporates are also giving back through mentoring – by helping our youths navigate key transitions such as educational and career pathways.
  49. Ms. Rahayu Mahzam asked about the progress of Mentoring SG. I’d like to thank her for her own efforts in building our national mentoring movement. She mentioned School of Day 1, by Matin Mohdari – which is part of Mentoring SG. 
    • School of Day 1 recently ran a session for youths who just received their ‘A’ Level results. I’m in contact with Matin and have promised him that we will do more together under the Mentoring SG banner. 
  50. Sir, since we launched Mentoring SG in December 2022, it has expanded its outreach – engaging 100 corporates, 2,000 skilled mentors, and more than 5,000 youths.  
    • And we are training more mentors. Last month, Mentoring SG rolled out a Singapore Workforce Skills Qualifications, WSQ-accredited course called Mentoring for Youth – which equips mentors with effective facilitation and communication skills through scenario-based practices. 
  51. Mentoring SG is also embarking on a research study to measure the impact of mentoring programmes and partnerships. The findings will enable us to scale up quality programmes.
  52. This year, Mentoring SG will partner even more corporates on industry-led mentoring initiatives. It will also partner more polytechnics and ITEs, to provide more avenues for corporates to give back. 
    • For example, the Singapore Semiconductor Industry Association partnered Mentoring SG at the recent Electronics Industry Day in ITE College Central, which I attended, and where;
    • Employees from semiconductor giant Micron Electronics conducted a “flash mentoring” programme for ITE students.
    • The students I spoke to at the event benefited greatly from the experience. They left with a newfound interest in careers within the semiconductor and precision engineering sectors.
    • Now corporates and individuals keen to support our national mentoring movement, please sign up at Mentoring SG. 

    Collective for a Stronger Society 
  53. Sir, I shared how our community and corporates are answering the call to give back using the platforms and tools we have provided. 
  54. Therefore, Mr. Keith Chua’s question about how we plan to grow philanthropy and foster collaboration is timely.
  55. DPM Wong shared in his Budget speech about an initiative that will help donors better appreciate the needs of our society and also direct their resources to these needs. Today, I’m glad to announce the launch of this initiative – called The Collective for a Stronger Society, or The Collective, for short. 
  56. Put together by the Community Foundation of Singapore, CFS, in partnership with MSF and the Community Chest, and supported by MCCY, The Collective will connect donors with causes, where donors can:
    • Navigate causes on the ground that uplift lower-income families;
    • Direct their resources to non-profits, social enterprises, and other partners that lead impactful initiatives; and
    • Identify gaps in the landscape, and come up with fresh solutions that address unmet needs in society.
  57. I discussed these details about The Collective with the CFS team at their 15th Anniversary Lunch three weeks ago. CFS will release further details later this year, and I encourage companies to find out more, and we’re looking forward to partner as many companies as possible.

    Singapore Government Partnerships Office  
  58. Sir, The Collective is one platform for our community and our corporates to give back. The other platform is our Singapore Government Partnerships Office, SGPO, which we launched in January, to partner citizens and stakeholders who are keen to work with the Government to turn their ideas into reality. 
  59. We agree with Mr. Baey and recognise that some of these ideas do not necessarily fall neatly along agency lines. 
    • Therefore, SGPO acts as a ‘first-stop’ for citizens and stakeholders with such ideas, and it helps to connect them with the right agencies or partners to put their ideas into action.
  60. So please connect with us on our SGPO website with your ideas and your plans for action.

    Conclusion – community and corporates answering the call to shape a better Singapore
  61. Mr Chairman, our community and our corporates have answered the ForwardSG call for a new refreshed social compact.
  62. And we are only just getting started. You have heard me share about the different platforms and the different spaces and the different tools we have made available for our community and our corporates, so I invite all of you to join us to take that step alongside us to shape the Singapore that we all want to see, together. 
  63. SPS Eric Chua will quicken our steps in his speech about sports next, so I shall hand the baton smoothly for him as he brings us to the home stretch.
  64. Thank you.
Last updated on 07 March 2024