Curating needs-driven help in the social sector

The following is an excerpt from Minister Tan Chuan-Jin’s opening speech at the Eagles Leadership Conference 2017 at Suntec Convention Centre.

Eagles Leadership Conference has been encouraging many of the companies to come together to collaborate and to do good. I thought it’s useful before we proceed, to actually ask ourselves, and to remind ourselves again – why is it the right thing to do? We assume we know that this is the correct thing, but we should pause, and ask ourselves why is it so fundamentally important? How do you talk about this at the national level, where as individual Singaporeans, we begin to look beyond self?

We can put up the rhetoric about being a caring and inclusive society, but the question is: What do you do about it? It’s easy to talk, but we must be able to break it down into bite-sized chunks that we can do. If we believe that it is fundamentally important, then we have to ask ourselves, what can we do? Which is where it comes back to where we started from – this desire to do good.

The social sector is about bringing people on board, and being involved. And that’s where I think we can begin building a very different society. So what do we do? There are basically three buckets that I’m looking at.

Schools – Nurturing every child to desire to do good

Firstly, schools. Imagine the vision where it is possible for us to nurture in every child who leaves the education system with a desire to do good, to want to care for others. Is it possible?

Last week, I visited Bedok View Secondary School. They partnered Katong APSN to cook together with students with special needs during recess time. When I talk to the students and read the reflections of those who have participated in these activities, you know that there has been a change. They learn to care for others, to be more patient. You find that true of many other equivalent activities. Could we work with the schools so that we programme more of these activities? If you curate programmes like Values-In-Action well, you can imagine how this could have a significant impact.

Corporates – Providing opportunities to do good together

Secondly – Corporates. In the corporate world, many of us are increasingly beginning to build more social responsibility. It is important to remind ourselves why it is so fundamentally important. We know that many young people desire to do good, but they don’t always find those opportunities. A recent survey by NVPC pointed out that 50 per cent of companies do provide such opportunities. The overall participation is about 41 per cent for those under 25 years old – it can increase, and I think it should increase. By the 25-34 age group, there is a dip to 29 per cent. After school, they enter the workforce, they have other distractions. This is where we should try again to work within this space, pull the different groups together to collaborate. What other activities do you have to bring employees together to do something meaningful together? Imagine doing this as a company, with your department, the relationships will go deeper, because we are engaging in an activity that is fundamentally different. That happens with the students in school. That can happen with a corporate entity as well.

Community – Coordinating efforts for more needs-driven help

The third bucket is the local community. If you can coordinate volunteerism among neighbours, where they visit elderly folks or those with special needs within the same block of flats, it strengthens neighbourly ties. When you talk about nation-building itself, it sounds very deep, but it comes down to relationships. There is a virtuous cycle that builds on itself, at school, at work, at home. We begin to come together to collaborate, being more needs-driven, rather than creating projects.

How can we begin to look at longer-term partnerships, curate and meet real needs, and do preventive work? When we begin to organise ourselves, when we begin to hub, when we begin to share information and understand the needs, there’s a tremendous amount of good we can do. But more importantly, I think it has a tremendous impact on who we are as individuals.

Facilitating volunteerism between companies and social service organisations

Let me cite you some examples on how we can facilitate volunteerism more conveniently. NCSS, for example, has piloted a new service-based volunteerism model. So volunteers can come into direct contact with beneficiaries, and partner to work with them on a regular basis. Corporate organisations are valuable because they will organise their volunteers and volunteering schedule.

The Japanese Association, for example, have been volunteering with MINDS regularly for 20 to 30 years. Basically what happens is that the afternoon programme for that day is settled, and MINDS can free up their trained staff to do the complex work, which we as average volunteers are not able to do. This allows our VWOs to expand their capacity without necessarily getting help. So we want to curate that experience, expand the partnership.

Another example, SP Group volunteers at the Senior Activity Centre in Geylang Bahru, which is under Touch Community Services. They conduct morning exercises for the elderly and serve them breakfast. This partnership with 20 staff from SP Group began in February 2017. The elderly residents clearly find some of these faces familiar, because of the regularity, and look forward to meeting some of them. The volunteers from the group reported a higher sense of morale and satisfaction.

POSB Bank has embarked on a service-based volunteering model. Staff from 4 branches, located in Jurong, started their volunteering session in May with NTUC Health Nursing Home. About 20 employees per session befriend elderly residents, who would otherwise would have little contact with the community. Many of them will volunteer early in the morning before they go to work, and the banks, where possible, adjust to make sure that there’s flexible time.

I would also encourage you to consider the programme Share As One. Many of you in Singapore will know what it is, where we commit a dollar or two a month from our paycheck to Community Chest. Even for my own ministry, we have made it opt-out. Everybody, as a default, will contribute. You can opt-out if you wish to. Companies are sometimes wary about doing this, but you will be surprised. There is actually a very positive response to it. It may not seem much, but it makes a lot of difference when you ensure that there is a steady stream of funds to the Community Chest – where every single dollar goes to beneficiaries. With the Share As One programme, what we will do is to look at your contributions as a company, whatever additional you are able to bring to bear, we will match that and we will also provide funding to your company to fund your company’s activities. So I do encourage you that as we embark on trying to broker, and trying to structure better programmes, participate in the Share As One Programme as well, so that funds can also come in.

Building a different Singapore, step by step

Perhaps the theme for this conference is about what we can be and do as better leaders. This is what I put to you as you think about leadership, how by embracing some of these activities in the right spirit, you can actually make a tremendous amount of difference. I would urge you to do more, step up and curate the journey. Step by step, individual by individual, we begin to change. Society will change. And we will build a very different Singapore.

 

Chinese New Year – Looking out for each other

Chinese New Year is a particularly hectic, but meaningful period for me. It gives me an opportunity to meet up with my residents during our visits to the shops and town centers, and in some of the festive activities organised.

Having been around the community nearly 6 years now, it is a joy to catch up with familiar faces. The young ones are growing up fast and some have gotten too big to carry! With the passing of time, many are also getting older. Some have passed on to a better place, while some have become more frail. A few ‘regulars’ at our Meet-The-People sessions haven’t been very regular for some time, and I sometimes wonder how they are. But when I saw them on my rounds recently, they were looking better than ever before! It had taken awhile for some, but the help extended by so many have made a difference.

So do remember to look out for those around us even as we visit our families and friends. For those who are alone and without much social contact, do pop by and say hello and see how they are. Some of us can help via the VWOs, while some can reach out to our community and to those living near us.

It may not seem much, but it can make a difference. Last Chinese New Year, we read of volunteers who have been organising a community reunion dinner to celebrate with elderly residents who lived alone in their neighbourhood. This is just one of many examples that I am sure we will see again this year. We also read that charities are receiving more donations last year compared to previous years. These developments are heartwarming and encouraging.

Let us continue to foster this sense of caring and giving. With each step and effort, we strengthen family and community. In so doing, we are all forging a closer-knit and a more inclusive society.

May you and your family have good health and happiness in the year of the Rooster! 恭喜发财, 万事如意, 合家欢乐!

Family is where the heart is

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(Taken on a family trip to Japan, Dec 2016)

The picture you see above was first shared on my Instagram page, which received an interesting comment: “落叶“.

Literally translated, this phrase refers to how the fallen leaves have returned to its roots. The fallen leaves are a metaphor for old age, and ‘roots’ describe one’s home.

In a related way, I think ‘roots’ also represents our families – where our values, memories and ties were first formed, and firmly anchored. If you think about it, the family really is the building block for a safe and stable society, and it is important for our families to stay strong. Families are also who we turn to for comfort and support, and a refuge when times are difficult and uncertain.

Giving children a good start in life

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(During my visit to one of the KidSTART group sessions at Henderson.)

This year, we’ve made some progress to enhance our support to help strengthen families, as well as to help our children get a good start in life. It’s a continual effort, and I’m proud of the work put in by my MSF team. It is a cause they feel passionate about.

For example, to help couples build stronger marriages, we have been offering an evidence-based introductory marriage preparation programme, PREP, free-of-charge, at the Singapore Registry of Marriage (ROM) during lunch time.

To give our children a good start in life, we rolled out additional support measures this year. All newborns now get a $3,000 Child Development Account First Step grant. Changes to the Child Development Co-Savings Act accorded all new mothers the full 16-week maternity leave, and mandatory two weeks of paternity leave for new fathers from 2017. We made important moves on maternity leave and the CDA account to better support unwed mothers.

KidSTART is a pilot programme that aims to provide more assistance to children from vulnerable backgrounds to ensure their future success. This effort by the Early Childhood Development Agency brings together family, community and pre-schools to build a strong support system for the child. I look forward to meeting the little ones at their first day of (pre)school in a few days’ time. 🙂 I trust that this programme will succeed and move on beyond its pilot status.

Faishal has also shared in his blog post about the work done to help parents via the Positive Parenting Programme and the Safe and Strong Families pilot, as well as to support parents and children amidst divorce.

We are also working to further develop the early childhood education sector to offer meaningful and rewarding careers for Singaporeans, and quality care and education for our children. We announced the Early Childhood Manpower Plan this year, and we hope to attract another 4,000 educators by 2020.

Building a community of support for those in need

Notwithstanding our best efforts, unfortunate circumstances do occur. We need to be always ready to provide help and timely services to the more vulnerable in society.

Our ComCare schemes disbursed $130 million to about 87,000 beneficiaries in FY2015, this is 10% higher than the previous financial year. We have also enhanced the assistance package to households on ComCare Long-Term Assistance by raising the cash assistance rates for our beneficiaries. For example, a one-person household will now receive $500 per month from $450. We will continue to work closely with the community and voluntary welfare organisations to support the less unfortunate among our midst.

Even as we recognise families as important sources of refuge and support, sadly, for some, they can be vulnerable to abuse by loved ones. Last month, we launched a three-year “Break the Silence” campaign to encourage bystanders to speak up against family violence. Violence is not a private matter and is not acceptable.  All of us have a role to play to step up and help, by having the courage and knowledge to take action.  You can interrupt incidents of family violence with little acts of kindness, and contact the various help centres. Do call the Police immediately if a life is in danger.

 


(Ah Ma made the first step to break the silence against family violence.)

For those who need foster homes and families for support, we were pleased to see an increase in fostering as we celebrated 60 years of fostering in Singapore. Foster parents are such incredible big-hearted folks who open their homes and heart to care for vulnerable children. To further support the efforts taken to help these children, a third fostering agency will be set up in 2017.

Fostering a more inclusive Singapore

We have also achieved much in helping each and every Singaporean to fulfil their potential, regardless of their abilities. In the past two years, MSF, together with MOE and SG Enable, piloted the School-to-Work Transition Programme with five Special Education schools to facilitate a smooth transition from school to the workplace for graduating students with disabilities. I am heartened that 80% of the first graduating cohort of were successfully employed, and 83% stayed in the job for more than six months.

Just last week we received the 3rd Enabling Masterplan report from the steering committee led by Ms Anita Fam. We will study their findings and recommendations carefully to make Singapore even more caring and inclusive for persons with disabilities.

Supporting one another in the year ahead

While MSF continues to do its best to support the vulnerable and those in need, and strengthen families so that they can fulfil their dreams, it is also my hope that fellow Singaporeans can do their part to care for one other.  If we could all reach out to others in the community, and begin to look beyond ourselves and our own families, we would begin to see a very different society – one that is more caring, more selfless and more compassionate.

One way you can show support to one another is through the Singapore Cares movement. Many of us have expressed the desire to do more and work with others to support individuals and families that need help. The movement is an opportunity for everyone – you, your company, or institution – to partner with charities in Singapore and/or areas where needs exist, and make an impactful difference. By coming together and contributing to the social causes you care about, we can support one another in the year ahead. Together, we can show that Singapore cares.

As 2017 approaches, there could be more challenges ahead that we have to face.  But I take heart in knowing that we will all walk this journey together with our loved ones and support one another as one big Singapore family.

Happy 2017!

Why Care?

By Parliamentary Secretary A/P Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim

It’s been a long day. You alight from the MRT, relieved to tap out at the gantry because you’re inching closer to home. Easing into a slow walk, you make a mental checklist of what you need to do tomorrow.

The sounds of traffic quieten down as you reach the void deck. You begin your climb up to the 2nd storey where a hot shower and bed awaits.

Someone new catches your eye.

A rugged elderly man, slightly hunched, shuffling towards a corner near the staircase landing. He kicks off his shoes.

Should you take a closer look?

The corner is meticulously prepared. A straw mat marks his narrow territory. Some bulky plastic bags form a small fort at the foot of the mat. The man’s hair has not met the familiarity of a comb for some time. He prepares to lie down, perhaps to quietly spend the night.

Seems like he has settled here recently. But why is he alone? Are his family members looking out for him?

You hesitate. But shouldn’t you do something? At least ask him what is going on?

What do you do?

Take a photo and spread awareness about this? But what about the elderly man’s privacy?

Approach him? What if he brushes you off or scolds you for being kaypoh?

You hesitate again, weighing the choices.

So, why should you care?


Caring for others and helping them is not always as easy as it sounds. In fact, it is entirely possible to be unappreciated for it. And we must be prepared for this.

As you have seen in the video and story above, it can be quite unglamorous work. And sometimes, people may not even want your help.

In October this year, we held the MSF Volunteer Awards and honoured 169 volunteers ranging from foster parents to probation officers.

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76-year-old Mdm Thiravingadam has been a foster parent to 42 children over 40 years!

At such ceremonies, we thank and appreciate volunteers for their tireless dedication. But a lot goes on behind the scenes for them. A lot that we do not know about.

Just like the story above, volunteers may also have started off with some doubts. Or question how they can go about helping.

I think the larger question is not whether we should be helping. That is pretty clear to us.

It’s how we should be caring and helping. There are many ways to address the how, but it requires collective support. For those in need, we should create opportunities for them to get back on their own two feet.

But it is not enough to snap a photo or upload a video, and leave it at that. We are stronger in spirit and richer in our humanity when we can extend a hand in our own way. And for help organisations and Government agencies to complement this with further assistance.

So, my next question is – how will you care?


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