Ms Anita Fam, President of NCSS,
Good morning. Congratulations to NCSS on your 60th year of rallying the social service sector.
This is my second time participating in the Social Service Summit. Looking around the room, I am glad to see many familiar faces. Many of you have worked closely with us, MSF and NCSS, through long years and hard work, to strengthen our social services. Thank you for your passion, and your contribution to improving the lives of many people in Singapore.
Today, I intend to share with you: (i) Some areas of progress in the past year; (ii) Looking forward, our broad-based strategies and long-term plans; (iii) And we will end by launching the Sector Design Challenge together.
Areas of Progress in the Past Year
One year ago, I spoke about what we needed to do collectively to tighten our social safety nets, and help people to bounce back.
Our approach, for many years, has been described as ‘Many Helping Hands’. This approach is still fundamentally sound. Why? Because it draws us to action – by encouraging individuals to play a part, step forward, and make their efforts count. Because it is equally our responsibility. It emphasises the coming together of many people who care – a society that is more than the sum of its parts.
But we do not arrive at better social outcomes simply by having more organisations and people offer more schemes and programmes. There is often no straightforward, direct correlation. Instead, collaboration is key. Because the needs of many families and individuals, whom we serve, are complex and inter-twined. Few have issues that can be addressed by one organisation alone. Professionals with different skills, and from different disciplines, passionate and caring volunteers, agencies who work in the public, people and private sectors often need to work together to make things happen for families.
Hence, we focused on two major tasks to build momentum towards a vibrant and collaborative ecosystem: First, by transforming the way we deliver social services. This means that both Government and community had to improve how we coordinated, integrated, and worked together to deliver our services. Second, by rallying around you, our social service partners, to strengthen our organisations.
Let me present a brief one-year report card from what we talked about last year, so that we can keep track of our progress on this important journey of transformation. I would especially like to highlight three areas of progress.
First, we shared last year that MSF would equip frontline officers to help clients holistically and comprehensively. We have started training officers from different agencies, such as HDB, PA, CPF Board, MSF’s SSOs, and many others, to offer basic information about another agency’s area of work. Clients can receive information that they need upfront. The different agencies can also provide referrals as needed.
We also started the Community Link, or ComLink, an initiative started at four public housing rental sites as a pilot, to strengthen our support for families who live in rental housing. At each site, Local Implementation Workgroups have formed, sometimes comprising 10 or more different organisations. These comprise government organisations and community partners. They have already started going door-to-door to better understand residents’ needs, which will help them plan for and provide targeted, customised support.
Second, I spoke last year about the need to make it easier for households in need to apply for multiple help schemes and services. We had emphasised the value and convenience of locating complementary services together in one place. We have started doing so. We are locating complementary services at the SSO – physically where possible, or virtually, via video-conferencing. Families can be linked up on-site with officers from other agencies, saving them additional trips. We estimate that this can save our clients more than 400 hours over the course of one year. This is a conservative estimate and we will continue to push the boundaries.
We have also streamlined our processes so that clients need not submit the same documents or unduly repeat their circumstances. From next month onwards, those who receive MSF’s Short-to-Medium Term Assistance under ComCare need not apply separately to the Polytechnics for financial help. The bursaries will be automatically assessed.
Third, I spoke about coordinating across organisations – putting clients in the centre, and working more closely as one social service sector. MSF will be rolling out the Guidelines for Case Master Action Planning, or Case-MAP to our community partners who manage complex cases, by the end of this year. The Case-MAP is a way for agencies helping one family to work with each other to support the client without needing multiple touchpoints. Partners have also convened regular case discussion platforms, to coordinate their plans and actions across organisational boundaries.
In the earlier video, we talked about the importance of relationships. The effectiveness of our case management depends on the relationship between frontline officers, as well as between organisations. This is why team-building is important both within and between organisations. We have also completed the first wave of the SG Cares Community Network Sessions, and are planning for the next wave, and the ones after that. In the next wave, together with our partners, we hope to dive deeper into each town’s needs, in order to develop more relevant programmes for each community.
We will continue to press on with our efforts to deliver help that is Comprehensive, Convenient and Coordinated to individuals and families in need.
Plans to Shape the Future of This Sector
This year, I want to take a bigger view, building on top of our efforts in the past year. I want to share three longer-term strategies that will shape the future of our sector. I’ve spoken about the operational and process changes that we are pursuing on the ground to make coordination better for ourselves, for our professionals, and for individuals and families that require our support. But I must speak of the broader framework within which we will operate. These ideas were shaped after in-depth conversations with many of you. We want to partner you to design and work through the details, and implement these together.
These three strategies are organised around people, who are core to our social services. First, we will organise our support network more comprehensively at the local level, around communities, towns or regions, to better meet our clients’ needs. Second, we will partner our social service agencies, or SSAs, to build stronger organisations. Third, we will harness the strengths of the community to enhance our support network for individuals and families.
Organising our Support Network around Local Communities
Let me start with “organising our support network around local communities”.
I work at MND and with URA as well, where we look at towns and designing on the human scale, with amenities accessible by walking or short commutes on public transport. Many public amenities are planned and organised at the local level, at the town or regional (i.e. several towns) level. This reflects the localised nature of the needs of residents within a particular region. For example, a young town may require more childcare services, while a mature estate may have greater demand for services for the elderly. With macro-level data, we can have a better sense of where the centre of gravity of needs lie.
Similarly, the social services that one town needs may differ from that of another town. Social safety nets can come in all forms, shapes and sizes. They tend to form organically at the local level within communities, neighbourhoods and schools. These are trusted and valuable sources of support in times of need.
It therefore makes good sense for us to organise our social services more comprehensively around our local communities and towns. This allows SSAs to better understand the needs of each town, and tap on local resources. It also means that clients and their families can access nearby services that better meet their needs. We have heard your feedback that those who need help should not be hampered by travel distance. We will work with you to address this. Some of our services are already organised around towns, such as SSOs and FSCs. We have twenty-four (24) SSOs organised into ten regional clusters. We will work towards organising other social services and support around towns and regional clusters as well.
But more important than the physical proximity between services, is the notion of a well-connected network of social service professionals. This includes all of us from SSAs, community organisations, and government departments. Our clients who face multiple, complex needs often require the support of more than one organisation, especially if they require services from organisations that specialise in a particular area. We want to lower the barriers as much as possible for them to receive help. The ideal is for them to be served by a single touchpoint at the frontline, with a relationship built on trust.
We envision that each frontline officer, regardless of which organisation they come from, will be a gateway for families with complex needs to be connected to other social services in the area. Our officers can call on colleagues from other organisations in the same network, when they need help. This is the spirit undergirding the second wave of the SG Cares Community Network Sessions. We will continue to engage existing partners, and bring in new groups such as volunteers and corporates – to jointly create solutions with, and for, the community.
The upshot of organising ourselves locally, both physically and through inter-personal networks, is the strengthening of our ‘Many Helping Hands’.
Building Stronger Social Service Agencies
To complement this push to build tighter networks of assistance at the local level, we need to build strong organisations, so we can better serve the increasingly complex needs of our clients. Anita also emphasised this when talking about the 4ST. This is the second of our three strategies.
Strengthening Organisational Capabilities
We have been working with you to strengthen organisational capabilities in our social service agencies (SSAs), so that our sector professionals are supported in your work. For example, over the last 3 years, one hundred and one (101) SSAs have participated in the People Practice Consultancy. Through this consultancy, we want to improve HR practices to help you in your recruitment, performance management, compensation and benefits, and career planning. This will help you build a sustainable and effective team.
We will continue to work with you to strengthen your agencies’ capabilities in key areas such as leadership, people, and processes. Stronger organisations will be better able to deliver quality, innovative and sustainable programmes for the people we serve.
Attracting and Retaining Professionals
Our sector must also offer our professionals an optimal blend of skills and career progression. We offer leadership and professional development support for our in-service professionals, through schemes such as the Sun Ray scheme, Professional Development and Management Programme, and the Leadership Development Programme. In January this year, we launched the Skills Framework for Social Services. This articulates to our professionals the skills and progression pathways available in our sector. This creates transparency and clarity of pathways. The social service sector Salary Guidelines are in place to ensure that wages in social services keep pace with market growth.
In April this year, we also set up the SkillsFuture Tripartite Taskforce, bringing together representatives from academia, SSAs and government. The intent is to develop an ecosystem with all three so that graduates entering the social services can hit the ground running, and academics can partner with industry to research emerging trends and needs. The taskforce members and their supporting sub-teams are also looking into ways to improve training and pathways for our professionals.
Redesigning Job Processes and Adopting Technology
While we focus on developing our professionals, we must also recognise the larger picture that the manpower situation will continue to tighten, across all sectors in Singapore. We will need to meet more needs, but we are not necessarily going to find it easier to hire people.
To meet this challenge, we must re-look our job processes and job scopes. Some of you would have participated in NCSS’s Bite-Size projects that ran from 2016 to last year. These helped to optimise processes such as donation tracking, space utilisation and financial processes. Over the past few years, NCSS has also been working with some of you to redesign certain functions to allow trained and trusted volunteers to take over some administrative roles. This allows your social service professionals to focus on service delivery, at the frontline.
To provide you with more help to tackle the manpower crunch, NCSS has launched two projects, which will cost around $20million.
The first project is called Tech Booster. It aims to introduce ready-technology into residential facilities such as Adult Disability Homes and Welfare Homes, two kinds of institutions that find it very hard to hire people. NCSS is collaborating with IMDA to identify and source for innovative technology to help those of you who are running such homes. Tech companies and products that meet the mark will be prioritised by NCSS for funding under the Tech Booster programme. IMDA will also organise workshops for you and support you in understanding how the products can support your operations.
The second project, Back-to-Basics, is in progress. It focuses on our Therapists working in the sector. It explores how therapy processes can be redesigned to release administration and other non-practice roles, either to support staff or through the use of technology. This allows our therapists to focus on their clients. The end goal is to maximise the client-facing time for therapists and reduce their administrative load. We intend to facilitate similar redesign for our social workers and youth workers.
These projects by NCSS are only one pathway towards technology and digital transformation. We hope that all of us here will think about ways to improve our systems and processes. Digital readiness is not just about technology, but about preparing our people as well: our clients, professionals, donors and volunteers too. The impetus for change will have to start at the top. I urge all of us here, as leaders in the sector, to make a commitment to be Digitally Ready by taking part in the Digital Participation Pledge at the IMDA booth outside.
Do also visit the exhibits outside, during the break. These are put up by SSAs and partner agencies. There are showcases on innovative technologies, ways to build our organisational capabilities, and examples of what different SSAs are doing to innovate. I hope this will spark ideas on how we can encourage productivity, innovation and digital practices within our own organisations, so that as a sector, we can serve more people with the resources that we have, and make the work of our professionals and our volunteers more manageable, more meaningful, and more impactful.
Harnessing the Strengths of the Community
I have just spoken about 2 of our 3 broad strategies – the first being localisation and regionalisation of social service networks. And the second on strengthening our social service agencies.
We should not lose sight of the origins of the social service sector. Many of our agencies have long histories, rooted in the philanthropic and volunteering efforts of communities and individuals who cared, since our early days.
We should continue to harness the strengths and resources of our communities in the work of our social service sector. We should actively welcome individuals, organisations and businesses who are keen to give and be part of the SG Cares movement.
We can foster and build up these collaboration and partnerships in two key ways. First, we should ensure that our volunteers have a meaningful volunteering experience when they decide to join us. This includes identifying opportunities for skills-based volunteering. We should maximise the people who want to give, and put the skills they offer to good use. Second, we should better articulate the social impact of our programmes and services to donors and corporations who give. This includes explaining how our digital and organisational transformation efforts will ensure that the funds and resources entrusted to us will yield better and greater impact.
MSF and NCSS, together with our partners at MCCY and NVPC, are working to systematically identify social needs and demands on the ground – town by town at a local community level, and actively match givers, donors and volunteers to these identified needs. By no means are we removing the autonomy of individuals and organisations to choose the causes they are passionate about. But people often ask us how they can give more meaningfully. NCSS is working with NVPC to better match corporate volunteers with SSAs. This involves matchmaking and relationship building.
But NCSS is even trying out Artificial Intelligence technology. For example, NCSS has developed a chatbot, CARA. CARA matches corporate volunteers to available opportunities with SSAs based on factors such as needs and location. This will not only optimise resources for SSAs and corporate volunteers by reducing time needed to find a match, but also encourage the formation of regular, meaningful and sustainable partnerships.
If you represent a corporation, we encourage you to network with SSAs in your area, join the nearest SG Cares Community Network to understand local needs, plug in, and lend your strengths to their services and help address needs. And do try out CARA on the NCSS website. It is also live on the National Day Parade website. This is a gateway for you to explore possibilities. We also recognise that behind CARA is a team of caring individuals who want to better curate opportunities for you to contribute.
Our aim in the long run is to seamlessly match individuals and corporate givers to causes and needs, and guide them on their giving journey.
Together, we will lay the groundwork for an inclusive, caring society.
The three strategies that I have outlined will guide us in our efforts to strengthen our social safety nets, and serve individuals and families better in the coming years. Organising our support network around local communities will enable clients to be better served in their communities. Building stronger SSAs will support our professionals, who in turn are the pillars of support for our clients. Harnessing the community will widen the support network available to you, and increase the resources available to clients. This support network will be built upon relationships on the ground, with gateways for corporates and volunteers to plug in.
Some of these efforts would require us to do things and organise ourselves in a different way from what we are used to. In fact, when we talk about technology or digitalisation, people ask us if these terms are appropriate in our sector because we are a high-touch sector driven by passion for people, and not a bottom-line profit. However, we see increasing needs and scarce resources. By embracing innovation and technology, we can maximise ‘social profit’, improve the experience for our professionals and volunteers, and enable them to do more meaningful and impactful work for clients.
Our SSAs and professionals are driven by passion and commitment, to help the vulnerable among us. If we are successful, the vulnerable will be better matched to services in their community. The community is also better able to act as their “trampoline” to help them bounce back as soon as possible.
To wrap up, I want to go back to the Summit theme of innovation. The future of the social service sector that I have outlined is a work in progress, and we will work with you in the next few years to add dimension and depth to this. Progress will involve changes and innovation in the way we work within our organisations and between organisations. Progress requires trust, communication, patience and understanding. We need open, multi-way communication among government, SSAs, clients and the larger community so that we can help each other move past obstacles towards our end goal. Only then can we move towards a future where we have a caring and inclusive society, where every person is empowered to live with dignity.
Launch of Sector Design Challenge
Today we will launch the Sector Design Challenge. This is an innovation platform that invites all of us to work together to accelerate ideas into impactful solutions. Try it out, be prepared to succeed or to fail, then share your learnings with us so we can scale the impact. This launch video will explain more about the Challenge. I hope that you, and your organisations, will take this opportunity to contribute ideas to build a better future for our sector, and for the people we serve.