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Singapore Government

Opening Address by Minister Desmond Lee at Social Service Summit 2018

Opening Address by Minister Desmond Lee at Social Service Summit 2018

1   I'm very glad to be here with all of you at the Social Service Summit. I see many familiar faces, and I'm happy to see so many participants from the social service community here, together with many funders and potential funders. This is my first time attending, since joining the MSF Family.

2   Today, I will speak about two things: first about social service transformation, and second, the strengthening of our social service sector, and then we will end off with a short special segment. I will keep it a surprise for later.

3   Last year, I met a young couple and their two-year old child, a young boy. They were happy as they had just moved into their new flat - their first home. Unfortunately, tragedy struck. The wife contracted a serious illness, and she was in ICU for 5 months. The husband quit his job to look after her, and to look after their son - fetching him to and from childcare, and then shuttling between hospital and home, and running errands.

4   From a comfortable dual-income household, they suddenly lost all their income. Finances wore thin and savings ran out. Utilities bills, housing arrears, childcare fees, renovation loan instalments and other bills and obligations could not be paid. They were also worried about medical costs. They needed help to address all of these. I met them again last Thursday. Wife was discharged but very frail, one third of the size. Husband wanted advice on how to make proper day care arrangements for her, so that he can go back to work.

5   In the course of the last few months, we sought the assistance of a number of organisations to help this couple and their child through their difficulties - the Social Service Office, the hospital medical social worker, the medical social worker from the community hospital, the Agency for Integrated Care, HDB, CPF Board, local grassroots network, the banks, the insurance company, the utilities company, ECDA, the childcare centre, the community self-help group, Workforce SG, e2i and others.

6   There were many helping hands, as the list goes, for which we are grateful. They contacted the husband, and each of them worked with him to understand his difficulties, and assess how they help based on their specific suite of schemes, programmes and policies.

The 'many helping hands' approach and social service integration

7   So, our 'Many helping hands' approach is a strength for Singapore. With the individual, the family, the community and the State coming together to address the needs of the vulnerable. There are a number of Government agencies with assistive schemes, and many more VWOs and community groups providing a range of services, both broad and specialised.

8   The 'Many helping hands' approach allows the community and those who care to give back to society and actively participate. It empowers Singaporeans and those who wish to play a part to step up and make their efforts count, and represents a partnership between the Government and the community to help those in our society who need assistance. Many VWOs are also vital links to Singapore's religious and ethnic communities. They represent these communities' distinct contribution to Singapore's society over the years and decades.

9   Yet, many of us know that better social service outcomes cannot be simply achieved through a proliferation of schemes, services and programmes. More is certainly good and welcome, but may not in itself be sufficient. Individual pieces of information may reside with different agencies and different VWOs. So each of us, from our perspective, we see a problem, an issue, whether it's housing, whether it's financial adequacy, whether it's healthcare, whether it's nutrition, whether it's emotional stability - we see the issue. But no one has the full picture of the client's situation, which sometimes makes it hard to help the client. There is a need to see the client and the family as a whole, and the complexities that beset them as a whole.

10   This is why sometimes we end up alleviating the symptoms, and not tackling the root causes. For example, providing financial assistance with no plan of action and without understanding the client's true needs is alleviating symptoms - important to do so - but not necessarily addressing the causes. And those of us who are involved in tackling the causes sometimes ask why we can't get full attention from the client - and that may be because the symptoms aren't alleviated, and vice versa. As a result, individuals and families are not empowered to take charge of their own lives and shape their own future. To achieve better social service outcomes, we need to look deep to address the causes, and not just the symptoms of need. We also need to look beyond the help that each of us provides through our own services and programmes and through our own organisations, to see how we can maximise our collective resources to provide assistance and empowerment in a meaningful, holistic and sustainable way.

Coming Together to Strengthen Social Service Delivery

11   This requires a collective effort involving Government and community agencies coming together to provide a more coordinated network of care and support, fundamentally transforming the way we deliver social services and assistance here in Singapore. The clients that we all serve must feel that they are supported holistically in addressing their needs. Tthey should be encouraged to play their part in getting back on their feet, and not feel that they are passive observers in their own lives, waiting to receive help. Agencies and VWOs must collectively enable the clients, and not inadvertently disable them with their schemes and our approaches.

12   What do we need to do, to transform our social service architecture, in the way I have briefly described? Let me outline six steps that we have been working on, and this will be a base for further discussion later.

Frontline officers better equipped to help households in need holistically

13   First, I think Government agencies and community organisations must recognise that each time a client comes to us, whether it's the first encounter or approaching the nth organisation, it is an opportunity to find out more about their situation holistically, better understand their needs and provide them with information on other schemes and services to support their needs, to enable them to solve their difficulties. MSF will progressively equip frontline officers across certain Government agencies, VWOs and community organisations to be able to do this, and put together a digital schemes and services directory to enable our officers to provide informed referrals to other agencies and organisations. So every front desk in the social service sector becomes a gateway to the rest of the social service support ecosystem.

Easier for households in need to apply for multiple help schemes and services

14   Second, we have to make it easier for individuals and families who require multiple help schemes and services to access and apply for them. Agencies and VWOs can share the information that we have collected and the assessments we have made, so that clients do not have to repeatedly submit the same documents, explain their circumstances over and over again and fill in multiple forms all roughly seeking similar information.

15   There are already some protocols in place to ease the application process, such as arrangements between our SSOs and HDB when it comes to appeals for rental fee reduction, and we are working on similar arrangements with other agencies, such as MOE and ECDA, for additional financial assistance and subsidies. So making the process more seamless, sharing information so that the client gets support, not to disable him, but to enable him. And in this way, through the backroom, different organisations assisting different aspects of this client's challenges are able to provide information to each other to facilitate approval of schemes to enable the client.

Stronger cross-agency coordination

16   Third, we need to improve coordination across agencies and VWOs, so that we can all work on a common action plan for the client, and in partnership with the client and beneficiaries. For complex cases where multiple agencies are involved, the SSOs will assign a case lead to coordinate the stakeholders to work on a common action plan with the client, to see it through, and to see that the causes are addressed as best as we can, while alleviating symptoms.

17   Because each of us comes with different schemes and programmes, some of them address different causes or the other, some alleviate certain symptoms or the other. And when we see the family as a whole, we see what needs to be addressed upstream before the rest can flow, before other things can jalan. We can all come together, each of us autonomous in our own right, but coordinating and working hand-in-hand to tackle interlocking causes and alleviating multiple symptoms. By doing this, we will also be able to better identify gaps, kinks and inconsistencies in our schemes, our programmes, our policies, as well as the way we implement them on the ground.

Co-location of complementary services, physically or virtually

18   Fourth, we want to see how we can co-locate agencies and VWOs that provide complementary services. This can be actual physical co-location, or virtual connections through video-conferencing or tele-conferences. Currently, two SSOs at Kreta Ayer and Taman Jurong are co-located with family services teams run by VWOs. This has helped clients to access services and resources more easily.For example, I'm told, there was a client, Mdm Tan (not her real name), she was recently released from prison, and was referred to the SSO at Taman Jurong. The co-location of Fei Yue family services allowed both the SSO officer and the Fei Yue social worker to work together more easily to help Mdm Tan meet her financial, employment and social-emotional needs. After about 9 months of coordinated support, she was able to get back on her feet and find a full-time job. This provides coordinated service for the client, but back-end, it involves co-located services: to recognise that the different organisations, autonomous in our own right, we serve the same client and need to work together more closely. So it's finding our way, working together, finding a path together.

Enabling and supporting community efforts

19   Fifth, at the local level, we want to better enable and support community efforts to achieve better social service outcomes. Our SSOs will be stepping up efforts to form a common picture of local needs on the ground, and facilitate collaboration and partnerships. This can be achieved through better harnessing of data so that our community partners can develop local programmes and schemes. Process re-engineering can also allow us to better involve volunteers to meet community needs in a meaningful way.

Bringing people in the social services, at the local level, more closely together

20   Finally, we can have all the architecture we want, hardware, technological linkages, video-conferencing, data harnessing, SOPs, and so on. But if we want to achieve more integrated and coordinated interventions to better uplift the families we serve, especially those with complex difficulties, we need to bring the people in our social services, especially at the frontline, at the local level, more closely together. So that while we all come from different organisations, we all know each other on a professional and personal level, and we all understand our alignment in wanting to better uplift the lives of people that we serve together.

21   Therefore, since May this year, we have been organising annual SG Cares Community Networks - that's the name we've put on the network - and each HDB town will have one of these networks. We've invited people from organisations who can play a part in providing social services in that locality. SSOs, government agencies on the ground, Family Service Centres, specialist social service agencies, VWOs, schools, local community and grassroots, religious organisations, merchants' associations and so on. We will do this once a year, every year, and by doing so we hope to reconnect and facilitate conversations among partners in the community to share best practices and to explore collaborative opportunities.

22   In some places, that is already happening on the ground, informally and formally. But in some other places we find that organisations are meeting each other for the first time, talking to each other for the first time, understanding what each other does for the first time. And this provides an opportunity to network - people who provide services, people who identify problems, people who can provide volunteers, people who can provide resources: formal, informal, traditional, unconventional, all coming together in a network of concentric circles year after year. Not of organisations, but of people connected to each other, so that the organisational inhibitions are shed away. And if we know each other well, that will allow us to surmount the organisational barriers that we sometimes erect to protect our organisations but which may inadvertently cause delay and hurt to the people we serve. This will happen at the plenary level once a year, and in the intervening months, this network will be hard at work. Our SSOs will organise smaller sessions of different groups to deep dive into specific issues and coordinate locally to meet specific needs, such as vulnerable children, vulnerable elderly, families, persons with disability and so on.

23   Many of you have been working in your local communities for a long time, and you would have years of experience and intimate ground knowledge. Many of you even know the families you work with, you know them inside out, and you understand what the motivations are, and the issues that plague them and hold them down. And as we understand each other better at an individual professional level, Government and community partners can work closely together to complement each other, come up with new collaborations and programmes, and optimise and channel resources in the community to meet needs on the ground. I would like to thank many of you who have attended the sessions so far and made this network possible. Let it grow from strength to strength: it is a collection of people, not organisations.

24   For the transformation of social service delivery to succeed, we will need your full support and encouragement, and your ideas and inspiration and most importantly, your active ownership and participation in this common network. Ultimately, it is the people that need our help who are at the centre of our mission in the social service. And we need to make sure what we do helps them imagine and build a better future for themselves and their families, harnessing the assets in the community, recognising the strength of the individuals we serve to help themselves, and giving them the tools and support to enable them to lift themselves together with the community's support.

25   This transformation of social service delivery is a major priority for me and my colleagues. When I go around visiting some of the organisations in the social service sector, over lunch, over breakfast, over dinner, through meetings and visits - Many of you have given me feedback that we need this coordination to be tighter. Hence, this transformation of social service is not a Government initiative, it is a recognition of the needs of the ground, and we want to take leadership as a whole sector, to make this happen, a whole of social service effort that needs to come together.

26   But transformation can only happen with the growth and development of the organisations in the social service sector. This is because our sector faces increasingly complex and difficult challenges and demands. The needs of the future are growing, and also growing more complex. An ageing population and competition for a smaller workforce will mean that we will have to adapt to a future that is leaner in manpower, even as our needs increase. An ageing population, economic disruption, and income inequality will also increase the demand for our social services.

Building Stronger Organisations in the Social Service Sector

27   We all want our organisations to become stronger organisations that are better equipped to meet these future challenges. Not just service providers, but leaders in your respective fields who constantly find new and innovative ways of meeting the needs of our clients. Employers of choice who attract, retain and develop dedicated social service professionals who go on to contribute to our sector, and positively impact many lives in the process. Employers who remunerate our workers and social service professionals fairly, in recognition of their hard work and dedication. Efficient and well-run organisations that maximise the use of the resources entrusted to us as custodians. Galvanisers of volunteers and donors to become part of a culture of caring and giving that is part of our DNA.

28   And to achieve all of this, as a sector, we should consider the following: First, we should continue to grow stronger organisations, and we must invest in key organisational capabilities, such as through NCSS's People Practice Consultancy: this consultancy seeks to help all of us improve the HR practices in our VWOs. This is key as our ability to serve depends on the quality and well-being of the people who serve with us.

29   Second, explain to our donors, funders and the public why it is important to pay our social service professionals and workers fairly. In accordance, ideally, with NCSS's salary guidelines for the social service sector.

30   Third, give more priority to skills and capability development. We will launch the Skills Framework for the Social Services early next year. This is being developed by MSF, NCSS and SkillsFuture Singapore, in close collaboration and consultation with the sector. The Skills Framework will help our professionals in the sector help you better plan your careers and proactively develop your skills in order to meet the demands of your profession.

31   Fourth, leverage more effectively on volunteers, including skilled volunteers, as well as corporations who want to contribute, whether through their time, talent or resources, as part of our national SG Cares movement. One of our corporate partners here today, CapitaLand, has done this through its annual CapitaLand Giving Market event, which provides a platform for charities and social enterprises to showcase their products, such as handicrafts and food, to CapitaLand employees and tenants, raise funds and provide meaningful employment for our clients. And DBS is another example. DBS has partnered ComChest to leverage technology so as to catalyse fundraising efforts. For this year's ComChest Charity TV Show, members of the public were able to, for the first time, donate via the PayLah! app by scanning a QR code that was flashed on television. I look forward to more such fruitful partnerships.

32   Fifth, increase the adoption of IT and technology to improve our processes, while ensuring that at the same time we safeguard information. Free up the time of our social service professionals to attend to our clients, where it counts the most, instead of being bogged down by administrative tasks, improve processes leveraging on technology. One example of an initiative to improve adoption of IT is the iShine Cloud. This is a collaboration between NCSS and Singapore Pools, which we will be launching shortly. What is iShine Cloud? iShine Cloud provides a suite of integrated IT cloud services specific to our sector, and will include office productivity tools, HR and accounting packages at a subsidised rate. iShine Cloud services will support our VWOs and social enterprises to digitise your work and increase your efficiency, help you reduce administrative workload so you can focus more quality time on the frontline. And if you need funding to help you adopt and transit to iShine Cloud, please ask NCSS. They have a VWO-Charities Capability Fund to help you. Initiatives such as the iShine Cloud can also help our sector adopt IT and improve our work processes by aggregating common needs across VWOs. This allows us to achieve economies of scale for you and optimises resources not only within our VWOs but across the sector.

33   Really, the key to the transformations that we've have spoken about today is the recognition that our resources are ultimately finite, that we owe a duty to the people who donate and provide resources to us as custodians, and that we want to help and uplift as many people as possible with our work.

34   Our donors, philanthropists and volunteers have entrusted us with their time, effort and resources. We must make sure that the resources that are invested in the social service sector by the Government, by people and by corporates yield maximum social profit in spirit for the families and the people we serve. Some of the discussions we will be having later today will give us the opportunity to reflect and expand upon some of the things that we've just discussed. I look forward to the rest of today's programme this morning, hearing from you, listening to you and listening to the heartbeat of the social service sector. Together, we can build a social service sector that is stronger and better equipped to meet the needs of the present and the future.

Closing Remarks on NCSS's Leadership Renewal

35   I've talked about social service integration, I've talked about transformation of the social service sector and I would like to end off by thanking someone who has dedicated his life to the social sector.

36   Mr Hsieh Fu Hua has given six years of service as President of NCSS, and many years before that doing many different things for people who need assistance. He has combined his passion for the social service sector together with his experience in the corporate sector to provide very capable leadership of NCSS. Fu Hua's presidency is yet another chapter in his distinguished record in the social service and non-profit sector. This started from his university days, where he launched a mentorship scheme partnering university students and underprivileged children. Fu Hua has left his mark on NCSS, and NCSS has grown from strength to strength under his leadership. NCSS has spearheaded initiatives to build up the human capital, capability and capacity of VWOs. His advocacy for the needs of persons with mental health issues has significantly shaped NCSS's efforts in this area. Not just advocacy and words, but seen through deeds, bringing the skills and competencies of the private sector to energise, inspire and strengthen our social services. I have every confidence that Fu Hua will continue to contribute and serve in the sector and be an NSman of NCSS. Thank you Fu Hua.

37   I look forward to working together with Anita, the incoming President, Chia Lin, our incoming Vice-President as well as Philip, who has been re-appointed as Chairman of ComChest.

38   So on that note, I wish you all a productive AGM this afternoon, and look forward to listening to you, engaging you, hearing you and your concerns.

39   I also look forward to working with the rest of the new NCSS Board.

40   Have a good Summit.

41   Thank you.

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