Opening address by Mr Tan Chuan-Jin at the Social Service Summit
Mdm Halimah Yacob
Speaker of Parliament
and Adviser to the National Council of Social Service
Mdm Rahayu Mahzam
Member of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Social and Family Development
Mr Hsieh Fu Hua
President of the National Council of Social Service
Friends and Partners from the Community, Corporate and Public Sectors
I am pleased to be with all of you at the inaugural Social Service Summit, convened by the National Council of Social Service (NCSS).
Enabling Dignified Lives
I am heartened to see that the Summit today has brought together organisations and individuals from the community, corporate and public sectors. We are gathered here with the aim of working to uplift different groups of disadvantaged and vulnerable persons. While the organisations and programmes are diverse, our collective efforts all contribute to a common goal - of enabling all to lead dignified lives.
We do need all hands on deck, because our work is evolving and becoming more challenging, even as the world changes around us.
As you are aware, it is very important for us, even as we are focused on our responsibilities and the things we are passionate about, to not just look inwards, but to remain fully aware of what is happening in the world around us, because it has a very real impact in terms of how we should approach the way we do things. For example, we face challenges arising from demographics and economics. We all know that Singapore’s population is ageing, and ageing doesn’t have to be a negative story. We are not the only society that is ageing – people are living longer and birth rates are not as high as we like it to be, so that compounds the effect. It is a reality that we all face, but I think it is also about how we embrace that reality so that not only do we live long, but we can also live well. And how do we do that better? At the same time, our economic growth is moderating amid a slowing global economy. There will be a real impact in terms of jobs created, opportunities and budget that would be available for us in terms of what we are able to do and the things we want to do. So how do we stretch our dollar? The economics is important, not for its own sake but in terms of the very real impact it has on our welfare. I think it is important for us to look at some of these perspectives and not look at this as if it is another pursuit of the GDP numbers – there are very real consequences for all of us. It is thus important to be aware of how things are developing, because it will shape the way we do business, or it ought to change the way we do business. And we would need to respond in different ways.
The social service sector clearly is not spared from the effects of a tightening labour market and slower growth in the national labour force. Our social service organisations have to consider how they can strengthen themselves to meet capability and capacity constraints, and to collaborate with partners so as to better reap economies of scale. We have to continue to grow an impactful sector.
The families of vulnerable persons, the social service sector and the Government will keep doing our part to enable our Singaporeans with dignified lives. But we also have to consider how we as a sector can continue to innovate and do better, for the benefit of those we serve. One example that I remember learning: it’s easy to be hard, but it’s hard to be smart. What you want is a strong beating heart that can keep beating for the long haul, so that we are able to continually serve the people we want to serve. It is important to remember that even as we pursue our passions, that we also take a step back, be aware and think about how we can bring aboard innovation ideas from different sectors because there are real applications we can embrace.
And social service sector does not only have an impact on the lives of clients and beneficiaries. It plays an important role in raising public awareness of important causes and nurturing a compassionate society.
Growing an Impactful Sector
While much good work has been done, we must keep the momentum going to stay relevant and ensure that the needs of those we serve are met. So how do we continue to grow an impactful sector?
I am sure there will be many useful ideas emerging from today’s discussions - new strategies, approaches and partnerships, to maximise our collective impact. We recognise the importance of strong and future-ready organisations that continually grow their capabilities and forge partnerships both within and also beyond the sector. Many of our organisations are working hard on this, and it is a continuous journey.
NCSS has identified a few opportunities which we can leverage on as a sector. I think these are pertinent and I hope we can explore these more during this Summit.
Firstly, the opportunity to be more intentional about capacity building. While we continue to provide good services today, we also have to focus on building strong internal capabilities to allow us to continue delivering the same good services tomorrow. The better we are able to organise ourselve, the better we are able to do what we need to do and expand our reach.
Client-facing services need to be supported by strong organisations. Our sector also needs to be able to compete with other sectors for scarce manpower. Here, organisations will need to pay attention to their internal capabilities, so as to support the aspirations of those in and entering the workforce – nurturing passions, but also building careers and deepening skills.
The Social Service Sectoral Tripartite Committee is in the process of charting the Sectoral Manpower Plan for the social service sector. The perspectives arising from today’s discussions could also contribute toward the work of that Committee.
Secondly, we can also do more to leverage on technology and innovation, to overcome resource constraints that we face. We will need adaptive organisations which are always keeping a look out for different ways to do what we do better, whether it is to deliver better services at the front-line, or better manage our operations at the back-end. Our work will always require a human touch. But it does not pre-include us from learning how to better use technology. But I think we have not fully leveraged available technology to make work easier for our professionals, to enable more communication without needing to spend a lot of time travelling, to plan our resources, share information etc.
Video analytics technology is one example. These are not CCTVs that require manual monitoring, but “smart cameras” that can automatically detect incidents and alert the relevant parties. One such system uses video analytics to recognise movement patterns indicating a fall, and send out alerts to family members or emergency responders. This helps family members or the community care for elderly persons living alone in a way that preserves their privacy and independence. There is scope to leverage more on these technologies as they get better and more affordable.
Thirdly, there is an opportunity to build strong collaborations within and across communities. Our organisations should work with others, both within and outside of the sector – forge new partnerships, share and leverage on resources and expertise, to create impact beyond what any of us can do alone.
One example of this was when 60 members of the People’s Association’s Senior Academy Alumni worked with 20 other community and corporate partners to bake and deliver 27,000 cookies to 500 beneficiaries last month. Borne of the desire to pass on a legacy of the “Gotong Royong” spirit and the values of love and care for the community, this initiative saw working professionals and their families partnering seniors to give back to the society and engage in activities together.
Volunteers from both the people and corporate sectors could be a meaningful and valuable resource for our organisations in meeting underserved needs, helping in areas such as identifying potential social issues early, organising to better tackle local challenges and co-creating better solutions with our organisations.
This is a two-way process, and the sector must also be ready to change processes and redesign jobs to engage volunteers and enable them to contribute meaningfully in a way that benefits service delivery and improves client outcomes.
So, even as we expand the number of programmes we operate, we should also seek to harness the full potential of the community. Together, we can build greater resilience, detect and prepare for new and emerging needs, and provide informal support and social capital to those who need it. The ability to mobilise community has been a unique role of our social service organisations, and I hope this will continue to be our strength even as we become more organised, planned and programmatic.
Nurturing a Compassionate Society
And as different parties work together for the good of society and advance the values of caring and compassion in our different spheres of influence, the less fortunate in our midst also benefit as they are surrounded by a caring community. By doing so, we nurture a compassionate society of individuals, families, organisations and communities, and eventually, a caring nation strengthened by ties that bind.
The social service sector is very well-positioned to influence how together as a nation, we can truly become a compassionate society. Social service agencies embody the hearts, the heads and the hands of compassion. They harness professional capabilities, voluntary callings and diverse contributions from their key partners to deliver strong outcomes for those they serve.
And when these organisations begin to mobilise the wider community such as volunteers, corporates and schools, with each contributing our strengths and experiences, we come together as one Singapore community and better enable dignified lives, an impactful sector and a compassionate society.
On this note, I encourage all of us to contribute actively to today’s discussion, and to come alongside NCSS in this worthwhile journey to build a shared, collective agenda that will result in an impactful social service sector, nurture a compassionate society and enable dignified lives. This is an ambitious objective, but one that we can definitely progress towards if everyone in our society is prepared to show strong support and take action. Thank you.