Good evening everyone, I am very happy to join all of you today.
Before I begin, let me first thank Mildred and her team for organising today’s event, and for getting businesses to come together to demonstrate support for the family as a core institution of our society.
When I was briefed about this event some time back, my staff told me that I would have to give out quite a number of awards. I told them – “That’s fine! The more awards I give out, the happier I am. I would be happy to stay here the whole night if there are thousands of awards to be given out.” And indeed, I hope one day when I stand up here to give out the awards, I will stand even longer than today because there will be so many more businesses receiving awards. These would be businesses that have come forward to honour the family as an institution, by putting in place practices to support our goal to make Singapore one of the best places – if not, the best place – for families in the entire world.
This is not easy. We have to walk the journey together. The government has recently announced the initiative, to spend about $4 million over the next three years, to support pro-family programmes and initiatives in businesses. That is the easy part, but it is not sufficient.
I have three young kids. So to many of you whom I met just now, I have been one of your mystery shoppers. I will not be the final arbiter on whether your establishment is pro-family, because after visiting you, I tend to ask – my wife, and my three kids – whether they give the establishment a thumbs-up or thumbs-down. If they give a thumbs-up, it makes my life easier because the next time I know where to go to. If they give a thumbs-down, then I have to find some other new place to entertain them. And I must say that over time, we have been increasingly been able to find more places where the family feels comfortable and welcomed.
There are three things that my family and I always look out for whenever we visit various establishments. The first thing we look out for is the easiest; the hardware, such as diaper changing rooms or more carpork lots for family vehicles. If we can replicate some of the best practices among you very quickly, we can scale up the types of facilities we have for families. So the next time I change my one-year-old baby, I will not need to put him on top of the water cistern because there is no diaper changing platform in the male toilet. However, the hardware is the easy part, and for that I think we can do much more and do it quickly.
The next, harder, part has to do with the software. This is where I am very happy to see that over the years, many establishments have put in place measures to make sure that all families feel welcome in their businesses. These are some very simple measures which many other countries have also adopted. For example, we know that it is very difficult to make young children sit still, especially when they are hungry and waiting for their food. Hence many restaurants have come out with simple measures, to allow them to draw and doodle while waiting for their food, providing a play area for them to enjoy themselves while their parents have their meal in peace and quiet. These are simple measures - how we design our work processes, how we design our menus and so forth. For this part, I think we are also able to scale up very quickly because is it all about learning the best practices from each other.
The most difficult part in this entire venture has to do with the heart-ware, because whether a family feels welcome or not, goes beyond the hardware and software, in terms of the menu and the programming. What is most important whenever my family walks into a restaurant or a supermarket, is whether they feel welcomed. And that requires effort from all of us; not just the waiters, waitresses and cashiers, but from all of us in society to create a pro-family environment. We can have the best waiters and waitresses, the most well-trained cashiers, but at the end of the day, when we walk along the aisles of the shopping malls, and everyone frowns upon our children just because they make a bit more noise, then I think we have not been able to achieve what we want. An environment that makes young and old feel welcomed wherever they go – that is the biggest challenge. This we cannot be achieved with money alone. That part requires your help, your concerted effort to change individual mindsets towards making every environment friendlier to our families. Having said that, I must say that all of you here would have passed the test with flying colours.
What is more important than having all of you here is for us to start this movement. That the next time we give out these awards, we will have many more people joining us. A movement that sends a clear message that Singapore is a place where we support the family. We will have pro-family measures, we have pro-family environments, and most importantly, we have pro-family mindsets amongst all of us. That will truly make us an outstanding country that welcomes families, putting us a cut above all other countries that might be able to replicate our hardware and software. Because it is the heart-ware, that requires the most effort and I invite us all to walk this journey together.
On that note, I wish to thank and commend all of you for your tremendous efforts over the last few years to support this initiative, because this journey is very important to us. Whether we succeed or not defines the future that we have in Singapore much more than economics or hard numbers. It speaks of our quality of life and the kind of environment we want to bring up our families in, and spend the rest of our lives in this little country of ours.
So thank you very much for supporting this effort. May we all go out and be ambassadors of this movement. May we aim and strive, that in time to come, we will have even more people in the next awards. May we all be a family advocates, that we will be our sternest critics to market-test all our products in terms of the hardware, software and heart-ware amongst all our staff to make sure that we send the correct message to everyone.