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Keynote Address at NCSS Day 2018

Type: Official Speeches (All), Official Speeches: Desmond Lee

Topic(s): Social Service Agencies & Partners, Social Service Professionals

1 I am very delighted to be here, on NCSS Day.

2 In 1958, the late Mr Woon Wah Siang, then the Director of Social Welfare, he started all of this. He brought 40 VWO leaders together and started your predecessor, the Singapore Council of Social Service. The key intent then was to coordinate social services in Singapore.

  • The Council worked closely with the Government, VWOs and the community to help the vulnerable and needy Singapore.
  • This was in 1958. One of the earliest tests for your predecessors was the Tiong Bahru fire the year after SCSS was formed, in 1959. That major blaze left many people homeless. SCSS sprang into action, and worked with the Government, worked with the Community to help affected residents, raising funds and assisted in rehoming them.
  • And this year - NCSS -marks your 60th anniversary. So first I would like to say a very happy birthday to NCSS.

3 In Singapore, everyone should have the opportunity to develop to his or her fullest potential. We also want to keep the engine of social mobility going.And even as we speak about economic transformation, the digital economy and industry transformation, we must always remember that we don't want to leave any one behind.

  • So there is a narrative of surging forward, seizing opportunity, but also making sure that as a society we don't run so far ahead that we leave people behind.
  • Understandably, a lot of public discussion attention has centred around our education system and over SkillsFuture, and rightfully so.
  • But our social service sector - all of you here and all our VWO partners - you also play a very important
  • Social service programmes, both by Government and VWOs, collectively reach out to a wide range of people low-income households, persons with disabilities, youth and children in need, and so on.
  • Together, these programmes offer care and support, they alleviate suffering, and they seek to improve the lives of the disadvantaged in our midst.

4 And as PM recently emphasised

  • The structure of our society cannot be one in which entrenched elites close themselves off, defend their own interests, while neglecting the rest of society.
  • Such a Singapore would be substantially weakened, and our future would be very bleak, if we were to break up into that kind of polarised society.
  • Anyone with the talent and ability, and who is willing to work hard, must be given the chance to develop themselves, seize opportunities, and contribute to their family and contribute to society.
  • And for those who can't, we must make sure we support them so they live a life of dignity and respect.
  • But we all recognise that not everyone starts off at the same point in life.
  • So children who are born into less well-off households, may sometimes be beset with a whole range of complex issues - family disputes, healthcare challenges, addiction, difficulties developing intellectually and academically and so on.
  • And because of all these difficulties that they face, they may not get the attention and opportunity to realise their fullest potential.

5 So the role that you have, and the role of the social services, together with our education system and other social agencies, is to ensure that such difficulties faced by vulnerable families do not present an insurmountable and persistent impediment to the family's development.

  • Crucially, we have to work hard to make sure that the next generation is not deprived of their chance of developing to their fullest potential.
  • So even as we're talking about making sure that the most talented and those with the most aptitude can seize opportunities and drive society forward, we must also ceaselessly work with our partners in the education sector, the healthcare sector our VWOs to look at how we can unblock impediments, keep the gateway open, keep opportunities open, give them a bit of an uplift and make sure the next generation is not held back by anchors that weigh them down.
  • Therefore, well-targeted and effectively coordinated social service interventions, not fragmented ones, can transform and has transformed the lives of these families and individuals for the better.

6 This is why integration and coordination are absolutely key in the work we do in NCSS and in the MSF Family.

  • For example, a social worker from a Family Service Centre, working together with the Social Service Office, other government agencies and community partners, can remove barriers for a low-income family, find opportunities for them, and help that family break out from a cycle of deprivation and poverty. And if not for this generation, then for the next.
  • The state of the sector, the health of our VWOs, the capabilities and morale of our social service professionals are key in ensuring the effective delivery of social services and interventions.
  • These are therefore right at the top of my priorities and the priorities of my colleagues at HQ.

7 Moreover, the challenges that are faced by the sector are growing more complex and difficult.

  • Like all sectors, the social service sector faces issues of resourcing as well as adapting to the growing needs of the future.
  • Not just growing needs, but the growing complexity of those needs.
  • An ageing population and very intense competition for a shrinking workforce in Singapore means that our social service agencies and VWOs will all have to adapt to a future that is leaner in manpower, even as we confront new and growing needs.
  • An ageing population will also increase the demand for social services.

8 So what do we need to do, and what does NCSS need to do? As a sector, we must therefore

  • hasten the adoption of IT and technology;
  • improve our processes and make them much more effective;
  • leverage more effectively on volunteers and corporates who want to contribute, and see that their contributions derive real gains and profits for vulnerable households; and
  • ensure that our donors and the public understand the importance of properly remunerating our professionals, in accordance with NCSS's salary guidelines for the social service sector.

9 By doing so, this will allow our social service professionals to focus their time and energy on important client-facing work that requires the critical human touch, and free them from burdensome and inefficient administrative tasks behind the scenes.

  • So we have limited manpower, we're fighting for a shrinking pool of the workforce, but you will still find many Singapore who are very keen to contribute and to work in the social service sector.
  • We need to make sure that those who want to join our sector, that precious group of people, are freed from burdens and can focus on therapy, on counselling, on treatment, on social work interventions, on group work, on individual work, on family work and so on.
  • So really, that is what NCSS should continue to emphasise.

10 To meet growing needs, government funding for the social service sector has increased substantially in the past few years. From 2013 to 2016, annual funding from MSF to the sector increased by about 70 per cent.

  • But in parallel, our sector as a whole must continue to enhance efficiency in the use of our resources, strengthen fundraising capabilities, and cultivate donors.
  • This work must continue. Making sure that resources that are put in by Government, resources that are put in by donors, by philanthropists are efficiently used and maximised.
  • Some people say that the discipline of the private sector can hold and yield useful lessons for the social service sector. But when people hear that, they sometimes recoil and say, "Are you trying to skim, are you trying to save, are you trying to cut back?"
  • I think far from that, if we can bring in discipline and bring in the rigour of the private sector and apply it in a sector that has a lot of heart - the social service sector - we can make sure that for every dollar that's put in, wherever that dollar comes from, you derive maximum profit in spirit for those whom we serve.
  • Maximum profit in spirit, not profit in dollars and cents. We make sure that dollar is wisely and effectively spent, and benefits those who really need our help.
  • So when I talk about raising social service professionals' salaries based on NCSS' benchmarks, it is so that the professionals can be assured, though the organisations may say that donors don't quite understand - because they may believe that social service professionals should serve out of goodwill and heart, and so they should not be paid competitively.
  • I think that's not quite the right approach and it is important, as I said earlier, among all the things we do, that we must help VWOs to explain to philanthropists and donors that we need to properly remunerate the social service professionals who care for and interface with the vulnerable groups that we look after, so that we get the best service and the best care for them.
  • Otherwise, we would be very short-sighted, and the profession and the sector will not be uplifted.

11 You play a critical role in this transformation I just talked about.

  • You are a bridge between Government and our social service sector.
  • At the same time, you are a statutory board within the MSF Family, working closely with HQ to develop and carry out plans for our sector.
  • NCSS is therefore uniquely placed to facilitate the dialogue between the public and the people sectors on policies, programmes and unmet social needs that have to be addressed
  • NCSS is also a sector developer. With an overview of the social service sector and a good sense of our sector's needs, your mission is to work with our VWOs to build up their capabilities and strengths, so that they can better carry out their mission and their purpose.

NCSS's Achievements

12 I'll spend a few moments to outline your achievements - we recognise them, and we want to continue to encourage you in your efforts. By no means is the list exhaustive, as can be seen from the exhibition outside. Over the years, you have made advancements in developing our sector.

13 One of the achievements I'd like to highlight is the People Practice Consultancy, or PPC.

  • You started this two years ago in 2016.
  • This helps our VWOs improve their HR management and development.
  • You do this by getting consultancy firms to work with VWOs to provide customised solutions so that they can better attract, motivate and retain their employees.
  • They cover areas such as recruitment, compensation and benefits, performance management and career planning.
  • Around 100 VWOs have taken up PPC, and many have given positive feedback, so I am very encouraged by this effort.
  • Often when people talk about building capabilities, they talk about building front-end capabilities of social workers and social service professionals, but actually making sure that the HR management framework is strong is critical and makes sure the engine works fine and keeps running.

14 The next achievement is the work of the Social Service Institute, or SSI, part of NCSS.

  • SSI is integral to our efforts to continually upgrade the skills of our social service professionals to meet our clients' needs.
  • Since SSI began in 2013, you have trained over 10,000 professionals a year.
  • And started to develop online and blended courses to reach out to even more learners.
  • I would like to encourage you to continue to do that.
  • I'm told SSI aspires to be the centre for learning capability development in the social service sector, expanding your mission beyond training to influencing the overall training landscape in the sector, over the next few years.
  • It is high ambition, but I think someone needs to take the lead and SSI should take the lead.

15 The third achievement is that of the Community Chest, your fundraising and engagement arm. The ComChest team has supported many VWOs to run social service programmes, by providing a steady and stable source of funding. That certainty and that stability is critical, because many VWO leaders that I talk to often fret about whether they will get resources or whether fundraising will be stable or whether they will have an assured stream of income for them to retain their staff and carry out their services. So your work gives many of our VWOs that peace of mind.

  • ComChest has increased the fundraised amounts in the last five years, from 2013 to 2017, by about 40 per cent.
  • Even after the significant boost from the Care and Share movement in 2014 and 2015, fundraising levels in recent years have remained significantly higher compared to levels in 2012 and 2013. This is no mean feat and I congratulate you for that tremendous effort.
  • But as the needs of the sector grow, ComChest can play an important role in galvanising corporate and community funding, and in matching givers to causes that they feel most aligned with.
  • ComChest has also been working to implement an opt-out contribution system for SHARE to support regular giving, by allowing employees to donate regularly through payroll deductions, GIRO or credit card.
  • Public sector agencies have responded well, and ComChest is exploring extending this to the private sector.

16 I'm also very happy that NCSS is actively supporting the SG Cares movement. It is a national movement not a Government movement. It involves many partners from the people sector actively pushing to transform the tone of society, moving away from the feeling of transaction-based relationships to one based on a sense that every Singaporean counts, and that everyone can play a part, no matter how young or how old, no matter what stage of life. Giving is a way of life, it is to be lauded and done at all times of day, it doesn't have to be done formally and can be done informally through daily acts of kindness. And through your participation in SG Cares and supporting volunteerism, supporting VWOs, for example

  • By hiring volunteer managers to better, manage volunteers; you've developed a volunteer management framework and toolkit so that our VWOs can recruit, engage and most importantly retain volunteers, to help increase the capacity of the work they can do.
  • You've helped our VWOs redesign the job-scopes of volunteers, to create meaningful volunteering opportunities.
  • I also hear you are developing sustainable partnership models and successfully brokered volunteering partnerships between VWOs and corporations, schools, government agencies, so that you can encourage regular and sustained volunteerism.

17 Finally, you continue to represent the voice of our sector. So even as you work with HQ, even as you work with VWOs to grow their capabilities, you are uniquely placed and most continue to represent the voice of the sector and provide leadership to them.

  • One crucial effort is the Social Service Sector Strategic Thrusts, or 4ST, a roadmap for the sector, developed together with the sector, which is vitally important. It is developed by you and by the sector, so partner them in that journey, and see to it that transformation becomes real.
  • Move it out of your publicity material and make it happen on the ground.
  • I was having some conversations with colleagues from NCSS and raiSE and we were thinking, let us find some organisations that are keen to transform end-to-end they see the value in the doing so, and NCSS and other social service organisations and agencies can partner them, to bring transformative schemes around them, work hand-in-hand with one or two organisations, make the transformation come about and let the other VWOs in the sector see how that has better enabled that organisation to serve the needs they were set up to serve.
  • I think that will begin a cascading effect as more and more people feel that this transformation can really make a difference.
  • So I challenge you to make that happen and, let's see it happen in the next few months.

Supporting the Next Phase of Social Service Delivery

18 I've talked about your history, I've talked about your achievements, I've also talked about the tasks that you are carrying out, in order to help our VWOs meet the challenges of the future. This include in IT, processes of re-engineering, remuneration of professionals, as well in giving more efforts to support frontline professionals in their work.

19 But let me now paint the way forward, the things that MSF and Government we think we need to do in order to meet that challenge. This is because we can either respond passively or we can look at the challenges and grip the bull by the horns and say we will respond boldly, and proactively. And I think the latter is much to be preferred.

20 The next thing we need to work harder on is driving social service delivery transformation.

21 Many of you would have grown up with the phrase "many helping hands".

  • "Many helping hands" actually started off in a time where VWOs were coming in to do what Government wasn't able to do
  • In our early days of independence, there were very little resources, some people saw unmet needs and complained about it
  • Many others saw unmet needs and said "let us as Singaporeans do something about it, step forward, come together, get a little bit of support from the Government, especially land, and let's set forth and help to meet those needs"
  • And many of these veritable institutions exist to this very day and have grown in size, they have increased their range of services, but increasingly they see this as a partnership between the community and the Government - providing services to those in need

22 And so "many helping hands" started off from a necessity, born out of necessity, to become one where we spiritually recognise that"many helping hands" is to be preferred over "one monolithic glove" that does everything.

  • And "many helping hands"continues to allow many well-meaning people to play their part - to do something whether it's in a particular area, sector or locality
  • And it's very tempting to say well if we fund you at such a level, we might as well takeover and run it ourselves
  • But I think we must resist the temptation because "many helping hands" has a tremendous strength, in empowering people participation, in driving volunteerism, in encouraging innovation amongst those who want to play a part in giving to society

23 So even as we continue to laud and support the "many helping hands" approach, I think it is important to recognise

  • Firstly, the growing needs that have been articulated, from an ageing society,
  • Challenges in manpower, even in the social service sector;
  • Increasing scarcity of resources to pump into our sector because of competition
  • But also the vulnerabilities and the Achilles' heel that the "many helping hands approach" creates

24 Of the "many helping hands" - such as the 460 organisations within NCSS - most focus on specific areas" focus on specific areas• Children with special needs

  • Disability
  • Alleviating the poverty cycle
  • Physiotherapy
  • Counselling

25 Your counterparts in other government agencies such as HDB, such as the SSO, such as your MOE and schools, all also play a part in the social service provisioning to the less fortunate. Each and every organisation has one or more programmes that they run and that is their contribution to the "many helping hands" approach.

26 As a result, one aspect of our "many helping hands" approach is that it needs to be much more client-centric.

  • At present, each of your VWOs and each government agency that participates, runs specific programmes that addresses specific needs
  • You will find that clients with at least two or more complex issues that anchor them down have to seek assistance from multiple agencies and VWOs
  • They have to go to many places.

27 And each of these organisations, being good stewards of resources, whether they are state resources or charity dollars, will want to do due diligence and ask relevant questions and understand the issues.

  • Each will want to know enough so they can intervene effectively
  • But the effect of that organisational-centric approach is that instead of the client, organisations in the social service sector, become the centre of focus
  • This means the bandwidth tax, seen from the viewpoint of these individuals and families, is considerable

28 So a family that is beset by marital conflict, by children with special needs, by disability in the family, by addiction or crime, by housing insecurity, will need to go to

  • The HDB rental department
  • The HDB branch office - to settle their instalments and arrears
  • To CPF to sort out their use of Ordinary and Special Accounts
  • To your SPED Schools to get their children supported
  • To your FSCs for counselling
  • To your disability support centres for support
  • And so on and so forth

29 So each helping hand wants to do their best, but the family, which should really be at the heart of our work, needs to go to these organisations. Even if one refers to the other organisation, the person still needs to travel and repeat their circumstances; provide the same documents; and go through another round of means testing. And that bandwidth saps the energy of those who are already teetering on the brink.

30 No doubt, collectively we make a difference. But if we take into account the growing challenges that we face, and recognise that while the successive waves of broad based policies have uplifted the vast majority of Singaporeans, there are also those who are stuck at the bottom, because they are overwhelmed by the complexity of challenges.

31 Therefore, our next challenge - for NCSS and MSF HQ, MSF Family and all our social service partners - is to coordinate and integrate more effectively as a network of care within the SG Cares movement.

32 Let me describe from the perspective of your client, what they should see with these changes. At the same time, I will also outline what needs to happen behind the scenes in the months and years ahead, if we wish to achieve this goal.

33 First, we want to make sure the client feels supported;

  • To assure them that the agencies which come and offer support to the family are talking to each other, coordinating through the range of issues and offering a viable pathway for them to overcome their difficulties
  • The client must feel that they have a part to play as well,
  • That it is not just about going around asking for assistance but that in partnering them, they also have a part to play;
  • They and their family, have a part to play in resolving the issues and working with all the agencies to make the effort

34 Behind the scenes, there is a need for the various social service providers - the 460 VWOs under NCSS, the government agencies and their frontline officers - HDB, SSOs, FSCs, SG Enable, SNTC so on and so forth - to be the gateway to social service support in a networked way

  • No longer can we continue to have one counter for one or two or three programmes
  • Once an agency or organisation obtains information from the client, there must be a concerted effort to link them up to the rest of the social service sector based on the relevant needs of the family

35 Second, to reduce the bandwidth tax of people running to and fro, you have to make sure that your VWOs are prepared to share information, case details, and documents, with the consent of the client,

  • When someone has gone to an SSO or FSC, they would have already gone through the case history
  • We need to ensure that before the client even reaches the medical social worker at the hospital the next day,the information has already been shared

36 Thirdly, we need much more effective case coordination, especially if complex issues are linked one to the other.

  • Once you've solved one, you can also address the other
  • On the other hand, if you hold back on one, there is a likelihood that you might not be able to move forward
  • Thus there is a need to have better case coordination
  • This is where our SSOs can play their part in leading the range of government agencies and VWOs, that are tasked to solve the various aspects of the vulnerable families' challenges

37 Fourth, agencies and VWOs must be prepared to co-locate with each other.

  • An agency or organisation should not say "I am here, I am entrenched here, this is my location"
  • We ultimately serve the client and the convenience of the client and the ease with which we can assist them must be central drivers in where we plan the locality of our services
  • So we will physically locate near each other or use video-conferencing capabilities and technologies to ease the bandwidth tax on vulnerable families

38 Many of you are already on board this journey, but we need to do more together with the various social service entities

  • By beginning yearly conversations, and bringing them together,
  • The VWOs, the FSCs, the SSOs, the unfunded services, the government agencies can converse with each other, network with each other, and know each other well
  • It's a low tech solution but I believe that familiarity and networking, makes things happen on the ground
  • Especially in an informal and effective way, rather than having lots and lots of systems connections and IT systems
  • Sometimes the most effective way is to go local, go informal, do your duty, make sure the information is there, work together, coordinate and ultimately put the client at the centre of it
  • And not our organisation, not our brands, not our mottos

39 This is key for social service integration. If we can do that, I think we can adopt this approach in a lot of areas- like rental housing, youth at risk, recidivism and crime.

40 With a coordinated social service network that eventually gets integrated with the health services, we will be better placed than ever before to go into areas of greater need and tackle them so as to achieve the greatest profit in spirit for the people we serve.

41 So these are the challenges we have to face in the future.

  • I think this is an area that we must all work towards and NCSS is a critical piece of the puzzle
  • I cannot overstate the importance of your active participation in making this happen
  • I look forward to working with each and every one of you to make that happen
  • With your support, the VWOs will be able to transform, get funding, improve their capabilities and support in order to drive towards that next phase of social service delivery,
  • This is especially so at a time and an age where Singapore faces greater challenges on the social front than ever before

42 I have other remarks but I shall stop here, and leave this as food for thought. You will hear more about this because this is the top most priority for MSF Family.

43 I wish you all the best and look forward to an active partnership with all of you.

44 Thank you.