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Speech By Minister Desmond Lee at the Rotary Club of Singapore's Installation of 89th President and Board of Directors on 24 June 2023

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

Topic(s): Financial Assistance & Social Support, MSFCare Volunteers, Social Service Agencies & Partners, All


Outgoing President Mr James Lee and Board Members,
Incoming President Dr Chan Siew Luen and the new Board,
Your Excellencies,
Distinguished Guests,
Rotarians from Singapore and the region,
Ladies and Gentlemen,


1           Good evening.

2           It is my pleasure to join you for the installation of the 89th President and Board of the Rotary Club of Singapore.

Rotary Club of Singapore 

3           Chartered in 1930, the Club is the oldest and now the largest Rotary Club in Singapore.

4           Many of you are leaders in your professions, and are actively paying it forward by contributing your valuable experience, resources, and time for the larger good of society. I would say the same for those who are coming from the region – you also play a major role in your respective communities.

Contributions of the Club

5           For more than 90 years, the Club has played an important part by providing a platform for people to make a difference to society.

6           Today, I would like to recognise every Rotarian’s effort in uplifting those in need. For example, you:

a. Collaborated with Football Plus to help youths-at-risk through a soccer programme.

b. And worked with Yishun Health on the ‘Share a Pot’ programme, to help isolated seniors by bringing nutritious hot soup and an exercise programme to them.

c. The Club has also helped nurture generations of young people through your 10 Interact Clubs and three Rotaract Clubs.

7         And I am encouraged that you have been driving change through global grant projects such as the ‘Help the Children’ project in Malang, Indonesia.

Strengthening Partnerships between the Government and the Community

8           The social issues we face today, in Singapore and around the world, are increasingly complex. And we need the support of the whole community to build an inclusive society.

9           Today, I’d like to take this opportunity to share about what we have been working on here in Singapore, together with our stakeholders, to support the vulnerable in a much more coordinated and effective way.

10       And I will use our flagship example, Community Link, or ComLink for short.

11       To understand how ComLink leads in the transformation of social safety nets here in Singapore, we must first understand how it has been delivered all these years in Singapore and around the world.

12       The support that is provided to the vulnerable tends to be given in an agency-centred and programme-centred way.

a. Specialised support is provided in specific areas of need. For example, if a family requires housing support, they go to the housing department. If they need financial assistance, they go to the financial department that provides social assistance. If they need disability support, then they go to the relevant social service agencies, and so on.

b. Sometimes, we even sub-specialise for greater focus and deeper domain expertise.

i. For example, a charity might not just support people with disability, it may support only children with disability. And in fact, they may even sub-specialise to specific conditions – for example, intellectual disability.

ii. This is quite natural because organisations, whether the Government, a charity, a secular or religious organisation, if contributing to the society, want to be able to focus your efforts, pull your weight, specialise, and command deep knowledge expertise in supporting certain issues.

13       But families facing complex and interlocking issues will typically have to approach different organisations and undergo repeated forms of needs assessment. And when they get assistance from a variety of organisations, you can imagine that they will have to interface with many different organisations, including the Government as well as charities.

a. This can impose a bandwidth on these families. While resources are available and come from various sources, for the support given to these families with complex interlocking problems, the outcomes are often not as optimal as one would have desired. By interlocking, one is related to another; if you don’t solve one, you can’t address the other. And the resources put in are disproportionate to the outcomes that these families see for themselves.

14       As a response to this, we looked around the world over the last few years to identify whether there are solutions to such challenges – a silo approach that is agency-centric and programme-centred. And we’ve decided to develop our own way of doing things – and we call it Community Link. It was established in 2019 to move away from an agency and programme-centred approach, to one that puts the families we serve at the heart of everything we do.

a. To do this, we decided not to be overly ambitious. We are working with 14,000 families with children who are living in rental housing. For the benefit of our friends from abroad, in Singapore, rental housing is provided by the state. And it is provided to lower-income households who have no other housing options available for them at that point in time. Because the majority in Singapore own their own homes, rental housing is provided by the state at highly subsidised rates to help provide housing and shelter to those who have no other options.

i. To reach out to these families with young children, we make good use of data. By using our data, we were able to proactively reach out to around 14,000 families with children who live in rental housing. And after we reach out to them, we pair our officers in the ministry with volunteer befrienders to understand their aspirations and needs. So, you can imagine that this is the first change. Instead of them approaching different organisations and we wait for them to come to us, we harness our data, and we proactively reach out to all these families that need support. That’s number one.

b. Next, we work with our 14,000 ComLink families on a customised road map that the families own. We also work with them to develop goal-oriented action plans that may evolve over time.

c. Third, government agencies, community partners, and charities, including fellow Rotarians if you join us in this endeavour, can then come in based on the identified needs of these families to provide programmes and services relevant to the families’ needs, including financial literacy programmes, enrichment activities, sports, and more.

15       We have expanded ComLink islandwide in the past two years from four pilot towns to 21 ComLink communities, each supported by a Social Service Office which is run by the Government. Through this, we hope for all ComLink families to be empowered to first achieve stability in their lives, then self-reliance, and ultimately, achieve social mobility. If not in this generation, then in the next.

16       Over the next few years, we will grow more opportunities for effective collaboration to better serve those in need. You can imagine a frame, a triangle with three sides, one side – social coordination, the other side – healthcare coordination, third side of the triangle closing it off is community participation. And I know that there are many organisations, whether Rotary Clubs, Interact Clubs, religious organisations or secular, or corporate organisations that want to do CSR, and many of you approach us and say, “Can you give us better signposting? Instead of us groping in the dark and identifying what these families need. Instead of giving one-size-fits-all assistance to every single family, where there will be wastage, can you signpost for us using proper data?” And this is the response.  

a. In fact, the MSFCare Network has integrated over 3,000 volunteers and partners across almost 80 volunteering opportunities into one big MSF Family.

b. You can make an impact too. Whether you’re a business owner, social service practitioner or volunteer, we invite you to join the MSFCare Network and partner us in nurturing and building lives together.

17       I would also like to take this opportunity to thank our community partners, volunteers, and all of you, for contributing to our shared vision of a caring society.

a. It is in recognition of the integral contributions of partners like you that my colleagues and I at the Ministry of Social and Family Development have dedicated this year, 2023, as the Year of Celebrating Social Service Partners.

18       Our new social compact will require a whole-of-society effort. Where individuals and families have a strong sense of self-reliance, community organisations provide quality support to those in need, and the Government creates the conditions for growth and ensures strong safety nets for those in need.

19       As we seek to foster a more cohesive and caring society, the work of community partners, like the Rotary Club, will become more crucial. Being on the ground, at the frontlines, you are attuned to the needs of the community, and you can respond quickly.

Launch of the New Initiative

20       Tonight, I am delighted that the Rotary Club of Singapore will be launching an initiative which aims to transform the lives of children and young people, including those who have been abused and neglected.

21       EQUAL recently introduced an equine-assisted learning programme for the children of Chen Su Lan Methodist Children's Home.

a. This innovative programme uses horses for emotional and psychological healing, allowing the children to develop healthier coping mechanisms.

b. The Club also collaborated with EQUAL, StarHub and Mind Palace to create a metaverse environment and an augmented reality component.

22       Their collaboration leverages the strengths of each organisation, and the success of this programme will enable more children to benefit.

23       This is just one example of how different sectors can come together to uplift those in need.

Recognising Efforts of the Outgoing President, and Congratulating the Incoming President

24       In closing, I would like to thank the outgoing President, Mr James Lee, and his team for your contributions. And I wish the incoming 89th President, Dr Chan Siew Luen, his Board Members, and all Rotarians every success. I am confident that you will continue to exemplify the Rotarian spirit of ‘Service Above Self’. In that regard, I make a call for the Rotary Club to join us in ComLink and join all the partners across Singapore to totally transform the way in which we service and support those who have difficult, complex, and challenging problems in a unique and Singapore way.

25       Once again, I commend all of you for supporting the vulnerable within our community. Cheers to an enjoyable evening and I wish you a wonderful term ahead!

26       Thank you.