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Speech by Mr Desmond Lee, Minister for National Development and Minister-in-charge of Social Services Integration for DBS Foundation x MSF Partnership Launch on 9 December 2023 at National Gallery Singapore

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

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

Good afternoon,

Mr Piyush Gupta, CEO of DBS Group,

Mr Han Kwee Juan, Country Head, DBS Singapore,

Parents, children and ComLink+ befrienders

Colleagues, partners, ladies and gentlemen

1             I’m glad to join you at the National Gallery today.

  • Great to see ComLink+ families and DBS befrienders getting to know one another and enjoying this outing at the Children’s Biennale during the school holidays.

Uplifting lower-income families

2             Today, we are marking a very major milestone in our partnership and our journey to transform the social support we provide in Singapore. But before I speak about this, let me briefly set out the context of what we have been doing, and why we are doing all of this, so you can better understand and appreciate the significance of what DBS, through DBS Foundation, is setting out to do.

3             As our society matures and our economy develops, the challenges of social mobility and inequality will get tougher.

  • For instance, Singaporeans who have greater means will want to pass on advantages to their children, to enable them to do even better. This is a very natural instinct.
  • But as a result, over time, we find that those from lower-income backgrounds will find it harder to catch up.
  • If we let these socio-economic forces have their way, we run the risk of being a more stratified and less mobile and less united society. And in fact, if we look at cities that are more mature than Singapore in terms of age, we see stratification happening. Not just in society, but where people live, where people go, where people interact.
  • This is something that we are seeing all around the world.

4             That is why, over the years, we’ve been providing more support for those who have less:

  • financial assistance,
  • income supplements,
  • progressive wages,
  • educational bursaries and study grants and awards,
  • housing assistance,
  • medical subsidies,
  • making preschool more accessible and affordable, and so on.
  • Our community, corporate groups, social service agencies, and organisations both secular and religious, have also been very active on the giving front for many decades.

5             While doing more is important, we also want to make sure we keep doing better.

  • This is because, for some families, it is not just an issue of providing them with more assistance or resources.
  • Many of them are working hard to build better lives by finding more stable jobs, saving to buy their home, and supporting their children.
  • But despite their efforts, they may find it challenging to sustain progress.
  • They may be juggling many work and family commitments, and have many responsibilities to carry.
  • Some face a complex web of interlocking challenges.

6             So to empower these families we have to first understand and address the underlying issues, so that we can help them achieve Stability, and build resilience to work towards longer-term Self-reliance and Social mobility.

7             This is why we piloted ComLink in 2019 and rolled it out nationally in 2021, to put families at the heart and centre of our work,

  • so that we can better understand each family’s aspirations and dreams,
  • organise and coordinate support around them, rather than our agencies, organisations and schemes,
  • and better ensure that government, community and corporate resources and programmes achieve greater impact. 

7             Last month, we took a further step forward, with ComLink+.

  • Our families, whom we serve, will now have dedicated Family Coaches. Some of them are here with us today.
  • These Family Coaches will work together with volunteer befrienders to understand the families’ needs, strengths, and aspirations;
  • Journey with them on their customised action plans;
  • And partner the community to provide comprehensive, convenient, and coordinated support around the family and plans that they set out to achieve. 

8             This approach recognises that the pathways that our families take towards stability, self-reliance, and social mobility are not always linear. A personal relationship with coaches and befrienders brought in, built on a strong foundation of trust and understanding, can go a long way in helping the family make sustained progress. This must surely be better than having a myriad of transactional relationships.

 9             Under ComLink+, we also want to keep innovating and trying out new approaches.

  • In that spirit, my colleague, Minister Masagos had recently launched additional support for families who take steps to improve their circumstances.
  • These ComLink+ progress packages will enable our families to:
    1. Accelerate their home ownership journey,
    2. Address the burden of debt,
    3. Build their savings through full-time employment, and
    4. Encourage them to prioritise their children’s preschool education.

DBS Foundation x MSF Partnership

9             For ComLink+ to succeed, community partnerships are absolutely key.

  • Beyond offering a range of social and health services to meet different needs, we also rely heavily on community partners to provide support in areas that the Government may not always be able to come in.
  • This allows us to complete what I call the triangle of integration: between social, health, and ultimately, the community.

10           Through ComLink+ we want to enable corporates, volunteers, social service agencies and other community partners to achieve greater and more meaningful impact in their giving.

  • By providing clearer signposting and enabling them to plug into a larger ComLink+ ecosystem, we can better coordinate efforts to be more targeted and tailored to individual circumstances.
  • Beyond meeting immediate needs, we are also able to tap on the unique and strategic advantages that different partners have.
  • This complements existing social services, and allows us to have an outsized impact on the lives of those whom we serve.

11           So I am very glad that DBS Foundation shares our belief in community partnerships, and has been supporting ComLink actively since 2022. For example, you have leveraged your expertise and strengths, and conducted Financial Literacy workshops for our ComLink families – and we have received very positive feedback from those who took part in the workshops.

12           It is therefore my privilege to announce that DBS Foundation and MSF will be deepening our partnership.

13           DBS Foundation is coming in as an anchor partner of ComLink+. They will now be supporting our ComLink+ efforts in a more comprehensive manner.

  • For one, 400 DBS employees have stepped forward to become volunteer befrienders and they will be journeying with 200 of our ComLink+ families.
    1. Some of them are here with us today, and I would like to say a very big thank you for walking with us in this journey.
    2. Several ComLink+ families have shared with us how helpful having Family Coaches has been, and they are keen to meet their new DBS befrienders too.
  • We are also tapping on DBS’s wealth of knowledge and experience in the field of banking and finance.
    1. DBS has begun training MSF Family Coaches, equipping them with financial literacy concepts so that Family Coaches themselves can better support ComLink+ families.

14           DBS Foundation has also committed over $30 million to fund the newly introduced ComLink+ packages. This makes DBS the largest corporate and community funder of ComLink+.

15           The Foundation’s contributions will support families in two very important areas: preschool education and saving for home ownership.

  • When children enrol and attend preschool regularly, we will affirm the efforts of these families to give their children a good start in life. The data in Singapore and around the world has confirmed that children with a very good start in early childhood have the best shot in life in the long-term.
  • Likewise, when families save up for their home purchase, their efforts will be supported, accelerating their journey towards home ownership. Not just only MSF, but my colleagues at MND and HDB are also fully in, to support families in this.
  • These packages are expected to benefit around 8,500 children and 1,400 families per year, over a three-year sandbox trial.

16           Befriending, financial literacy education, and funding of a sandbox to try out new things: these are the various ways in which DBS and Government are working together to tackle inequality. I thank DBS and DBS Foundation for your generous contribution and deep partnership and your belief and faith in what we are all trying to do collectively.


17           The partnership between DBS and MSF which we launch today, is a picture of what we can achieve when we work together to transform the way we support families.

18           As we face the future, we will need more bold and innovative ideas to address the challenges that come our way.

  • We will need to partner the community and corporates ever more closely, across diverse sectors, to achieve meaningful and sustained impact.
  • It is in this spirit that MSF has designated 2023 as the Year of Celebrating Social Service Partners. I would like to thank all of you for the contributions that you have made over the years.
  • I would like to invite more people to join DBS and DBS Foundation in ComLink+.

19           Let us work together in partnership to uplift those who need a bit more support, to address the needs in our society, and build a stronger Singapore.

20           I wish everyone an enjoyable afternoon ahead. Thank you.