Good afternoon. I am happy to be here today for the inaugural Tri-sector Associates Conference. Such platforms facilitate cross-sector dialogues and collaborations, which are much needed to tackle the increasingly complex social issues experienced today.
There is a rich diversity of expertise and perspectives from everyone today. Our participants span widely across the public and private sectors. I think such gatherings of minds are not just good to have, but essential. Together, we hold the collective potential of addressing the social issues of today.
GROWING COMPLEXITY OF SOCIAL ISSUES
Many of these social issues are highly complex. Also known as “wicked problems”, they transcend traditional boundaries, and all of us agree that they cannot be addressed by any single sector – there needs to be that “1+1 =3” effect talked about earlier. These problems include climate change, social inequality, and our ageing population.
A pressing issue that the Ministry of Social and Family Development, or MSF, is working to address, is that of social mobility within lower-income families. While Singapore has made progress on the issue of income inequality over the years, we have found that lower-income families continue to face interlocking challenges that make it harder for them to achieve social mobility.
For example, if a family’s sole breadwinner cannot find stable employment, the family may not be able to afford rent and utilities. Family relationships could become frayed. The stress and anxiety arising from these issues will constrain the ability of these families to tackle their day-to-day challenges – much less plan for the future, or save for emergencies.
Community Link, or ComLink, is an example of how we have been working to revolutionise how social service has been delivered to lower-income families. In the past, for these families to assemble the grants and support they needed just to get by, they had to go to community agents and agencies A, B, C and D, and so forth. By the end of it, families no longer had the physical and mental bandwidth to deal with important concerns, such as securing good employment, sending their kids to school, and a whole host of issues many of you already know about.
Comlink officers, who play the roles of befrienders and coaches, reach out proactively to understand the needs and strengths of lower-income families. Our officers play to the strengths of each family – each family brings assets that they can leverage, and we want to acknowledge that they have strengths. Comlink officers bring together entire packages that lower-income families need, match them to relevant services, and provide these services in a Comprehensive, Convenient, and Coordinated manner. We want to achieve three things: stability, self-reliance, and ultimately, in our grandest of dreams – social mobility. We want each family to break free of the chains of poverty, abuse, or neglect that have afflicted them for years.
Building on ideas and feedback gathered at the Forward Singapore engagements, we are further strengthening partnerships with the community to empower ComLink families. Partners can contribute in many ways to support these families, as they progress towards stability, self-reliance, and social mobility. This could go beyond monetary donations, to volunteering as befrienders to encourage and support them; providing opportunities, such as mentorship, scholarships, internships, and employment; and connecting them with your networks.
It heartens me that the Tri-sector Associates Conference is also driving a cross-sector, collaborative approach to tackle social issues such as social mobility.
This issue is close to my heart, coming from a rather humble upbringing myself. I look at young ones in my ward, Queenstown, and think about how we can bring together community agencies, families, and volunteers to help them. Twenty-four hours a day seems too little: if only we could go without sleep and just get right down to journey with these families, to ensure that in Singapore, no child is written off because he or she was born into family circumstances they didn’t have the chance to choose, in the first place.
AMPLIFYING CROSS-SECTOR PARTNERSHIPS
Since its inception, TSA has championed the philosophy of “1 + 1 = 3”, the idea that a sum is greater than its parts. By complementing each other’s strengths, a partnership across various sectors can achieve much greater impact than individual, or parallel efforts.
I would like to share an example with everyone. Since 2011, YMCA has been running a youth intervention programme. The programme helps youth who have dropped out of mainstream education, employment or training by providing them with vocational skills and community support, so that they may eventually return to school or work. In 2021, only 60% of enrolled youth successfully completed the programme, but the success rate was raised to 70% two years later. This improvement in outcomes was achieved through cross-sector partnerships. YMCA leveraged Tri-sector Associates’ networks, and brought in The Lorinet Foundation and TL Whang Foundation, who offered programme development advice and funding support respectively. This allowed YMCA to enhance the programme with additional internship preparation, career coaching, and post-employment support for its youth beneficiaries.
One of the youths who benefited from program enhancements was Mike, a 16-year-old youth who joined YMCA’s programme in 2022. Under the programme, he successfully completed barista vocational training and found work in a cafe. However, when Mike got into debt with loan sharks, he failed to show up to work and was fired. Thankfully, he was able to tap on the enhanced post-employment support offered by YMCA. Mike’s case worker helped him find another job as a delivery assistant, and spoke to the café to give him a second chance. In January this year, I’m pleased to report -- he was hired back to the café.
Organisations like YMCA and its partnership really show how partners across different sectors can come together to achieve powerful impact and bring about innovations in the social sector.
INNOVATIVE MODELS TO DRIVE MEASURABLE OUTCOMES
To tackle complex social challenges together, we must increasingly harness the support from community partners, such as through the Social Impact Guarantee (SIG) model used by YMCA in the example earlier.
A SIG requires a donor, a guarantor, and a service provider. In YMCA’s case, YMCA was the service provider. TL Whang Foundation was the donor, who provided the funding. The Lorinet Foundation, on the other hand, served as the guarantor. Under the stipulations of a SIG, a donation must achieve the targets it has set out to achieve – if not, donors will receive a portion of the funding back, similar to a money-back guarantee.
If the target outcomes of YMCA’s project had not been achieved, The Lorinet Foundation would have made a donation on behalf of TL Whang Foundation towards funding another impact driven project of TL Whang Foundation’s choice. While I have no doubt about the Lorinet Foundation’s commitment, this model helped ensure that the Foundation remain an active and involved partner in this programme. In this way, SIG ensures that donations will achieve measurable social impact, encourage donors to give more readily, and partners to be involved in the programming. This also ensures that we collectively work towards best outcomes for the beneficiaries.
The Singapore Centre for Social Enterprise, raiSE, is also working with Tri-Sector Associates to design a similar SIG model with SHINE Children and Youth Services. SHINE organises the Youth Community Outreach Patrol programme (COP), which seeks to reduce juvenile delinquency by cultivating youth crime-prevention leaders. SIG will help to scale up the COP programme, bringing it to more youths across schools in Singapore. We hope more private partners would be willing to support such collaborations, be it as donor or guarantor.
Whether in the public or private sectors, it is essential for us to continue developing such innovative models for social good. I would like to thank TSA for all the good work it has done, and for all the partners it has brought on board.
I hope today will be a great opportunity for everyone to leverage, as we work with each other to build strong families and a caring society. I encourage you to network and take part in meaningful, cross-sector conversations on solving our complex and rooted social challenges today. I hope to have a deeper, more extensive conversation with you later. Thank you.