SUSS Service-Learning & Community Engagement Sectors: Community Building

Community Building - unlike the other sectors or social causes which are either a demographic (e.g. “Children and Youth”) or a desired outcome (e.g. “Inclusion”) – is a process. In its most literal interpretation, it is the process of building a community. This leads to the fundamental question: So, what is “community”?

There is no one definition of “community”. It can refer to a group of people living in the same geographical space, such as neighbourhoods, cities or town (Schriver, 2004). It can also be a group of people who share the same interests or issues (Green & Mercer, 2001). Unifying these different definitions is the idea of relationships, be it with space or other people, and how strong we identify with these relationships. When we belong to a community, we gain a sense of identity. This results in the term “member of the community", that implies being an integrated part of a larger whole. (Tesoriero, 2010).

Thus, to build a community is to build up this sense of identity. What are the activities that could help the members of a community feel a stronger sense of belonging? When this is achieved, it could motivate the community to carry out what Purcell (2007) cites to be its traditional value – its people act collectively to change its own community.

Using examples in Singapore, community building activities can take place at various levels:

  • As a nation: With the celebration of SG 50 in 2015, the Singapore government engaged Singaporeans in conversations on the collective future that we want to build as a community (Our Singapore Conversation Secretariat, 2015).
  • As a neighbourhood: Part of the People’s Association, the Residents’ Committees were introduced in 1978 to promote neighbourliness, racial harmony and community cohesiveness amongst residents in our local public housing neighbourhoods, organised by different zones (People’s Association, 2018).
  • For a specific interest: My Community is a local charity that champions community heritage through documenting social memory and celebrating civic life. It constantly raises volunteers to actively contribute towards this cause (My Community, n.d.).
  • For a specific issue: The Disability Community Network comprises individuals, groups and organisations that envisions to be “a strong, self-mobilised and collaborative disability community that appreciates the needs of the disability sector and takes collective action to improve the lives of people with disabilities” (Disability Community Network, n.d.).

Depending on which community you can identify most with, there are many opportunities for you to take part and make a difference to that particular community. While a community means different things to different people, your community is the one that means something to you.

Now, which community will that be? And are you already doing something for it or, even better, with it? If you are, you are already a community building participant!

Community building activity at the nation level: 
Our Singapore Conversation (OSC)

What kind of collective future do Singaporeans want to build as a community? The following 12 perspectives were distilled from the contributions and ideas of more than 10,000 Singaporeans in OSC (See infographic).


  1. Disability Community Network. (n.d.). Disability Community Network Wiki. Retrieved May 27, 2020, from
  2. Green, L. W., & Mercer, S. L. (2001). Can public health researchers and agencies reconcile the push from funding bodies and the pull from communities? In American Journal of Public Health.
  3. My Community. (n.d.). My Community Website. Retrieved May 27, 2020, from
  4. Our Singapore Conversation Secretariat. (2015). Our Singapore Conversation. https:/
  5. People’s Association. (2018). Residents’ Committees. network/grassroots-organisations/residents-committees
  6. Purcell, P. (2007). Networked Neighbourhoods: The Connected Community in Context. Springer London.
  7. Schriver, J. M. (2004). Human Behavior and the Social Environment: Shifting Paradigms in Essential Knowledge for Social Work. Pearson/A and B.
  8. Tesoriero, F. (2010). Community Development: Community-based Alternatives in an Age of Globalisation. Pearson Australia.

Reference (for Infographics):

  1. Our Singapore Conversation Secretariat. (2019). Reflections of our Singapore conversation. Ministry of Communications and Information.

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