The first is that going further upstream will yield better downstream results. This means anticipating what could go wrong and trying to prevent it – spending more energy on preventive outreach, education, and intervention.
a. You may not quite see the results so immediately as when we are serving and addressing the symptoms, but working upstream pays long-term dividends in social profit.
b. You may not quite see the results so immediately as when we are serving and addressing the symptoms, but working upstream pays long-term dividends in social profit.
c. A good example of this is the KidSTART programme under the Early Childhood and Development Agency. We are near the tail-end of our three-year pilot, in which we base ourselves on research that shows that a child’s early years are crucial. Hence, this programme provides intensive healthcare, learning and development support to children from low-income families, from the pre-natal stage, to the families, all the way throughout their early years.
d. So, that’s the point that upstream is important.
The second area we’re working on is to enhance how the public, private, and people sectors can work more closely together.
a. Our flagship initiative is the Singapore Cares national movement, which aims to build a more caring and inclusive society through active volunteerism, everyday acts of kindness and ground-up efforts.
b. And what we’ve started is a community network – SG Cares Community Network – in every town in Singapore. And when I say town, some of you from abroad may look at this dot on the map and say “how many towns could we have? It’s a city, isn’t it?”. When I talk about towns, it’s not from the perspective of Australia or the UK where you have towns set apart from each other. But we plan our city on the basis of planning towns.
c. And these planning towns allow us to ensure that apart from housing, we provide people with healthcare, with educational, sports, recreational, and park facilities within close proximity to one another. And so, if you look at all the planning towns in Singapore, it covers everyone living on this island. It allows us to organise things a bit more carefully and comprehensively, so we don’t miss things out. But this network seeks to bring people from all organisations and sectors together at the local level.
d. So you take the community and the town, you bring together the social services, the healthcare services, the grassroot organisations, the religious organisations, schools, government agencies on the ground – you bring together the organisations and more importantly the people who run those organisations together to build relationships with each other in order that the silos start to fritter away between each of us.
e. Because in isolation, each organisation, whether governmental, corporate or peoples sector are ultimately limited in our capacity to serve.
f. As said quite pointedly, to me at least, in the video earlier, many of us see the disease and not the person. The disease talked about was the clinical disease, but if we broaden it, actually many of us in our specialisations, even in service learning, look at the disease, the social issue. We look at poverty in the sense of homelessness, in the sense of hunger and malnutrition, we look at disability and specific types of disabilities.
g. We don’t look necessarily at the whole person or the whole family. But by working together and understanding how each of our partner organisations looks at issues, we’ll ultimately focus on the person, focus on the family, focus on the community and assets that can support the family and the individual resolve the issues that they face.
h. By working together, we make up for our limitations, tap on our collective strengths, and are better able to help those amongst us who need a hand.
i. And so, in service learning, you can ask yourself “what is your role here in Singapore in the next phase of our transformation?”. We are transforming our social safety nets, making sure that we look beyond the silos and the systems. Look to partnerships across the organisations, focus on the people and not on the problems they face, and recognize that even though we call them our clients and beneficiaries, they have assets, they have strengths, they have dreams, they have hopes, they have fears to overcome – partner them, not objectify them. That, I think, is the kind of service learning that we want our next generation to take away because you and your students will be the leaders of governments, will be leaders of corporates who will run corporate social responsibility, will head universities, who will run charities. And I think that to embody that approach and mindset will put us in a better position.
And to volunteers and corporates, and that’s where you come in, many of you and many of the people we speak to who provide volunteering opportunities, who do philanthropy, who do corporate giving, ask us how can we plug it better, how can we ensure that the efforts we put in – the resources, the time, the heart – how do we make sure that they do not come to naught, that they do not come to waste? How do we ensure that when we give, we give meaningfully and impactfully?
a. By looking into ways to work together more cohesively, your students will find that they see not just an issue. They don’t come in and just learn about muscular dystrophy, they learn about the range of issues that families who have members with muscular dystrophy face, such as travelling to and from school, the kinds of caregiving stresses and financial constraints they face.
b. Service learning is then taken to a whole new level and the impact of the students is no longer seen by these organisations, whether governmental, corporates or non-profits, as an extra burden to take on, rather these organisations will embrace you and see you as a valuable asset to partner in the journey they are thinking to undertake with the people that we serve.