A sense of community does not sprout spontaneously. It's the result of the sustained efforts of volunteers who, believing that it matters, put in long hours to plan and execute activities to bring people together. It involves knocking on residents' doors, raising funds - for families in need, for example - and mobilising resources in times of crisis. For 50 years, that has been the raison d'etre of grassroots groups under the umbrella of the People's Association. Today, these grassroots volunteers number 40,000 and work under more than 1,800 organisations.
The development of this extensive network, which has been called a national asset, was facilitated by both the State's commitment to develop a people sector and Singapore's urban geography, with more than 80 per cent living in public housing. Yet challenges abound. Renewal is critical as many leaders are greying. New blood is needed to keep the grassroots network not just up and running but relevant to new needs and aspirations. For such an infusion to take place, the young must see the value of this social infrastructure and want to contribute to it. They should offer their own ideas when feedback is sought for the Community 2020 Masterplan, a vital piece in the national blueprint for the future.
Socially conscious young Singaporeans are known to give of their time and resources to support causes they believe in - some for the benefit of Singaporeans in need and others to aid people living abroad. Their choices are personal, peer-influenced and sometimes shaped by the image of the volunteer organisation. With that in mind, it's important to have a good sense of how grassroots groups and their work are perceived by the young and how best they might be engaged to contri-bute to their efforts.
Despite the considerable track record of the grassroots movement, there is scope for much more useful work to be done as society ages and cleaves, because of income disparities or social differences. Notwithstanding the best intentions of inclusive policies, there will always be groups of people who will continue to need the helping hand of volunteers to get by or get ahead. Young and able HDB residents, sensing specific needs in their neighbourhoods, should step forward to help make a difference to the lives of people in the community. One example is the role they can play in helping disadvantaged groups see how new policies in different areas will affect them - much like a "journey manager" who is the single point of contact for a home owner when blocks are picked for the Selective En Bloc Redevelopment Scheme. Another way of serving is to act as a news interpreter - perhaps with this newspaper as a tool - to help specific groups make sense of the big changes taking place in the world. The work is limitless; all volunteers are welcome.