The fabric of society is formed of far more diverse threads now than in 1960 when the People's Association (PA) was set up to foster greater social unity. Consequently, fulfilling that mission - which was not easy then - is more daunting going forward. The population is more segmented and many tend to identify with specific causes. That is prompting the well-established institution to extend its work so the process of bringing together disparate groups and building strong communities is not left to chance.
The PA has over the years grown a large network, made up of 1,800 grassroots organisations which include citizens consultative committees and residents' committees serving public housing estates. Neighbourhood committees, formed by private housing residents themselves, are also supported by the PA - they are set to expand from about 150 in 2013 to 200 by the end of this year. The numbers notwithstanding, grassroots leaders are being exhorted to reach out to more private estate residents. The outreach is part of a wider effort to connect with various volunteer groups, civic organisations, merchants' associations and student bodies. PA deputy chairman Chan Chun Sing referred to them collectively as a "second wing" network that could work closely with the PA.
To be sure, while its traditional base is in the HDB heartland, the PA's current network also embraces a spectrum of groups, including the Active Ageing Council, Teens Network Club, the Women's Integration Network Council and separate councils for Malay and Indian activities. Its corporate members come from academic guilds, cultural and educational organisations, hobby clubs, sports and martial arts associations, unions, uniformed organisations, youth organisations, service organisations, a self-help group and a professional body.
Even so, there's room for greater collaboration via the envisaged "second wing" of independent groups. From an organisational angle, benefits can be reaped from shared ideas, practices and strategies. And with an eye on social impact, the "many helping hands" approach can lead to better outcomes.
Some might view such relationships in corporatist and top-down terms, especially because it has been acknowledged by the political leadership that the PA is "part of the Government". However, the autonomy of groups which are part of the two networks is not likely to be affected by efforts to collaborate more widely with each other. And the PA has pledged to recognise partners "who have assisted in building social capital and contributed to the community". That, of course, is always necessary. The larger point is that new partnerships will have to be forged so groups can leverage each other's strengths to build resilient community bonds.