President Tony Tan Keng Yam yesterday called on all Singaporeans to build up the nation's social reserves, the bonds between people which he said can be drawn upon in times of crisis.
These social reserves reinforce the country's financial reserves, which he pledged to continue ensuring are used judiciously in emergencies and for future needs.
"Social reserves are the goodwill that makes us look out for one another during difficult times. They are the resilience to help us overcome challenges and constraints, and (they) give us the tenacity to progress both as individuals and as a nation.
"Our social reserves define who we are as a nation and we draw upon them for resilience and stability in any crisis," he said.
Dr Tan was making a speech to close a series of lectures on leadership organised by his alma mater St Joseph's Institution (SJI) and The Fullerton Hotel Singapore, where 300 students and educators met. He gave two examples of how Singaporeans could do their part to build social reserves.
One way is to enhance respect and understanding for the different languages, traditions and religions here. He said: "Like SJI, which embraces students from any race or creed, inclusiveness is a cornerstone of our society. Singapore is and must remain as an open economy so that we can continue to generate opportunities for all Singaporeans."
Another way is to care for others, he suggested, pointing to people who serve other communities in their workplace, school or neighbourhood. His push to expand the President's Challenge beyond fund-raising to promote volunteerism and social entrepreneurship is another example he cited. "Every Singaporean has the opportunity to help the country build up our social reserves by building trust and caring for one another in good times and in bad."
Social reserves, however, cannot be counted like financial reserves. Being intangible, "we only know how much we have when we need to draw on it", he said. This happened in the haze crisis in June, when volunteers gave out masks to those in need.
Social reserves also have an impact beyond crises: They create a conducive environment for economic growth and ensure no one is left behind, he said, just as financial reserves pay for HDB estates, schools, universities and national service, that in turn help build up social reserves.
Dr Tan also took students' questions on the state of the global economy and innovation.
He assured them that the world economy, though facing some uncertainties, is in better shape than it was five years ago.
He also encouraged them to try their hand at innovation. It is not just for scientists, he said, noting that young people have started small social enterprises to serve autistic children.