Strong 'social capital' vital for long-term stability

The Legatum Institute's 2015 Prosperity Index ranked Singapore 17th in its overall rankings.
The Legatum Institute's 2015 Prosperity Index ranked Singapore 17th in its overall rankings.ST PHOTO: ALICIA CHAN

The Legatum Institute's 2015 Prosperity Index ranked Singapore 17th in its overall rankings ("Singapore economy tops key sub-index"; Nov 3).

We came in first in the economy sub-index, but in the social capital sub-index, we were placed 25th.

The wide gap suggests that our nation-building efforts have, so far, been unbalanced.

New Zealand scored first place in the social capital sector; in the region, Thailand (15th place), Indonesia (21st) and Taiwan (22nd) did better than us in this area.

In the study, social capital was measured by "perceptions of social support, volunteering rates, helping strangers, charitable donations, social trust, marriage and religious attendance".

This gives us some idea of the areas which need improvement.

But what is social capital?

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has defined it as "the pattern and intensity of networks among people and the shared values which arise from those networks". OECD nations have adopted this concept, but each nation has developed its own framework to suit its needs.

For example, Canada's framework covers five dimensions: social participation, social engagement and commitment; level of empowerment; perception of community; social networks, social support and social interaction; and trust, reciprocity and social cohesion.

In Singapore, we have yet to embrace the concept of social capital. The commonly used term, "social fabric", only represents a part of it.

Let us adopt this universal concept to rectify our uneven progress.

We could formulate our own framework, and decide the values and goals to attain, along with the organisations, policies and programmes needed to get there.

By intensifying interactions among different groups, we could reap new benefits. For example, we should go beyond attaining racial harmony and step up inter-racial interaction, to enhance mutual trust and cooperation.

Looking ahead, social capital is vital for mitigating effects of an ageing population, the influx of immigrants, and any weakening of our family institution and national identity.

Our fragile nation's solidarity and stability depend on a continual accumulation of good social capital. Perhaps a government committee could be set up to initiate this.

We have attained the fundamental aspirations stated in our National Anthem and Pledge.

From now on, we have to strive for higher goals to achieve holistic and even progress.

Ng Ya Ken

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 13, 2015, with the headline 'Strong 'social capital' vital for long-term stability'. Print Edition | Subscribe