Onward to SG100 with a shot of youth power

Empower them and trust them as co-creators of the future to propel nation towards goal

Now that celebrating Singapore's Golden Jubilee is done and dusted, some are looking to the next notable national milestone due in 50 years - SG100. There have been the recent FutureofSG dialogues conducted by ministries, the People's Association and other organisations with the common aim of galvanising the nation towards SG100.

However, the harsh reality is that only today's young people will get to celebrate SG100; most adult Singaporeans might not. Hence, SG100 needs to value youth voices. However, the voices of young Singaporeans are often crowded out in the whole-of-nation conversations.

As a result, it becomes unclear which is the SG100 vision - as given by adults and seniors, who might not get to see SG100 - and which is from the young, who are actually going to celebrate SG100.

This "crowding out" of the youth voice also comes amid misconceptions about them that might add to their opinions not being heard, and taken on board for the years to come. Sadly, today's young Singaporeans are often labelled apathetic, self-interested and as living in their own world - the so-called "strawberry generation".

But is this true? Do a simple Google, Linkedin or Facebook search, and you will find many passionate Singaporean youth volunteering their service and ideas to something larger. Some have even sacrificed their careers, taking non-conventional routes such as setting up a non-profit organisation or taking long "gap" years on humanitarian missions elsewhere.

Young people thrive on passion and purpose. Perhaps the right word should be they have too many interests, passions, want to feel useful and contribute to others, sometimes at the expense of self-interest. Some adults call this idealistic.

The youth are an asset to Singapore's innovative economy and harnessing their idealism can help maximise desired outcomes, the writer says. The result of empowering them would be civic-minded young people who have the capacity to analyse societal issues, make a stand and make the change. ST FILE PHOTO

But is idealism naturally bad? The very fact that idealism enabled phenomenal business growth in the United States and drove innovation in Silicon Valley proves otherwise.

The youth are an asset to Singapore's innovative economy. Realistic adults need to harness youth idealism to maximise desired outcomes.

Here are some ideas to make the most of what young people have to offer for the journey to SG100.

First, young people, as independent agents, need to step forward to want to own their future through discussions and action.

This is where innate passion and idealism in the youth, while useful and necessary, are not in themselves enough to carry people forward towards SG100.

We, the youth, can be passionately barking up the wrong tree and idealistically building castles in the air. We need the right wisdom, the right knowledge, right skills, and mentorship from the right people.

The SG100 Compass, Youth Edition, believes that youth creativity, plus policy knowledge and skills-training, plus the right mentorship, plus opportunity to share with policymakers will lead to knowledge-empowered active citizenry. It is a three-year programme for Singaporeans aged 16 to 35 to collectively dream about SG100, think through policy recommendations and act on their ideas through community-based pilot trials. Such active citizens can harness their strengths of idealism and passion and overcome their weakness of lack of experience through skills and knowledge training, and mentorship.

Sure, the youth may be ignorant about certain issues. But given their inquisitiveness and good education standards, they catch up very quickly as long as there is interest. In fact, when they start from a clean slate, they ask seemingly "stupid" questions, which force adults to fundamentally rethink certain hidden assumptions and question their relevance.

The outcome of empowering the young would be civic-minded young people who have the capacity to analyse societal issues, make a stand and make the change. Their youthful ideas become readily usable to policymakers, and this enhances trust between policymakers and the youth in a virtuous circle. The youth would feel a sense of ownership towards Singapore, as they would have thought about things affecting it and advocated for it.

Lastly, having zealous young people with the right knowledge, skills and good ideas won't benefit SG100 if collaborative governance is not implemented in substance.

The crux of collaborative governance is not about having public-private-people sectors collaborating, but rather collaborating in equal partnership. Public value is co-created with each sector contributing its best: public sector (Government), power; private sector (business), money; people sector (civil society), networks and ideas.

Similarly, any co-creation of SG100 has to be an equal partnership between Government, business, civil society and youth. There should be no definite right or wrong (ownership matters), and no battle of egos (no one really knows best and most).

We need the big-heartedness to think one level higher: for Singapore - not self, family, firm, community, Ministry, Government/business/civil society). We need to harness the best of everyone by crowdsourcing and collaborating in speech and deeds. We need to collaborate across young-youth-adult-senior generations to allow seamless baton-passing towards SG100, and beyond.

The youth, their passion and idealism are assets towards SG100. When we systematically empower them and trust them as equals in co-creating our future, then SG100 will happen.

•The writer is a Lee Kong Chian graduate scholar at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, president of the Association for Public Affairs and organising chairman of the SG100 Compass, Youth Edition. The SG100 Think Future Forum Finale will be held tomorrow at ITE College Central in Ang Mo Kio.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 13, 2016, with the headline 'Onward to SG100 with a shot of youth power'. Print Edition | Subscribe