Tapping the collective wisdom of community for complex issues

Second Minister for Finance and Education Indranee Rajah and Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee gave updates on the new citizen engagement initiative Singapore Together on Dec 30, 2019.
Second Minister for Finance and Education Indranee Rajah and Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee gave updates on the new citizen engagement initiative Singapore Together on Dec 30, 2019.ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

When a couple separate, things can become complicated for their children, especially if they are of school-going age.

One parent usually keeps the flat. The other may put up temporarily with friends or relatives, shuttling from one home to another across different parts of the island. The children are split up between them.

This problem is exacerbated for lower-income families in rental flats as a divorcing parent has to wait for approval from the Housing Board to rent another flat under the Public Rental Scheme.

The child may miss school for a long period of time because he now lives far away from his school and has no one to take him to school. The child could end up lagging behind his peers, which worsens the inequality gap.

The Government recognises that it would not have all the solutions to address complex challenges such as inequality, said Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee.

"(But if we) harness the energy and the collective wisdom of the community, we can get a lot more viewpoints and ideas, and implement them together," he told reporters on Monday, when he and Second Minister for Finance and Education Indranee Rajah gave updates on the new citizen en-gagement initiative, Singapore Together.

Ms Indranee drew on the above example of the school-going child to flesh out how the Singapore Together movement represents a change in how the Government works with its partners.

The Government has worked with community groups by giving funding, but they typically worked in silos. "(Now), the Government is using its convening power, or its coordinating power, in partnership with groups out there," said Ms Indranee. This can catalyse an effective, more holistic solution, said Ms Indranee, who leads the inter-agency Uplifting Pupils in Life and Inspiring Families Taskforce (Uplift) set up in 2018, which aims to help children from disadvantaged homes level up.

In the case of the child, HDB and the Social Service Offices may be able to step in to find alternative housing for his parent located near his school. Other efforts to help him catch up with his peers can also be corralled.

Uplift can work with his school, charities and neighbours in his estate to sustain the efforts, she said.

It can look for a friend or neighbour who can help to take the child to school, for instance, or tap its network of partners to find out if there are any alternative solutions at the local level.

 
 
 

Another example of a citizen-led initiative that embodies the spirit of the Singapore Together movement is the Partners Engaging and Empowering Rough Sleepers (Peers) network that the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) launched last July with various groups helping the homeless in Singapore, said Mr Lee.

Many of them are homeless due to complex challenges such as relationship problems and financial issues, but some may be hesitant to seek help from government agencies.

Since 2017, Mr Lee and MSF officers have joined community groups on their regular night walks where volunteers befriend and offer help to the homeless.

With community partners as trusted intermediaries, more rough sleepers could be convinced to seek help from various government agencies, added Mr Lee. Through Peers, MSF has engaged 160 rough sleepers and helped 65 of them find long-term housing. Another 37 have been moved to interim accommodation, MSF added.

The Government does not have "a monopoly on ideas", said Ms Indranee, "and ideas should come from people too. Because people are the beneficiaries of these ideas... Singaporeans must have the ability to have a say in, and shape, our future".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 03, 2020, with the headline 'Tapping the collective wisdom of community for complex issues'. Print Edition | Subscribe