During the 2008 global financial crisis, Community Development Councils (CDCs) handed out recession relief packages with food and transport vouchers to residents hit by the economic slump.
Today, as the economy restructures, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong hopes CDCs can again help residents, this time to embrace lifelong learning and upgrade their skills to become more employable.
The councils can also work with other groups to support the SG Secure movement, which aims to prepare people to deal with a crisis in the light of the terror threat.
"It is patient work which will take years, but it will pay off handsomely if ever we experience a terrorist attack, like this most recent one in Manchester, or a civil emergency," Mr Lee said yesterday.
He was speaking at the swearing-in ceremony for mayors helming the five CDCs, held in conjunction with the 20th anniversary of CDCs, at the People's Association headquarters in Jalan Besar.
CDCs were set up in 1997 to strengthen community bonds and better deliver social programmes, and were initially focused on social and employment assistance.
Over the 20 years, they have also responded to other crises, Mr Lee noted. He cited the 2003 Sars outbreak, when they delivered meals to patients quarantined at home.
CDCs must continue to be a bridge between residents and the Government. Not just hands and legs on the ground to implement the programmes, but also eyes and ears to identify emerging needs and gaps in the current social and employment assistance systems.
PRIME MINISTER LEE HSIEN LOONG
They have also worked with various partners to help seniors stay active, bring the arts to residents and help needy families defray the cost of school items and milk powder.
The CDCs' ABC mission set out 10 years ago - assist the needy, bond people and connect the community - remains relevant, noted Mr Lee.
"CDCs must continue to be a bridge between residents and the Government," he said.
"Not just hands and legs on the ground to implement the programmes, but also eyes and ears to identify emerging needs and gaps in the current social and employment assistance systems."
On upgrading of skills, Mr Lee hoped CDCs can foster a mindset change and support the work of the Future Economy Council by encouraging residents to adapt to changes in the economy.
As for SGSecure, he said CDCs can work with grassroots and other groups to deepen ties so that the society stays united in a crisis.
"We are strong only if our ties are close and people trust one another, despite having different backgrounds, or belonging to different ethnic groups or different faiths," added Mr Lee."By involving volunteers in these meaningful projects, CDCs can strengthen the gotong royong (community) spirit, and grow and develop your team of active volunteers."
Yesterday, four mayors - Dr Maliki Osman, Dr Teo Ho Pin, Ms Denise Phua and Ms Low Yen Ling - were reappointed. Ms Low was also appointed coordinator for the CDCs.
A new mayor is Tampines GRC MP Desmond Choo, who will helm North East CDC. He replaces Mr Teo Ser Luck, who steps down as mayor tomorrow. Mr Teo, who is Minister of State for Manpower until June 30, will return to the private sector.
Ms Low, who is South West District mayor, told reporters the CDCs will focus on lifelong learning, making communities inclusive and more resilient against terror, and working with the Health Ministry to build healthier communities.
CDCs will also "step up dialogues, programmes and activities" to promote mutual understanding among people of different faiths, she said.
The new appointments take effect on May 27 and last three years.
Unlike regular MPs, mayors look at broader issues that affect a district, which spans several constituencies. Said Dr Maliki, South East District mayor: "We do the planning, harness the resources and help the local MPs administer these programmes."
Mr Choo, North East District's new mayor, said he will build on the "solid foundation" that Mr Teo built. He also said that he intends to tap his network in the labour movement, where he is director of NTUC's Youth Development Unit, to bring businesses and residents together and ensure better job placements.