Enlisting public to fight urban poverty

The people behind Syinc: (Back row) Rajashree Chandramogan, Shaun Koh, Abhishek Bajaj, K. H. Yeo, Celine Lim and (front row) Aziza Sheerin and Bernise Ang.
The people behind Syinc: (Back row) Rajashree Chandramogan, Shaun Koh, Abhishek Bajaj, K. H. Yeo, Celine Lim and (front row) Aziza Sheerin and Bernise Ang.ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

Social enterprise Syinc's event to take in ideas from all walks of life

A community-owned small business where poor residents, whose circumstances make it hard for them to hold regular jobs, can get work.

This is just one of the innovative ideas which have been pouring in as part of a project to enlist the public in coming up with new solutions to tackle urban poverty.

Over the next two to three years, Bukit Ho Swee will be a test bed for these solutions.

"If this pilot proves successful, other estates can also use this process to tackle their own unique problems," said Ms Bernise Ang, the 32-year-old co-founder of social enterprise Syinc.

It is working with the National Council of Social Service and Bukit Ho Swee Family Service Centre (FSC) to relook how social assistance is provided in the area.

Bukit Ho Swee was chosen because it is one of the poorest and oldest neighbourhoods in Singapore. One in three of the some 500 households served by Bukit Ho Swee FSC has a monthly income of $1,500 or less.

Over the last four months, Syinc, which provides consultancy services to government agencies on social policy, pounded the ground to gather information on the state of poverty in the area.

Besides interviewing residents, community leaders and social workers, it was also given access to the case files of the 500 households.

Syinc has since released its findings online - complete with real case studies - for the public to review and come up with ideas to break the cycle of poverty.

Next weekend, the group is inviting everyone - from the public to Singapore University of Technology and Design students to civil servants and economists - to gather at a void deck in the neighbourhood and firm up these ideas.

Those whose solutions are selected will be given mentoring and funding to implement the idea in the estate. Partners for the pilot include the United Nations Development Programme, the Lien Centre for Social Innovation and the Public Service Division.

"Urban poverty is complicated," said Ms Ang, on the crowdsourcing project.

"State agencies don't always know the realities on the ground so we thought why not present the issues to the public and let them contribute because some people may be familiar with the issues."

After going through the data collected from Bukit Ho Swee, her group identified five areas which affect poverty there: Education, employment, financial empowerment, social connectedness and self-belief.

For instance, the data seemed to show a link between employment and domestic violence. The poor who were employed full-time were less likely to engage in domestic violence than those who were unemployed.

They also realised that financial empowerment is not just about spending within one's means.

They found that some of the residents were frugal but still fell into debt because of small episodes of financial shocks such as seeing the doctor when ill.

More information is available at www.underthehood.cc.