Got a great idea? There's money to be got

Funds galore for proposals in areas from tourism to heritage and arts

The audience watching a story-telling performance, that is rarely seen nowadays, during an event called Reliving Haw Par Villa in March 2014. -- FILE PHOTO: SINGAPORE TOURISM BOARD
The audience watching a story-telling performance, that is rarely seen nowadays, during an event called Reliving Haw Par Villa in March 2014. -- FILE PHOTO: SINGAPORE TOURISM BOARD

The Government wants your ideas, and is willing to put its money where its mouth is by offering millions of dollars for proposals in areas from tourism to heritage and the arts.

Observers welcomed the trend, with one saying this shows a shift from a paternalistic model of governance to one where it encourages initiative among the people.

Indeed, various government bodies have started funds to back the move.

In January, the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth called for Singaporeans to pitch ideas on how to best celebrate Singapore's 50th birthday. Under the SG50 initiative, funding support goes up to $50,000.

There is also the Singapore Tourism Board's (STB) $5 million Kickstart Fund, launched last June to develop new lifestyle events and concepts with tourism potential.

Ideas that have received funding so far include a visual arts festival and design book fair. Recipients receive up to $75,000.

The list goes on.

The National Heritage Board (NHB), National Library Board (NLB), National Environment Agency, National Arts Council and National Youth Council also have an arsenal of grants rewarding Singaporeans for ideas.

They include projects to preserve local heritage, boost the arts scene and promote environmental ownership in the community, among other things.

National University of Singapore sociologist Paulin Tay Straughan said the trend shows the Government's desire to encourage proactive behaviour.

In the midst of this shift in norms, incentivising the community is helpful, she said. "Rather than watch from the sidelines, these initiatives invite those with dreams, visions and ideas to step forward in partnership with the establishment."

Some such as Mr Amit Anand of local venture capital firm Jungle Ventures said it is wise to tap Singapore's potential for entrepreneurship and innovation, as it is already "the most vibrant ecosystem in the region".

But other observers sounded warnings on how effective such grants can be.

Dr Henrich Greve, the chair of the entrepreneurship and family enterprise area at graduate business school Insead, said the effectiveness of such funding also depends on how much the Government can "act commercially".

"It depends on how good they are at picking good opportunities... For example, any entrepreneurship funding, government or private, will face problems picking the best ideas," he said.

Some of the schemes are evaluated by a cross section of people from the public and private sectors, including non-governmental organisations, businesses and academia.

Proposals for the Kickstart Fund, for instance, are reviewed by a panel that includes STB directors. These projects must also show market potential among locals and tourists as well, said Ms Carrie Kwik, the board's executive director of arts, entertainment and integrated resorts.

But it is not always about making money.

Film-maker Wee Li Lin was awarded $100,000 under NLB's irememberSG fund for two short films. She said the availability of the grants is very heartening as film-making requires a lot of financial resources.

NLB director Gene Tan noted the strong input from young Singaporeans as well.

Out of the 40 projects that were awarded funding under the first cycle of the Singapore Memory Project's irememberSG fund, 60 per cent were from applicants in their 30s or below.

He believes this shows the young are taking the initiative and showing enthusiasm in translating their memories into a range of formats to appeal to wider audiences.

Marine Parade GRC MP Seah Kian Peng, who called on the Government to be more open to citizens' ideas as part of its decision-making process earlier this month, said Singaporeans, young and old, are brimming with good and creative ideas.

"If we keep the channel open and put money where the mouth is, we can tap ideas that will ultimately lead to better outcomes for the community," he said.

Additional reporting by Chia Yan Min

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