Grassroots must adapt as society changes, do more for cohesion: DPM Tharman

Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said there is an inevitably "diminishing sense of our history and our heritage as Singaporeans".
Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said there is an inevitably "diminishing sense of our history and our heritage as Singaporeans".ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID

SINGAPORE - Grassroots organisations have to do more ground work to keep society cohesive, and keep alive the heritage they inherit, said Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam on Saturday (Jan 6).

He pointed out that there is an inevitably "diminishing sense of our history and our heritage as Singaporeans", due to social and economic change, and new generations growing up.

As such, grassroots also have to adapt in the way they attract young volunteers, he added.

Mr Tharman spoke at the 40th anniversary celebratory dinner of the People's Association Indian Activity Executive Committees (IAEC) at Raffles City Convention Centre, where he charted the way forward for volunteers.

He higlighted the broader middle class now, with higher education and aspirations. Singaporeans' lifestyles have also changed and become less uniform, he added.

IAECs and grassroots volunteers thus have to innovate and adapt to meet these societal shifts.

"It means doing more to keep up social mobility, by helping families whose children start off with some disadvantage," he said.

He added: "We have to do more to help families who haven't been able to keep up with the changes in our economy; and we must do more to ensure that the elderly always have friends in the neighbourhood and are never left lonely, and are never left without care."

"The IAECs have been a catalyst for Indians to participate in grassroots activities, to keep Indian culture alive but also, to serve the broader Singaporean community," he added.

He also brought up the higher rate of volunteerism in the Indian community.

Four out of 10 Indians have volunteered nationwide in 2016, much higher than a decade earlier when the volunteerism rate was 25 per cent, he said, referring to a survey by the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre.

"That feeling that we have as Singaporeans, that we are Singaporeans because we are multiracial, is also, I believe, why Indians engage actively in social life and public life and want to contribute, both within the Indian community and in Singapore," he said.

This is among the positive outcomes from contributions by Indian grassroots volunteers, who have organised activities for all races, he added.

Among such activities are Pongal celebrations at the community level, marking the harvest festival.

Bank executive Preeya Mathva, 26, considers helping to organise this event over the past two years among her most significant contributions to the Hwi Yoh Community Centre IAEC.

"There are few Singaporean Indians, especially the youth, who want to step up and do community service, given the fast-paced life here," she said, adding that she hopes this can change.

She added: "Many times, we take things for granted, it is when we are able to come out of our comfort zones and network with people that we can make a difference in our own lives, and those around us."

Senior Minister of State for Communications and Information Janil Puthucheary, who also attended the event, spoke about the aspirations of youth in the community, and the need for grassroots to not only attract them, but retain them.