Grassroots organisations should take advantage of the current moment of national consensus to bring new and younger volunteers into the grassroots movement, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday.
He also urged them to make an effort to bring diverse groups outside the grassroots network closer to the Government.
Speaking to 1,600 grassroots leaders at a dinner celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Citizens Consultative Committee, the apex of grassroots organisations, PM Lee said the time was ripe to infuse new blood into the grassroots movement.
This is because Singaporeans' sense of responsibility to one another and the nation has been strengthened this year, following the death of founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew in March and the Golden Jubilee celebrations, he said.
While the country has good grassroots leaders, it needs to induct and groom more, especially younger ones who know the ground and can bring different people and groups together, he added.
"HDB can build new towns and estates, but it is the people who make them communities and homes."
Mr Lee also encouraged the People's Association (PA), the statutory board that oversees the grassroots movement, to pay more attention to groups outside of the grassroots network, which it did more regularly when first starting out.
These include clans and arts and culture groups, he said.
By actively seeking out such groups, the PA can keep in touch with Singaporeans outside the grassroots network, and would be able to strengthen links between diverse segments of the population and the Government, he added.
Mr Lee thanked the 40,000 grassroots leaders who work under more than 1, 800 organisations.
Singapore's grassroots movement, he said, is "the envy of many"; overseas officials are "invariably fascinated and impressed" that so many here would devote such time and effort to serve residents on a voluntary basis.
Citizens Consultative Committees (CCCs) first started out as Goodwill Committees in 1964, to restore peace and calm tensions after the racial riots.
Today, each ward has a CCC that, besides overseeing the rest of the grassroots apparatus, raises funds for welfare schemes and assumes leadership in times of need. For example, CCCs organised temperature-taking exercises during the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) crisis in 2003, he said.
They also work hand in hand with the Government to support national campaigns and explain policies like MediShield Life to residents.
The CCC is a structure hard to replicate elsewhere as few other countries have 80 per cent of their population living in public housing, noted the Prime Minister. But as Singapore enters its new phase, so too must the grassroots network chart a new direction, he said.
After this year of SG50 celebrations, the Government will organise public discussion about how it can take Singapore forward, Mr Lee said. As part of this, the PA will sound out Singaporeans on their hopes and plans to develop their communities, and this feedback will form the basis for its Community 2020 Masterplan, he added.
Chong Pang CCC vice-chairman Jayakumar Narayanan, 59, said his committee has enlisted about 100 young people into grassroots activities, via house visits and engagement with interest groups, over the last three years.
"We realised that we kept getting the same people participating in our activities. But we know we need the next generation to join us to build our community," he said.