SINGAPORE - In May last year, President Halimah Yacob put forward the idea of a unique interfaith forum with the status and prestige of the Shangri-La Dialogue, and a mission to promote understanding between different communities.
She envisioned it as a high-level event drawing leaders of faith from all around the world, similar to how the Shangri-La Dialogue is attended by defence ministers and military chiefs from major world powers.
The result was the inaugural International Conference on Cohesive Societies, which started on Wednesday (June 19) and ends on Friday.
Organised by the S.Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Nanyang Technological University with the support of the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth, the event aims to be a platform for conversations on strengthening interfaith understanding and developing new ideas to foster greater harmony in societies.
The conference is attended by around 1,000 delegates from close to 40 countries. They include academics, government officials and members of religious and civil society groups, who will discuss broader issues surrounding faith, identity, and cohesion.
Participants will also take part in workshops to discuss topics such as overcoming hate, faith and technology, and global peace-building efforts.
A separate Young Leaders' Programme to harness the ideas of young people working to address challenges relating to social cohesion in their communities was also held on Tuesday and Wednesday.
In her opening speech on Wednesday night, President Halimah spoke of the important role that leaders play in building unity within their communities.
"Strong leadership and deep social mobilisation are vital elements to achieving cultural change," she said. "Leaders play an important role in promoting peace and social cohesion at both the national and international levels."
But she noted that often, political leaders articulate division and conflict for their own personal agenda.
"Hence, all societal actors must play a part in managing diversity - from government leaders to individuals, from the media to educational institutions," she said.