Listening also important when advocating, says President Halimah Yacob to young people

President Halimah Yacob speaking to 60 young people at a dialogue session organised by the National Youth Council (NYC).
President Halimah Yacob speaking to 60 young people at a dialogue session organised by the National Youth Council (NYC).ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

SINGAPORE - President Halimah Yacob has a message for young people who are interested in advocacy - listening helps one become more effective at advocating for a certain point of view or a group.

Madam Halimah, who gained a reputation as a unionist and MP as a champion for workers and needy Singaporeans, said discourse is a two-way process, and encouraged young people to also evaluate what others have to say.

She was speaking to 60 young people on Saturday (Sept 30) at a dialogue session organised by the National Youth Council (NYC).

At the candid and wide-ranging session at The Red Box in Somerset, participants shared with Madam Halimah about their aspirations and asked her questions about topics such as education, policymaking and family life.

Asked about advocacy, she said people should treat each other with respect even when they do not agree a particular point of view.

She also emphasised the need to "separate the wheat from the chaff" - to discern the facts of an issue before launching into a debate.

"Sometimes a lot of discussions take place on things which are not factual, and then it goes on and on and gets into a situation where it's completely not helpful," she said.

Madam Halimah was also asked about whether all Singaporeans have equal opportunites to succeed.

To this, she said every school is allocated the resources to provide the best they can to their students.

"The quality of education today and the resources dedicated are tremendous. When I was in school, there was only the blackboard, chalk and a big ruler - if you're not doing your work, if you're talking when she's teaching, the teacher would hammer you on the head," she said, to laughter from the audience.

At the same time, society is recognising that there are different, non-academic tracks to success, and there are also opportunities to pick up skills later on in life through continuous learning, she added.

Parliamentary Secretary for Culture, Community and Youth Baey Yam Keng, who also spoke at the dialogue, responded to a request for advice for young people who want to be involved policymaking, saying that they can start non-government organisations or social enterprises to pursue the causes they care about.

Through their work, they can then use real examples and data to illustrate to politicians what they feel should be considered, he said, adding that is one way of influencing public policy.

The NYC is issuing a call for projects under the SG (Youth) Cares movement, through which it hopes to provide support for youth-initiated projects centered on caring for the country. Applications open on Monday (Oct 2) at

"We know that young people are extremely passionate, and we want to match them to the right opportunities, the right gaps in society and the right resources," said NYC chief executive David Chua after the dialogue.

Mr Chua said projects can be funded through the $100 million National Youth Fund set up in 2013, which supports about 500 projects a year. He hopes this latest call will help to  attract about 30 new projects.

Young people who attended the dialogue said they enjoyed interacting with the President, who shared plenty of personal experiences, such as forgetting to celebrate one ofher sons' 10th birthday. She used the anecdote to remind young parents to remember to balance career with family.

National University of Singapore final year student Vanessa Chung, 22, said one message she took away was the importance of individuals creating change in their own lives, besides just questioning what the government can do about various issues.

Madam Halimah had suggested that people can start by building deeper relationships with family members to promote intergenerational social cohesion. "These small differences will make a big difference in the future," said Ms Chung.

Mr Khairul Hilmi, 29, who works in the social service sector, meanwhile, said he sees a need to create safe spaces for young people to have open and honest dialogues as more of them move to challenge social norms and advocate for issues.

But he added that this had to be done within certain boundaries to avoid tearing people apart.

"We have to decide - do we want to bring people together, or create more divisive groups," he said after the session.

Correction note: In an earlier version of this story, we said that the National Youth Fund supports 20 to 30 projects a year. The National Youth Council has since clarified that the fund supports about 500 projects a year.