SINGAPORE - To ensure no one gets left behind as Singapore becomes more digitally connected, the Government will be setting up a new digitalisation office to double down on outreach efforts to the hardest-to-reach segments of society and encourage them to adopt digital tools.
This new SG Digital Office (SDO) will recruit 1,000 digital ambassadors by the end of June to help stallholders and seniors learn how to use digital tools - skills which the Government says are more important than ever, given disruptions caused by the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
These ambassadors will cover all 112 hawker centres and wet markets in June to encourage stallholders to adopt SGQR codes for e-payment and to avoid having to handle cash, the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) and the Ministry of Communications and Information said in a joint release on Sunday (May 31).
The SGQR code lets stallholders receive payments through 19 different providers, such as Dash, GrabPay and local bank offerings such as PayLah.
This outreach will be ramped up in July to include coffee shops and industrial canteens. With the SDO leading a "whole-of-nation" movement to accelerate Singapore's digitalisation push, the goal is to get 18,000 stallholders onboard the unified e-payment solution by June 2021.
The plan is to build on and accelerate existing efforts to equip every business and individual - including seniors and small businesses - with digital tools and skills, as these would be crucial "to participate meaningfully in the new social and economic environment post Covid-19", said the two agencies.
Minister for Communications and Information S. Iswaran said: "Covid-19 has irrevocably changed the way we lead our lives. While some of us have been able to make the necessary adjustments to work, learn or socialise from our homes because we are digitally connected, that is not the case for some of the elderly and vulnerable among us.
"Their lives can be better if they too are as digitally connected. The Government recognises that in the wake of Covid-19, digitalisation is now both an imperative and an opportunity. Digitalisation can significantly improve the lives and livelihoods of our people."
This follows last Tuesday's announcement by DPM Heng Swee Keat that a bonus of S$300 per month over five months will be given to stallholders to encourage them to use e-payments. The funds will be disbursed by IMDA, the National Environment Agency (NEA), JTC, Housing Development Board (HDB) and Enterprise Singapore.
The issue of how some might be left behind by the digital divide amid the Covid-19 outbreak was addressed earlier this week in Parliament, when during an adjournment motion, Nominated MPs Anthea Ong and Lim Sun Sun argued that more should be done to address this.
To this end, the 1,000 Digital Ambassadors that will be recruited under the SDO will work with companies, community groups and the public to educate and encourage all seniors as well as stallholders in hawker centres, wet markets, coffeeshops and industrial canteens to go digital.
By March next year, these ambassadors will also have reached out to 100,000 seniors and will teach them basic digital skills like how tobuy things online and how to use smartphone apps to communicate with their friends and family.
"We want to quickly include our seniors in these digital efforts, so that they can join other citizens in communicating and transacting digitally. For seniors from lower-income households who wish to learn but are unable to afford the devices, we will provide them with financial support," said IMDA and MCI.
Fruit-seller Mr Ho Liang Huat, 55, made the switch to digital two years ago, when he started to accept e-payment options at his stall in a market in Ang Mo Kio.
One of the difficulties he faced was learning how to use ibanking, and he had to ask for help from the children of other stallholders to explain to him how it worked.
"It really helps when there is someone to sit down to explain to me how to use it," said Mr Ho.
Retiree Mike Goh, 74, echoed Mr Ho's sentiments. He initially was scared to use e-payments because he feared that he would lose his money if he did so.
He said: "We seniors don't always understand where our money goes when we do it online."
In an interview with the media on Sunday, Mr Iswaran said these two groups will not be the only ones the SDO will reach out to, and having Digital Ambassadors working with partners in the community will allow them to better understand and identify the needs of other groups too.
"Whilst we are emphasizing these particular groups, the hawkers and the seniors, it is not to the exclusion of these other important segments, whether it is the disabled or there are other kinds of groups.
"And this is exactly why this network of support that we are going to establish on the ground is going to be key. With the digital ambassadors, on the ground, working with different members of different partners at the community level, more of these sorts of needs are going to be identified."
These digital ambassadors will consist of a mix of volunteers as well as staff who will be hired for this role.
SDO will prioritise their recruitment from graduating cohorts of institutes of higher learning in Singapore, who have been reported to be having trouble finding jobs in the economic downturn caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Interested parties can sign up to be an ambassador on the Government's Careers@Gov website.