Call for youth to go beyond social bubbles to build deep connections

President urges them to interact with different communities

Young people in Singapore should go beyond their social bubbles to build deep and meaningful relationships with people from different communities, said President Halimah Yacob.

"Go beyond interactions only with your own closed circle of family and friends within your comfort zones and learn about the diverse and rich experiences of other communities," she said at the opening ceremony of the 2021 Hwa Chong Asia-Pacific Young Leaders Summit yesterday.

"To forge meaningful relationships, it requires you to open your minds, discard stereotypes and not prejudge others," she added.

The four-day summit, which will run until Thursday, is an annual event organised by Hwa Chong Institution. This year's 91 participants are from 26 schools around the world, including students from countries such as China, Finland, Indonesia, Japan and the United States.

This is the 14th edition of the summit, which is being held online due to Covid-19 pandemic restrictions.

Madam Halimah also said schools in Singapore perform a crucial role in developing the country's multicultural and multi-religious diversity.

"Schools are where our children learn the values of respect and harmony, regardless of race, language or religion. In the classroom, students in Singapore have the opportunity to discuss contemporary issues, including those related to race and multiculturalism," she said.

"Cultural awareness and experiences are further enhanced beyond the classroom, through various school-based learning and interaction opportunities."

Madam Halimah also touched on the impact that the Internet has had on contemporary Singaporean society.

She said that as Singapore moves forward with digitalisation, Singaporeans must pay attention to making such growth inclusive.

"We must share the benefits of technology with all segments of society. We should ensure that no one is inadvertently neglected in this journey of the future," she added.

Madam Halimah said she was heartened by efforts by Singaporean youth to help the elderly with digital living.

She cited the example of a project from Hwa Chong called Project Coconut, for which students raised $30,000 to buy phones for seniors from social service agency Lions Befrienders and taught them how to use the phones.

She also spoke about the growing role of social media as a worldwide platform for discussions about any subject, including issues of race and diversity.

While she saw nothing wrong with using social media in this way, Madam Halimah added that it is important to remember that interactions on these platforms can have an impact on both users and the people around them.

"As future leaders, use such platforms wisely to further your engagement of others.

"Only when our conversations about diverse cultures are heartfelt and respectful can they enrich our lives and strengthen trust amongst different communities," she said.

The theme of this year's summit is Re: Imagining, Building, Uniting.

It will feature dialogues and exercises with speakers like Mr Bilahari Kausikan, chairman of the Middle East Institute at the National University of Singapore, and Asia Philanthropy Circle chief executive Laurence Lien.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 13, 2021, with the headline 'Call for youth to go beyond social bubbles to build deep connections'. Subscribe