SINGAPORE - Singapore's society is being shaped by three major shifts, in the areas of demography, technology and social expectations, said Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong on Friday.
He called this process of long-term transformation "social climate change", which, like its environmental cousin, "takes place imperceptibly and you see the effects only long after it has become irreversible".
More research needs to be done to help Singapore anticipate and meet these challenges, said Mr Goh, who was speaking at the launch of a new centre that will specialise in conducting research into social issues and social services.
The National University of Singapore (NUS) Social Service Research Center will also work with policy makers and social service agencies to develop and test social programmes and services.
"I can see an avalanche of social issues coming...the social challenges of Singaporeans in the next 50 years will be drastically different from those in the last 50," Mr Goh said, adding that Singapore needs to think ahead of the curve.
One key issue is demographic changes. Singapore has "an aging and declining population" and has recently been seeing a big jump in cross-border marriages across different cultures and socioeconomic groups, said Mr Goh.
While he noted that transnational marriages make society more diverse, he also questioned what they would mean for the Singapore identity and social cohesiveness in the long run.
Another challenge is the rising use of technology such as mobile smart devices and social media, which will influence how people interact with each other.
In addition, many more Singaporeans now count themselves as members of the middle class, which may lead to changing social expectations, mid-life insecurities and fears over the kind of economic future they and their children will have, said Mr Goh.
The NUS Social Service Research Centre will be led by Professor Paul Cheung and Associate Professor Irene Ng, who are both from the NUS department of social work.
Also being held on Friday is an inaugural conference titled "Transforming Social Services: Innovation, Evaluation, Impact", organised in conjunction with the centre's launch.
It is due to be attended by 250 policy makers, international and local academics, students and social service practitioners.