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Youth Month 2021: S’pore salutes the young and the selfless

From understanding tissue paper sellers to helping SMEs go digital, young Singaporeans are making a difference in the lives of others through ground-up initiatives, self-led projects

Youth Month, National Youth Council, Youth Action Challenge, Young ChangeMakers, Singapore
Ms Anna Tan (second from right), 20, and other members of the Unseen City project, pose with their graphic novel, which they hope will counter stereotypes of low-income Singaporeans. PHOTO: COURTESY OF ANNA TAN

When schools in Singapore shifted to remote learning during last year’s circuit breaker, doctoral student Monica Chan, 26, and her friends started organising webinars for young adults to explore non-traditional career paths.

“Since many scholarship and career events were cancelled suddenly during the circuit breaker, we heard that students in secondary school, junior college and polytechnic felt lost and unsure about their options,” said Ms Chan.

The group of 10 ran the webinars through their CareerContact initiative, set up to help pre-university students in Singapore discover their passions and make more informed decisions about their career pathways. More than 2,000 students from over 20 schools in Singapore, and some from Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines, have attended the webinars.

Youth Month, National Youth Council, Youth Action Challenge, Young ChangeMakers, Singapore
Doctoral student Monica Chan, 26, and her friends started organising webinars for young adults to explore non-traditional career paths during last year's circuit breaker. PHOTO: COURTESY OF MONICA CHAN

Since then, CareerContact has become an education technology start-up and pivoted to offer a paid, customisable digital skills programme too, with modules in digital marketing, web development and user experience design run by those in the group with experience in the fields.

It has also partnered with small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) on challenges that pair students with firms to address the latter’s digital needs, from web development to digital marketing.

CareerContact is just one of many projects that young Singaporeans have started to make a difference.

The National Youth Council is supporting many of them.

Its Young ChangeMakers (YCM) initiative, for instance, provides grants and mentorship to young people, aged 15 to 35, to carry out community projects.

The Youth Action Challenge (YAC), a four-month programme, also encourages youth to champion ground-up initiatives to tackle social issues in partnership with the Government, businesses and community organisations.

Participants in the YAC are given the opportunity to turn their ideas into action through workshops and guidance from experienced industry professionals, with a chance to receive up to $50,000 in grants to carry out their projects.

CareerContact was among those that clinched the $50,000 YAC grant to scale up their project, in addition to earlier seed funding from the YCM to get their project off the ground.

Ms Anna Tan, 20, a polytechnic graduate, and her friends also received YCM funding for their Unseen City project, which included publishing a graphic novel, based on interviews with low-income Singaporeans. They wanted to counter stereotypes about their lives.

“Some of us may think that jobless people or people selling tissues on the street are lazy, but we don’t know their stories. One of our interviewees told us that he cannot find work as he has to go for dialysis every day and is exhausted afterwards,” Ms Tan said.

Youth Month, National Youth Council, Youth Action Challenge, Young ChangeMakers, Singapore
Polytechnic graduate Anna Tan, 20, and her friends published a graphic novel to counter stereotypes about the lives of low-income Singaporeans. PHOTO: COURTESY OF ANNA TAN

The team printed 162 copies and has sold most of them at $14.90 through word of mouth, online orders and a cafe. The members are working on a reprint of the graphic novel with updates on its protagonists and will host more workshops to raise awareness about those less well-off.

Mr David Chua, chief executive of the National Youth Council (NYC), shared that such opportunities for youth to serve, make a difference on the ground and step up to effect change are crucial to building young Singapreans’ identities as community members.

“They need to grow their stake in building communities, shaping the country and know that their voices and efforts are being taken seriously.

“NYC platforms like the Youth Action Challenge, Young ChangeMakers and the Realise Your Somerset Project are some means to that end, but we’ll need others and the older generation to partner in providing more opportunities and giving young people a real say in different matters, as well as be open to the fact that this journey will be peppered with mistakes and learning.”

Taking action, tackling issues

More than 440 youths in 107 teams have participated in the YAC since it was launched in 2019, exploring a range of issues such as mental well-being, jobs and the future of work, and sustainability.

The programme requires participants to define the scope of their project, consult with experts and deliver a pitch to public and private sector leaders. A third season is slated to begin by the end of this year.

Before Ms Tan Yin Ling, 26, an environmental literacy research manager, took part in the first season of the YAC, she had organised a small clothes swop to target overconsumption and waste in the fashion industry. The programme linked her with others who shared her passion.

With her teammates from the YAC, she co-founded clothing swop movement Cloop, which has collected about 2,400 articles of clothing for resale or donation.

At their events, people can pay $35 and exchange five pre-owned pieces for 10 items or simply buy each piece at $10. Cloop donates part of its proceeds to charities, including global water projects to help combat the fashion industry’s intensive water usage.

Youth Month, National Youth Council, Youth Action Challenge, Young ChangeMakers, Singapore
Environmental literacy research manager Tan Yin Ling (right), 26, pictured at a clothing swop with Cloop co-founder Jasmine Tuan. Cloop has collected about 2,400 articles of clothing for resale or donation to date and donates part of its proceeds to charities. PHOTO: COURTESY OF TAN YIN LING

For Mr Lionel Low, 32, joining the second season of YAC was the impetus to create a user-friendly online ordering system for home-based businesses called SG Local Business.

“When we looked at the future of work for young people in Singapore, we realised that many were starting small enterprises out of their homes, but using Google forms and direct messaging on social media for orders. These are not designed to run businesses, leading to missed orders and poor customer experience,” he said.

His system creates a website for orders after merchants register an account and upload product descriptions and photos. It also automates various processes, such as sending order notifications to the business owners who can confirm them with a click of a button.

With the $50,000 grant, Mr Low and his partners have been able to offer the system to customers for free since its January launch. About 200 have signed up, and the team plans to enhance the system to include payment and delivery services, and a community webpage to encourage collaborations among businesses.

Stepping up in Somerset

To give youth more say in shaping Singapore’s future, the National Youth Council and Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY) in 2019 launched the SG Youth Action Plan.

The Plan is a platform for young people to share their vision for the country and develop plans for youth, community organisations, businesses and the Government to realise this vision together.

The Somerset Belt, which stretches from *Scape to the junction of Somerset and Killiney Roads, is a key project under the SG Youth Action Plan.

From May to December 2019, over 9,300 youths aged 15 to 35 participated in hackathons, roadshows and other activities to share their thoughts on how to transform the belt.

The National Youth Council and MCCY have also launched initiatives such as the Realise Your Somerset Project to gather ideas to rejuvenate the area, and Somerset Belt participatory budgeting exercises for young people to propose and prototype ideas to bring concepts in the Somerset Belt Masterplan to life. As part of the budgeting exercise, youth can vote to allocate funds to projects they wish to support.

Dance artist Subastian Tan, 26, received funding in the budgeting exercise to create a mural called What’s Your Take at the Youth Park. The mural, which was displayed from November last year to February, included a QR code directing people to one of his short dance films and had a space for passers-by to pen their interpretations of it.

“I worked on the mural with 25 other young people. The goal was to encourage collaborations among artists and inspire people to think about and share their perspectives on art,” he said.

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Dance artist Subastian Tan, 26, worked with 25 other youths on a mural called What’s Your Take at the Youth Park. The mural was displayed from November last year to February, with the goal of encouraging collaborations among artists and inspiring people to share their perspectives on art. PHOTO: COURTESY OF SUBASTIAN TAN

Art director Haikel Yusuff, 30, is also doing his part for the art scene in Singapore. He is teaching six mentees to use augmented reality (AR) software in art, and will work with them on an AR mural at *Scape that promotes sustainability.

The initiative is part of SomerSET By Youth (SSBY), a set of programmes run by creative agency Thirty Two CM under the Realise Your Somerset Project. SSBY connects youth with three mentors in creative industries, namely Mr Haikel, artist Sam Lo and artist and photographer Ernest Goh.

“Projects like these expose young people to a broader range of ideas,” said Mr Haikel. “Most of my own art is digitally-led. By equipping people with more skills, such as using digital tools for art, we will have a more dynamic creative space that empowers youths to share their voice across different mediums.”