Speech by Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Deputy Prime Minister & Minister for Finance & Manpower at the Indian Activity Executive Committees' 35th Anniversary Celebrations Dinner at Swissotel, The Stamford Hotel on Saturday, 21 July 2012 at 7.50pm21 Jul 2012
Mr Hri Kumar, Adviser to Narpani Pearavai,
Mr P Thirunal Karasu, BBM, Chairman, People’s Association (PA) Narpani Pearavai
Mr Yam Ah Mee, Chief Executive Director, PA
Ladies and Gentlemen
1 I am delighted to join everyone here to celebrate the 35th anniversary of our Indian Activity Executive Committees (IAECs).
2 The first Indian Cultural Group, or the predecessor of the IAECs, was set up in 1977 to foster stronger bonds within the Indian community. Over time, IAECs built up a wide range of activities that bring people together, in and out of our Community Clubs. Through these efforts, the IAECs and their co-ordinating body, Narpani Pearavai, have been actively supporting PA’s mission to strengthen the community at every level - in local constituencies, and at the district and national levels.
3 In so doing, the IAECs have not only been successfully in reaching out to the Indian community, but the larger society. Your efforts have helped us to build a stronger, more resilient and a more inclusive Singapore and I would like to thank all of you for your contributions and support. Some of you have been at this for a few decades, and are beacons of strength in the community.
IAECs’ Contributions and Community Partnerships
4 There are now 94 IAECs across the island. Their membership has also grown, to some 1,750 grassroots leaders today. The IAECs have also formed some 220 interest groups, which are a way in which we are reaching out to more people with diverse interests.
5 One simple indicator of how effective the IAECs have been is the fact that our grassroots organisations have engaged 1 in 3 Indian residents as at March this year; or about 110,000 of them. I am confident that Narpani Pearavai, IAECs and other GROs will achieve the PA’s Community Vision of engaging 1 in 2 Indian residents by 2015. That is a significant increase in the pool we engage, to be achieved in three years
6 I would like to congratulate all the IAECs, and especially the 24 IAECs which have consistently achieved a 4-star grading in the PA Awards for the last 6 consecutive years for their outreach efforts and achievements. They have actively participated in Narpani’s various projects, such as its Family Day Carnivals and the National Tamil debates. Tonight, they will be receiving the Narpani Achievement Awards for their excellent performance.
7 Besides grassroots activities, the IAECs have also forged strong partnerships with community partners such as the SINDA (Singapore Indian Development Association) and Vasantham of MediaCorp.
8 Twenty-six (26) IAECs and SINDA have developed an on-going reading programme called “The Reading Circle” for children, especially those from less advantaged homes. SINDA and another six IAECs have also pioneered a “Math & Me” programme last year.
9 Narpani Pearavai has also established a strong relationship with Vasantham of MediaCorp aimed at fostering a more cohesive Indian community through its annual family day carnival – a signature outreach programme since 2008 which has reached out to about 8,000 residents and participants to date. In addition, Narpani Pearavai and the IAECs collaborated with Vasantham to organise the National Tamil Debates for Secondary Schools (Sorkalam) and Junior Colleges (Sorsilambam) where the semi-finals and finals are televised on the Vasantham channel annually.
Strong Informal Networks on the Ground are Critical
10 There is still more we can do, and must do, to strengthen our social networks on the ground. There is more to do in bringing people together in community initiatives, so that they do not live purely private lives. And much more to do to reach out to individuals and families who are going through difficult times, and bring hope into their lives.
11 More can be done to reach out and help those in need, through our networks on the ground - including informal networks of grassroots volunteers and social work professionals in our FSCs (Family Service Centres) and VWOs, and with both working together with our CDCs. These informal networks are really critical, not just the formal support that the CDCs and government agencies provide.
12 The Government will support them actively - for example the bulk of the funding that the FSCs that are driven by voluntary bodies is from the Government. The Government is also stepping up its own, direct social support for Singaporeans - such as for the elderly and for young children from less advantaged homes. But we have to be careful to leave space for voluntary, informal networks on the ground – for volunteers, charitable bodies and private organisations to take the initiative and develop relationships of their own with residents. There is no substitute for Government, but there can be no substitute for informal social networks on the ground either. Nothing can substitute for a fellow-resident or volunteer who listens face-to-face, empathises with those in difficulty, helps them where possible to resolve personal and family issues, and follows up by connecting them with agencies that can provide formal support.
13 We must keep encouraging ground-up initiatives, not snuff them out as Government steps up its direct social support schemes. We have to strengthen social networks on the ground, so that they are self-sustaining. That’s indeed how we get a truly inclusive society - where government is active in supporting those who need help, but government alone is not the whole show and we have a vibrant network of individuals and organisations playing an active role in strengthening our social compact.
14 What the Government will also do however is to help our GROs, other voluntary organisations, the FSCs and other social agencies work more closely together. This means being able to share information and work as a team to help families get to better times. Each agency or group has its own strengths. Some are better able to help the elderly; some are able to help individuals to move on after facing some setbacks while others are able to motivate those to start over again; some are focused on helping ex-offenders turn their lives around; others are dedicated to helping the children, and giving them confidence early in life. We have to work as a team, and the Government will help in bringing things together.
15 The IAECs are well-placed to strengthen out networks on the ground. You have built up relationships with residents, and are trusted. We have to build on that, and widen our outreach to residents in need. The IAECs should also continue to leverage on the strengths and networks of community partners like SINDA to develop targeted programmes to help level up disadvantaged families, and especially the children. They should also develop a close network with other non-ethnic based community partners to make the most of all our resources on the ground – social workers, counsellors, volunteer mentors and community activists.
Developing Future Leaders
16 Another important challenge for the IAECs is to grow a pool of dedicated volunteers and help build the leaders of tomorrow. We have to continually identify and recruit promising youths by giving them room to pursue their interests and provide them with the confidence and support to initiate projects. We need to draw on the increasing number of young and enthusiastic Indian professionals who have the drive and commitment to participate in community work.
17 Equally important, we need to develop their potential and capabilities, so that we nurture the next generation of community leaders. It is best to do this while our senior community leaders amongst you are still active, not wait till you retire from voluntary work. This way, we can ensure that the experience you have built up is shared and passed down, and that the good work that has been done is the foundation for even better work.
18 On that note, I once again want to thank all the grassroots leaders here tonight for your excellent work. Let me wish everyone a wonderful evening of joyful 35th Anniversary celebrations.