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Speech by Minister for Finance Heng Swee Keat at The SG100 Foundation's 3rd Anniversary Dinner, 22 March 2019, at Jubilee Garden Restaurant @ Safra Toa Payoh

Mr Willy Tan, Chairman of the SG100 Foundation,
Excellencies,
Distinguished Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen

1. Good evening. I am happy to join you today at the 3rd anniversary of the SG100 Foundation.

2. Inspired by the SG50 celebrations, the SG100 Foundation was founded in 2016 as a ground-up movement, to build on the momentum of SG50, to inspire our people to carry Singapore towards and beyond 100 years.

a. The Foundation recognises that youths are our nation’s driving forces. It encourages our youths to do good through various initiatives, and engages them by offering mentorship and guidance on a range of issues. 

b. In doing so, it seeks to build a vibrant and sustainable future for Singapore. 

3. Recently, the British media reported that the Welsh Government has appointed a new Minister, known as the ‘Minister for Future Generations’[1].   The Minister will represent the unborn citizens of Wales, by ensuring that decisions taken by the Welsh government today do not compromise the interests of Welsh citizens tomorrow. 

4. The appointment of such a Minister is novel, and highlights the importance of investing in future generations, and planning for the long-term. 

5. Back home, we are commemorating our Singapore Bicentennial. As part of this commemoration, we are reflecting on how our society and nation came into being, and acknowledging and appreciating the contributions of our forefathers and pioneers. Even though we did not have a Minister for Future Generations, our forefathers placed great emphasis on creating a better future for generations to come.  Let us build on this, and through the series of Singapore Bicentennial events, come together to reflect on how we can continue to build on their contributions, and chart an even better future for Singapore. 

6. To catalyse discussions, let me suggest three ways where we can build a better future for Singapore. 

a. First, let us imbue the spirit of resilience and ruggedness in our people;

b. Second, let us empower our people to reach their fullest potential; and

c. Third, let us work together to build a caring and cohesive society.

7. I will elaborate on each of these points.

Spirit of Resilience and Ruggedness

8. First, let us imbue the spirit of resilience and ruggedness in our young people. Singapore is where we are today because of the hard work and contributions of our forefathers and pioneers. Their journey was not a straight and level path, but one with many ups and downs. But our pioneers faced challenges resolutely and overcame each of them.

9. It is only fitting that we pay tribute, show gratitude for their contributions and care for them in their silver years. 

a. This was why the Government introduced the Pioneer Generation Package in 2015. 

b. I also recently introduced the Merdeka Generation Package in Budget 2019. 

10. But the biggest appreciation to them is to build on their legacies. As we continue our Singapore journey, we will face new challenges. 

a. On the global stage, there is raising uncertainty, amidst major geopolitical and economic shifts. For example, rapid technological advancements are affecting supply chains, industries and our way of life. The trade frictions between US and China are developing into a deeper strategic competition in different areas. Many parts of the world, including Singapore, are also dealing with a rapidly ageing population.

11. We must respond to these challenges with the same resilience and ruggedness demonstrated by our pioneers.  

a. Several Centenarians have joined us today. You are part of our Pioneer Generation. 

i. The SG100 Foundation’s coffee table book, entitled “BOLD”, that will be launched later also features the stories of Centenarians. These stories have one thing in common. The Centenarians were bold in pursuing their dreams, and demonstrated the spirit of resilience and ruggedness in realising them. 

ii. I thank you and your families for making the time to join us, and for being an inspiration.

b. There are also several Centenarian organisations here with us today.

i. For businesses who have more than 100 years of operations, this is remarkable. Apart from having an entrepreneurial spirit, you have been adaptive and resilient to serve changing needs. You ensure that your businesses remain relevant and serve customers better. There is a Chinese saying that sums this up well – “创业难,守业更难”. It is difficult to start a business, and even more so to keep it going. You have done just that and remain successful.

c. Our Centenarians and Centenarian organisations have shown time and again, that the spirit of resilience and ruggedness has served us well. Our current and future generations will need to embody this same spirit demonstrated by our pioneers, to have the inner strengths to overcome the challenges that will surely come our way. 

Empowering Our People to Reach Their Fullest Potential

12. Second, besides resilience and ruggedness, we must empower our people to reach their fullest potential. 

a. A recent book entitled “The 100-Year Life: Living and Working in an Age of Longevity”,[2]  talks about how a 100-year life will be within reach in this century with medical advances. 

b. The book highlights how the traditional 3-step “study-work-retire” model will no longer be relevant, as we live till 100. Instead, it urged people to move towards a “multi-stage life” – one where re-learning and re-skilling are needed at different stages of life. 

c. This is even more critical than before, as rapidly changing technologies could render shelf-life of skills shorter.

d. As the Chinese say, ‘活学活用,学以致用;终生学习,终生受用’. We need to be nimble to build relevant skills throughout our lives.

13. Hence, for Singapore to keep on thriving, we must continually bring out the best in our people, and encourage those who have succeeded to help others around them find success. In this way, we build a better future for Singapore together. 

14. Singapore has been moving in that direction, and the Government is investing in every Singaporean to bring out the best in our people. 

a. We are investing more in pre-school, to help our children build a solid foundation from an even younger age. 

b. In 2013, when I was at the Ministry of Education, we started the Applied Learning Programmes in Secondary schools. The programmes are designed to help students apply their learning to tackle real world challenges. In the process, we nurture innovation and creativity.  Schools decide on whether to take this up, and I am happy to hear all our secondary schools have opted to adopt this.  Even more encouraging is that our primary schools have also shown strong interest, and by 2023, all primary schools will have applied learning programmes! 

c. MOE recently announced that secondary schools will progressively adopt full Subject-Based Banding. This builds on education innovation over the years, and the new system will help customise education for students, while minimising the effect of labelling and stigmatisation. 

d. The ten years of basic education builds a good foundation for our students, and they can then go on to our Institutes of Higher Learning (IHLs), which now offer varied pathways for students to grow and develop based on students’ interests and strengths.  

e. Beyond schools, we are offering more opportunities for lifelong learning. This can take place anywhere, anytime, and from anyone. Initiatives like the SkillsFuture movement provides support for our people to pursue lifelong learning.

15. To build a fair and just society, those who are successful must contribute back to the community and help others find success.  In this way, we progress together as a nation.

a. Around the world, we see manifestations of the discontent arising from those who felt left behind. 

i. For example, Brexit in the UK, the loss of support for centrism in the West, and the recent Yellow Vest demonstrations in France. 

b. These events remind us that we must help others around us and share the fruits of our collective efforts. 

i. When I was the Education Minister, I met many educators committed to grooming young minds. Each of them aspired to bring out the best in each of their students, and in turn inspired and empowered their students to do better. I am glad that several schools with more than 100 years of history have joined us today. You have groomed generations of Singaporeans who have contributed in different ways to the development of Singapore. 

ii. That is why the SG100 Foundation’s efforts in providing a platform for senior and industry leaders to advise and mentor our youths are important. Through these mentorship sessions, youths can learn from and be inspired by these leaders. In turn, I hope our youths can also inspire our leaders! 

iii. Similarly, larger companies can also share their experiences and networks with smaller companies, seek win-win collaborations, and enable them to scale and internationalise.

16. The book “The 100-Year Life” and other research say that 100 years is within the reach for future generations. In Singapore, life expectancy is rising, from 63 in 1960s to 83 in 2017[3].   We cannot tell for sure if a life expectancy of 100 and even beyond is within reach soon. But if we stay committed to improving ourselves and helping others around us, we can collectively create a better future for our nation, for many more hundreds of years to come.

Building a Caring and Cohesive Society

17. Third, we must work together to build a caring and cohesive society. The risk of a weakening of social cohesion remains very real in societies today. 

a. As a multi-racial and multi-cultural society, risks of conflicts along the lines of race, language or religion will never go away. 

i. Just this week, world leaders have stressed the need to curb rising Islamophobia, in response to the mass shootings at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. 

ii. I am glad that in Singapore, the Inter-Religious Organisation and several faith groups, including our Muslims, have stood up to speak against this act of terror, and to urge people of different religions to stand united against hate crimes and terrorism.

b. Beyond race, language and religion, many societies have growing concerns on other divides, such as those between foreigners and locals, conservatives and liberals, the young and the old. 

c. For new differences that may emerge, we must also ensure that they do not become new fault lines that can polarise our society. 

18. Let us stand united against fault lines that may test our cohesion. One way to do so is to nurture common values, and build a caring society. 

19. In the past, our forefathers banded together to form communities to provide mutual support and care, as the support of the Government then was inadequate. Over time, such support extended beyond ethnic and religious lines. Today, we also see more interest groups and ground-up movements that are formed to promote common interests and causes.

a. The SG100 Foundation is a good example, started by like-minded individuals who share the same passion and heart for giving. 

i. The Foundation empowers our youths to advance social causes. One example is the Inclusive Carnival held in 2017, a youth-initiated event to support and raise awareness about people with special needs. 

20. We must continue to grow a community of care and contribution. As pillars of our future, our youths are important agents of change. Through acts of service, they can create positive impact in the society, and lead change by rallying others in the community. 

a. I announced in this Budget that we will nurture youth community service leaders in IHLs. 

i. Youth Corps Singapore will partner with the IHLs to equip students with community skills to better lead and serve the community. 

ii. I am sure that many of you, who are volunteers yourself, will know that volunteering is rewarding but not always easy. It requires skills, such as effective communication and dedication.

iii. I hope that many more students will come forward to volunteer and keep up the momentum of community involvement, even as you embark on higher education.

21. Besides individuals, our corporates also play a multiplier role in catalysing giving, as they can offer their expertise and resources, and mobilise their employees to embark on corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives. 

a. I know of companies sitting among us today, that have a long history, made a mark for themselves, and are giving back to the community.

i. The Leung Kai Fook (LKF) medical company, known for their home-grown Axe Brand medical oil, embraces giving. It has donated to hospitals, educational institutions, and arts organisations.

ii. For example, through its generous donation to the National University of Singapore, LKF supported research on addressing the needs of an aging population, such as treatments for common conditions faced by our seniors.

b. For many business leaders here today, I encourage you to embrace giving in your organisation. Businesses that are not sure how to start can also approach the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre for advice. 

22. The Government will continue to play an enabling role to support and catalyse community efforts.

a. We support corporate volunteerism under the Business and IPC Partnership Scheme, where businesses enjoy a 250% tax deduction on qualifying expenditure incurred when they send their employees to volunteer and provide services to Institutions of a Public Character (IPCs).

b. To grow philanthropy, I also announced the Bicentennial Community Fund at Budget. The Government will provide dollar-for-dollar matching for donations made to IPCs in the coming financial year. This will multiply the efforts and contributions of our donors and IPCs.

23. Ultimately, a caring and cohesive society requires everyone in the society to come together. This is also the spirit of the SG Cares Movement, launched in 2016 to bring the public, people and private sectors in partnership to achieve greater collective impact. 

Conclusion

24. To conclude, let me recap the three ways where we can continue building a better future for Singapore. First, let us imbue in our younger generations the same resilience and ruggedness demonstrated by our forefathers and pioneers. Second, let us empower our people to reach their fullest potential, where we continually improve ourselves and help others around us. Third, let us work together to build a caring and cohesive society. 

25. I look forward to see the SG100 Foundation continue your good work. It is 22 March today. As many of you here are aware, Mr Lee Kuan Yew passed away on 23 March 2015. Let me end with this quote from our Founding Prime Minister Mr Lee Kuan Yew who once said, “There’s a glorious rainbow that beckons those with the spirit of adventure. And there are rich findings at the end of the rainbow. To the young and to the not so old, look at the horizon, follow that rainbow, go ride it.”[4]  Let us continue chasing the rainbow, and make the next 50 or 100 years even better and brighter for Singapore. Thank you! 

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[1] Reported by The Guardian (2 Mar 2019) and BBC (10 May 2018).

[2] The 100-Year Life: Living and Working in an Age of Longevity” by Lynda Gratton & Andrew Scott, published in 2016
[3] Source: Department of Statistics
[4] Source: Mr. Lee Kuan Yew’s speech to the Singapore Press Club (1996)

Published on : 22 Mar 2019
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