Getting neighbours to fix spoilt bikes

Getting neighbours to fix spoilt bikes
Gerard Ee, executive director of Beyond Social Services, a voluntary welfare organisation which helps curb delinquency among young people from low-income families.

In a Singapore where many cry out for more social services, a lone voice in the wilderness is crying out for a scale-down.

It belongs to Mr Gerard Ee, executive director of Beyond Social Services, a voluntary welfare organisation which helps curb delinquency among young people from low-income families.

The 52-year-old veteran social worker is publicity-shy and not well known outside social service circles. In his first lengthy profile interview, he says he believes that progress lies not in the proliferation of more social services but in getting families and communities to make social services redundant.

He is convinced that professional social workers have hijacked the problems of people and ended up weakening families and communities, instead of helping to build them up. After more than 30 illustrious years in the sector, where he helped the Government pilot the first Family Service Centre as a community-based social service facility in 1991, he's making a turnaround.

He only wishes he had done it sooner.

Over the last five years, he has overhauled the way his organisation operates. Each year, it helps about 5,000 young people from disadvantaged backgrounds by diverting them away from the juvenile justice system, giving them tuition and helping their parents parent better. Some of these are youth in crisis, saddled with unplanned pregnancies, under threat of being filed as Beyond Parental Control, caught by shopkeepers for theft and so forth.

Instead of taking yet more government funds to deliver yet more social services for them, he has retooled his 85-staff-strong organisation to mobilise the community to come up with its own solutions and largely raise its own funds to cover its yearly operating costs of about $5 million.

Be it youths loitering at the void deck till late at night or drug addiction, he sees all social issues as a "an opportunity to rally and build the community", not just "a problem to be fixed".

"In any case, social problems are complex and if they could be fixed, they would have been fixed long ago. It's an imperfect world we live in. It is not a perfect world that we should endeavour to create but to help people thrive in an imperfect world," he sums up.

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