How to integrate newcomers? Ideas flow at dialogue

SINGAPORE - More new immigrants could live in public housing rather than private estate enclaves, send their children to local schools rather than international ones, or do a productive, shortened version of national service (NS).

Those were some of the suggestions by a diverse group of Indian business leaders who met on Saturday for an Our Singapore Conversation session organised by self-help group Singapore Indian Development Association (Sinda).

There were also passionate discussions about socio-economic class, inequality, and how the many well-heeled professionals among the expatriate Indians here could give back to Singapore.

The group of about 50 comprised both Indian Singaporeans and newer arrivals, their spouses, facilitators and Sinda volunteers.

Among them were lawyers, consultants, businessmen and people in the finance industry.

NS should be shorter and have more meaningful avenues for servicemen's talents, said lawyer Paul Supramaniam, whose older son is currently doing his NS.

And the children of those newcomers who are truly committed to Singapore should do NS instead of trying to game the system, he added.

Others said the arrival of wealthier Indians had heightened inequality, creating a subgroup of underprivileged Singapore Indians, and suggested that business leaders start mentoring or job-training schemes for those in need.

And yet another asked if the Indian community could find ways to help foreign workers here, many of whom are also from South Asia.

"We are seen as privileged - how do we practise being humble?" one participant said.

Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan and Senior Minister of State for Law and Education Indranee Rajah were also present.

"The best way to belong is to contribute," Dr Balakrishnan said.

The Indian Business-leaders' Roundtable was set up in 2011 to allow senior business leaders to network and share ideas. Many roundtable members want to give back to the community but may not know where their skills and resources are best used, said Sinda's CEO, Mr Raja Segar.

The Our Singapore Conversation session and other events guide them to do that, he said.

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