Talking about Singapore's future

On Pages B2-4, Insight gives a half- time report on the SGfuture dialogues that kicked off in November

More than 300,000 Singaporeans have been gazing into the crystal ball at The Future Of Us exhibition. But running alongside it is a talk series that, while on a much smaller scale, has its own "wow" factor for the nation ahead.

This is the SGfuture dialogues, a community engagement exercise. Unlike the "town hall" gatherings of the Our Singapore Conversation series of 2013, this is a more intimate affair. At the sessions attended by up to 100 people, participants are divided into groups of 10 or fewer people and, guided by a facilitator, share ideas on selected topics about creating a better Singapore. Notes are taken and they are put into a report for the host ministry, statutory body or organisation. The sessions, which can be attended by anyone who registers, began on Nov 29 and will run till the middle of the year.

The "wow" element lies in the new emphasis on empowering citizens to be more deeply engaged in society with an eye to SG100.

Ideas that have emerged include a phone app to connect networks of social volunteers, efforts to foster a culture of mentorship, and the creation of more vehicle-free zones to encourage a car-lite society.

Singapore's leaders have said SGfuture is a national platform for Singaporeans to collectively "write the next chapter of the Singapore Story". It wants to bring people together to brainstorm ideas for ground-up projects. And for viable ideas that require the Government to step in, it has pledged to work together with Singaporeans to turn these ideas into reality.

Some 5,000 participants have taken part in more than 60 sessions so far. Many sessions are at an area of The Future Of Us exhibition designated the "Marketplace", referring to the chatter at markets - wet or stock - on issues of the day. Here, the talk is on concrete ideas for the future rather than critiques of government policies. The sessions come under four themes: a cleaner, greener and smarter home; a learning people; a secure and resilient nation; and a caring community.

SGfuture follows up from the hugely successful Our Singapore Conversation initiative of 2013, and is jointly led by Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Chan Chun Sing and Culture, Community and Youth Minister Grace Fu.

Mr Chan tells The Sunday Times: "It's not just about talking and sharing. It's about talking, sharing and, more importantly, doing things together. We must not underestimate the power of people coming to do things together."

This was the upshot of it all for Mr Marvin Kang, 34, a civil servant who is one of nine people behind The Apprenticeship Collective, a social initiative that has benefited already from the SGfuture sessions. It links secondary school students with volunteer professionals.

"One of my biggest takeaways is realising there are many people thinking about very similar issues," he says. "With quite a lot of people, some of the problems may not be so insurmountable after all."

For this half-time report, The Sunday Times speaks to the two anchor ministers in an exclusive interview, as well as participants and experts.

As Ms Fu says: "We are working towards this spirit of open sharing, engagement and participation becoming an integral part of the Government's approach to partnering citizens for the future. This also means that within the Government, public agencies will need to reorganise themselves to effectively involve and engage Singaporeans."

This article was first published on Feb 21, 2016.
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