Why social capital is missing in Singapore

Managing editor Han Fook Kwang said Singapore has a serious shortage of social capital and that it lags behind Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand in volunteerism and philanthropy ("To get our politics right, get the people sector right"; Aug 25).

Perhaps our social capital has been diluted by the huge influx of foreigners into our cosmopolitan city in recent years. Political scientist Robert Putnam postulated that "immigration and ethnic diversity reduced social capital, and the higher the diversity in a neighbourhood, the lower the levels of trust, political participation and happiness between and within the ethnic groups".

The factors conducive to building social capital diminished as our society changed.

What sets Singapore apart from its ASEAN neighbours is the lack of social and cultural homogeneity, where the whole community speaks the same lingo and shares the same heritage.

Our small island has been transformed into an expensive global city where four in 10 residents are non-citizens with varying ethnic, social and economic backgrounds. In our fast-paced and highly stressful society, where citizens and foreigners share limited living spaces, both sides have to live with trade-offs.

Our people sector has done well but it may need a longer time to re-invent and cultivate the right values needed to build up social capital. Take heart, it is not exactly fair to compare "a cosmopolitan city-state" with large countries with many cities.

-Paul Chan Poh Hoi, Reader

Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.