Yesterday I attended an event at Raffles Place, Our Singapore Conversation. As I was walking towards the location I had my reservations about whether this would be an event where the government was trying to brainwash people into policies or one where there would be top down ideologies that were being passed down. From the website (https://www.oursgconversation.sg/) there is a clear agenda for this movement, which is to put the welfare of Singaporeans at the helm and build a community that Singaporeans can be proud of in the year 2030.
When I reached the location the underlying fears that this was an event with an ulterior motive maintained as I saw Mr Chan Chun Sing, Acting Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports and many others in the room who were working for many different government agencies. As everyone was having their meal the organisers who were sporting black lanyards were mingling with the guest who had red lanyards on. As usual I was my shy self and silently observed from the corner and waited for the event to commence.
Things started to kick-off at about 7pm with a 20 mins talk and breakdown of things to come. The participants were split in to groups of about 8-10 and each small group had a volunteer facilitator to ensure that everyone had a discussion as well as adhere to the time restrictions of the night. In each small group there was also a note taker who was tasked with taking down important points that have been brought about by their respective groups. The small groups would start off with introductions and bring up current problems that they saw within the country, this could be anything ranging from social to economical. This was then followed by what the group saw as hopes for the country in the year 2023.
The small groups were essentially focus groups that used tools like post-it notes and boards to collect ideas and concerns that participants had. At this point all uncertainties and reservations about the event were extinguished. The volunteers were made up of individuals from the private and public sector; there wasn’t a group that had push in where the conversations were going. They were at the event out of passion for a brighter future, there was a sense that everyone, participants and volunteers, wanted to be a building block for the future. The night ended with a general gathering when some brave individuals voiced their concerns, affirmations as well as major points that rose from the discussions.
My personal motivation to be a participant was research based, to observe the way this event was conducted, to evaluate if participants were allowed to express their deepest concerns without any fear that the government was watching them. Also as a Singaporean I have many friends who express desires to leave Singapore and that working in a stressful society like Singapore doesn’t allow for one to truly appreciate the simple things in life.
There were many issues and concerns that were brought up by different participants who came from very different backgrounds, most were working in the private sector for companies like Citibank, others were working in social services and education, there were singles, parents and married individuals and even a migrant from China who started his own company 20 years ago. The group was diverse in race, religion, age and social class.
But through this diversity were the common issues that arouse in unison.
Firstly the idea that the social and moral fabric of the country was going to the pits even thought its economy and infrastructure was stable. Many expressed issues such as parents who are trying to instil the concept of right and wrong when the media and the general public do not share the same values, or that the Y Generation are disrespectful to their elders and peers.
The Western culture took a strong beating at the event with a few individuals identifying the change in our culture from strong Asian values to an emerging Western culture that contradicts these Asian values, with one man pointing out that Singapore has sold its soul to the devil when it built the Integrated Resort.
One lady brought up the topic of defining the Singapore Culture and how the media and music industry was a integral part of constructing that definition. The arts have always been a platform for nations and communities to document and present themselves to other cultures and build a stronger sense of community. This presented the notion that the Singaporean society had to look at portraying and promoting the arts culture in a more positive light, for parents to lose the mentality that the arts are not the right career choice.
At the end of the event I spoke to a lady who was working with the Ministry of Communications and Information, she informed me that this program would not stop here. Every piece of feedback and information collected will be used to inform decisions in the future, where the different ministries will be using the respective information to provide structure and foundations for future policies and whatever forms the solutions may come in. Having conducted many of these conversations with people from all facets of our local landscape from citizens in the private sector to citizens in the heartlands and even ones who are overseas like those in Hong Kong OurSGConversation has tasked itself with collecting data from all four corners of the country.
In similar government initiative in other countries like MindLab (http://www.mind-lab.dk/en), OurSGConversation is involving and constructing from bottom up which is a positive move in the right direction for the government. It might be seen as a smoke screen for some but at this point in time we will have to wait and see if this is going to be effective or will it breakdown in time.
hahaha I feel you Dr Doom.
The face when she wants something.
When she realised what I was thinking.
What I should be doing
How I feel on the inside.
What I am actually doing.