Photo credit: NATIONAL YOUTH COUNCIL

Youth takeaways from National Youth Dialogue on Renewing Our Social Compact

The dialogue is the first of seven to be held.

Nigel Chin

Started writing for the passion. Now writing because it’s the only thing I can do.

Published: 17 August 2022, 11:06 AM

The first of seven National Youth Dialogues (NYD) in 2022 was held on Jul 23 at *SCAPE. It focused on the topic of “Renewing Our Social Compact”. 

Organised by the National Youth Council in partnership with the Global Shapers Community (Singapore Hub), the NYD is aimed at giving youth the space to be heard and empowering them to be the change they want to see for Singapore and the world on issues that matter, particularly in the coming years. 

The Dialogues feature distinguished speakers from the public, private and people sector, and allow youth participants to hear from panellists on future-oriented issues too. 

The first Dialogue on Renewing Our Social Compact – a key topic this year after Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong and the 4G Leadership team launched the Forward Singapore exercise – featured panellists Minister of State for Culture, Community and Youth Alvin Tan, Associate Professor of Economics at Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS) Walter Theseira,  Senior Research Fellow and Head of the Case Study Unit at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy Dr Ng Kok Hoe, and Chief Executive Officer at Majulah Community Marlisa Rosli. 

It touched on whether a new social compact is required in light of inequality being thrust into the spotlight by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Discussions were also held on the shifts that might be required in roles of Government, businesses and the community to reach the desired state of future Singaporean society.

Four youths – Lathika Chandra Mouli, Khoo Yi Feng, Nurushshifaa’ Sabran and Garrendir Kaur Shanna – share their takeaways from the dialogue. 

Social structures and successes need to evolve in the face of new challenges

“Coming into the dialogue, I was seeking to learn three things: What are the biggest challenges facing Singapore’s social compact; What initiatives are already being taken to refresh the social compact; What roles do different stakeholders (e.g. governments, academia, non-profits, and individuals) currently play in maintaining the social compact and how would these roles evolve in the future as we face uncertain situations such as pandemics, war and climate change.

“The dialogue touched upon these questions in multiple ways. The speakers highlighted events affecting our social compact, from housing and education issues to demographic changes, and mentioned several initiatives that can refresh our social compact such as the progressive wage model and increasing the carbon tax. 

“I was particularly hoping to get a different perspective on how the role of different stakeholders, particularly corporations and individuals, in maintaining the social compact would change in the future. I really appreciate the diversity of the speakers that were present, which allowed us to explore different perspectives on these topics from the Government, academia, and non-profit side.

“I’ve learnt that our social compact is essentially what we are collectively willing to give up for one another to maintain social cohesion and structures. They are essentially representative of our values as a society. 

“While the social compact is strongly driven by the Government, community members and individuals have an important role in working with the Government to understand what we are working towards for the next five to 10 years and what we need to prioritise to ensure an inclusive, equal and cohesive society. 

“Singapore also faces different challenges today than during independence, but our social compact remains just as vulnerable to global changes. We must be aware of these vulnerabilities and prepare for them by engaging in dialogue and working with our fellow community members to build resilience. 

 

The first NYD was attended by 106 youths both physically and virtually. PHOTO CREDIT: NATIONAL YOUTH COUNCIL

 

“The idea that our current social compact may not serve us in the future is one that particularly impacted me, along with the realisation that there is a need for formalised spaces where ideas and policies can be contested. 

“Looking at this from the perspective of environmental issues and extreme climate events, for instance, it will be increasingly important to discuss how access to social systems such as healthcare, infrastructure, and safety remain accessible to different members of society, and the impact that different policy levers to minimise the impact of climate change will have on different community members such as corporations and individuals. 

“In an increasingly polarised world and one where swift policy action is being taken to fight climate change, we need formalised systems to evaluate the impact of upcoming policies to ensure they serve those particularly in need.” Lathika Chandra Mouli, 26, Global Shapers Singapore member and Sustainability Consultant at ENGIE Impact

Difficult questions needs to be asked and discussed

I came into this inaugural National Youth Dialogue with this question in mind: We have been having various dialogues from Our Singapore Conversation in 2012 and the Emerging Stronger Conversations in 2020. How might the Forward Singapore Exercise be different? I was also seeking exposure to perspectives relating to what we need to let go of and hold on to, in order to form our renewed social compact. 

“Through the Dialogue, I’ve learnt that trust in the Government is an active relational process that’s also highly contextual in the vulnerabilities of our age and aspirations of progress of our people. Also, the inaugural National Youth Dialogue is not just a ‘talkshop’; It is a fertile ground for active discourse on the brand of meritocracy, the role of community, what our society stands for and defining progress.

“What resonated with me the most was that there are difficult (and inconvenient) questions that need to be asked and discussed. We need not just safe spaces to dialogue, we need brave spaces to dare to disagree and take risks in prototyping new social possibilities; so we will not be victims of our own success(es). To that, the National Youth Dialogues can be  ‘head-scratching and soul-searching’ spaces where we diverge daringly and also converge collaboratively.” – Khoo Yi Feng, 32, Social Worker

 

The four panellists at the dialogue on renewing our social compact (left to right): Ms Marlisa Rosli, Mr Alvin Tan, Dr Ng Kok Hoe and Professor Walter Theseira.

Renewing social compact is about strengthening Singaporeans’ bond with the Government

“While I had no prior expectations before participating in the dialogue, I wanted to gain more insights on Singapore’s issues of concern that involve the society. Through the dialogue, I’ve come to the understanding that renewing our social compact is about strengthening the bond between the Government and Singaporeans. 

“One of the panellists, Ms Marlisa Rosli, mentioned that civil society are organisations that are not associated with the Government. They are independent and advocate for causes that are close to their heart. 

“These civil societies provide services, health and support for vulnerable groups. They stand up for the rights, raise issues, and speak up on behalf of the people that they represent. They check and balance with the Government in terms of policies that they’ve introduced to help these people, and also give out inputs and suggestions to help the people they represent. Lastly, they build active citizenship to bring youths and people of the community together to support the community and society.

“Another panelist, Mr Alvin Tan, changed my perspective about Singapore’s standing in the world. He had asked the audience to choose whether Singapore remains vulnerable, or whether we’ve gotten past the humps since independence and I voted for the second option with confidence, as I believed that Singapore as a country is developing well and a progressive city that always comes out with solutions for incoming problems. 

“But Mr Tan helped me to realise that Singapore is still very vulnerable, just as it was when it gained independence, as we are constantly in need of supplies from other countries. 

“The whole dialogue made me feel needed in the society despite being an adolescent who hopes to contribute to the community at large in the future.” – Nurushshifaa’ Sabran, 17, Madrasah Al-Maarif Al-Islamiah student

Tackling social issues key to renewing social compact

“As a person who’s always had an interest in social issues, the topic of renewing social compact sounded interesting, albeit challenging, as I wasn’t certain what Singapore’s social compact was in the first place. I was hoping to understand more about different speakers’ views on what Singaporeans owe to one another and what we are collectively willing to give and gie up for one another. 

“I felt that I learnt the most from Dr Ng Kok Hoe – in his sharing, he elaborated on the basic structures of social welfare systems, namely, social-democratic systems, liberal systems, and conservative systems. He helped to situate Singapore in these systems and provide context about the ways in which we are simultaneously individualistic and universalistic. I appreciated his critique of the Singaporean housing system, which sees housing as an asset as opposed to a basic need. 

“Marlisa Rosli also placed a strong emphasis on cultivating empathy instead of just surviving on tolerance, and I couldn’t agree more. I also appreciated that Prof Walter Theseira and Dr Ng were able to expound on how policy design by virtue influences and shapes the way Singaporeans interact and engage with each other. 

“Dr Ng explained how liberal social welfare systems which create highly targeted schemes are the breeding grounds for stereotyping and divisive attitudes, whilst Prof Theseira helped to tackle the tricky question of meritocracy by sharing that perhaps it’s the division of rewards that ought to be re-thought. In recent years, I’ve felt that there has been a stronger emphasis on the importance of empathy and more of my own peers have shared how dissatisfied they are with a seemingly selfish and individualistic Singaporean society. 

“This immediately raises the question: when we speak of the Singaporean kampung spirit, what do we really mean? How can we reignite it? Dr Ng’s sharing importantly underscored how it’s difficult to cultivate an empathetic and generous society if policy doesn’t create the necessary conditions. 

“Something that truly struck me was Dr Ng’s sharing that inequality and social exclusion in Singapore is predictable, not surprising, because of the strong liberal influence in housing, which creates the perception that your housing conditions are a reflection of your hard work (or lack thereof). This has made me truly consider the ways in which we talk about inequality and poverty – do we frame it as an individual problem or a structural one? 

“The true challenge lies ahead: How do we balance the government’s role in the social compact with the roles of communities? How might we design policy that is truly more inclusive without inadvertently breeding divisive and discriminatory attitudes? Besides policy implementation, how do shift perceptions of social issues like poverty and social inequality that are deeply entrenched? 

“I appreciated that this dialogue shared various perspectives and I was truly grateful that these issues were contextualised within structures and systems as it allowed me to think more concretely about it. I’m excited to attend future dialogues!” – Garrendir Kaur Shanna, 22,  Yale-NUS College student majoring in Global Affairs and minoring in Chinese Studies

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