SPEECH BY PRESIDENT TONY TAN KENG YAM AT THE PRESIDENT’S CHALLENGE 15th ANNIVERSARY COMMEMORATIVE DINNER HELD AT THE ISTANA ON 13 MARCH 2015

 

Former President Mr S R Nathan

 and Mrs Nathan

 Minister for Social and Family Development

 Mr Chan Chun Sing

 Distinguished Guests

 Ladies and Gentlemen

  

Building an Inclusive Society for Singapore’s Continued Success

Good evening.  It gives me great pleasure to welcome you to this evening’s event to commemorate the 15th Anniversary of the President’s Challenge.

 2          The President’s Challenge was initiated in the year 2000 by Mr S R Nathan to encourage Singaporeans to give to the less fortunate among us. Since then, President’s Challenge has received broad-based and strong support from Singaporeans, especially from many of you present here tonight. With your help, President’s Challenge has raised $150 million for the less fortunate in every segment of our society, including children and youth at risk, the disabled and the elderly in need of support and families in distress. 

 3          I was very pleased indeed to present awards to the 30 recipients who have made special contributions to the causes of the President’s Challenge. Each of the award recipients exemplify the spirit of giving and caring for which the President’s Challenge stands. On behalf of everyone who has benefitted from the President’s Challenge, I thank you once again for your strong and steadfast support over the years. 

Importance of a Strong Community in Nation-Building

4          Ladies and Gentlemen, this year, 2015, is a special year.  Besides marking the 15th Anniversary of President’s Challenge, we also celebrate 50 years of nation building. When we became independent in 1965, we lacked the natural resources to provide for a young and growing population. Unemployment was high and we did not have adequate access to housing and education for everyone.   

5          Today, we have virtually full employment, and probably the highest home ownership rate in the world, and a wide range of education opportunities at all levels.  Singapore is a key financial and transport hub in Asia, and one of the world’s most liveable cities. We have built up ample financial reserves which buffer us from global shocks such as the Global Financial Crisis in 2008. The story of Singapore’s rise and development is well-documented, and is something which all of us should all be proud of.

6          A nation, however, is more than an economy. A nation does not exist only on its financial reserves or its strong economic performance, although these are vital to a strong and stable state. A nation is its people and the identity they share. In this area, Singapore has also defied the odds. We have forged a nation in spite of our ethnic, cultural and religious differences.  In fact, our diversity and multiculturalism are among our most notable achievements and strengths.

Inclusion - a Measure of a Nation’s Strength

7          With diversity, we have the opportunity to foster a corresponding sense of inclusion.   In a family, siblings may differ greatly, but the sense of family is still palpable.  When citizens share a sense of belonging above and beyond their individual differences, we have a strong community. Like members of a family, I hope that we as citizens will look out for one another, even as our living standards rise and our aspirations diverge.  This shared identity and intangible ties to one another are our social capital as a nation.  With this social capital, we are respectful of differences, resilient to challenges, and resourceful in difficult times.

8          We have made progress but Singapore today has different challenges compared to those faced by our founding fathers.  As our society matures, our individual needs and aspirations may take different paths. This adds vibrancy to Singapore, as an economy, as a society, and as a nation.  But as we pursue our own interests, we must also continue to care for others who are different from us, especially those who need help.  As a society, we are measured by how we nurture and value every individual amongst us. 

The Four Pillars of President’s Challenge

9          The President’s Challenge was initiated to bring Singaporeans from all walks of life together to raise funds for Voluntary Welfare Organisations (VWOs) serving the poor and needy.  There is a popular saying that all VWOs need supporters willing to contribute “Time, Talent and Treasure.” Since its establishment, the President’s Challenge has been helping to provide the “Treasure” through fundraising. In 2012, I expanded the President’s Challenge to encourage the contribution of “Time” and “Talent” through volunteerism.

10        To Time, Talent and Treasure, I would add one more element – “Ideas”. We must continually examine how we do things; we need new and imaginative ideas on how to make Singapore a better home for everyone. In this vein, since 2012, the President’s Challenge has been fostering budding social enterprises that are tackling both entrenched and emerging social needs. With these four pillars of Time, Talent, Treasure and Ideas in place, the President’s Challenge will seek to rally Singaporeans as a community to build an inclusive society.

President’s Challenge’s Role in Building an Inclusive Society

11        For example, President’s Challenge 2015 will expand its engagements with various community groups including grassroots organisations, clan associations and schools to encourage Singaporeans to be engaged in contributing to the community in various areas that they have a passion in. The Citi-YMCA Youth for Causes is one such programme. In partnership with the private sector and NUS Business School, this social entrepreneurship and youth development programme encourages our youth to run their own community projects for a social cause of their choice. The youth are supported with seed funding, training and volunteer mentorship. Their accomplishments are inspiring.  Last year alone, over 11,000 youth volunteers reached out to 1.7 million people, and raised over $900,000.

12        I would also like to support Singaporeans in reaching out and transforming lives for the better through various means including sports and arts.  Let me take sports as an example. By increasing accessibility to sports for all, we enable persons with disabilities to enjoy and even excel in adaptive sports. In this way, we focus not on disability, but on ability instead. In their success, our Paralympians inspire us all. In this regard, I am pleased to announce that the Singapore Sports Hub has agreed to be a new partner of President’s Challenge by offering the use of selected venues for sporting activities aimed at engaging the public and special groups.

13        Another example of encouraging Singaporeans to take the lead in community leadership is the “Start Small, Dream Big” programme to be launched in April this year.   Developed in collaboration with the Early Childhood Development Agency, “Start Small, Dream Big” gives our youngest Singaporeans a taste of community citizenship through meaningful activities organised by pre-schools for the children to contribute to their community and start to help the less fortunate.

14        On the other end of the age scale, we want to highlight that our elderly population is not only in need of care, but is also a significant asset to our nation. Many of our seniors are well educated, skilled and have expertise and experience to offer. President’s Challenge 2015 will promote active living through volunteerism among seniors.  In lending their time, talent and ideas to the community, our seniors can redefine ageing in Singapore to stand for opportunity and a sense of purpose through their contributions to society.

Conclusion

15        Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen, Singapore has made remarkable progress over the last 50 years.  As Singapore celebrates our achievements in 50 years of independence, we must reflect on what we have achieved, and ask how we want to move forward as a society. Over the last few years, I have met many Singaporeans, who, regardless of occupation, education, income or circumstances, contribute their time, talent, treasure and ideas to build a better Singapore. It is the goal of the President’s Challenge to foster such multi-dimensional giving.  

16        The President’s Challenge also supports our continuing development as a thriving and vibrant nation. We celebrate our diversity with a commitment to build an inclusive Singapore. As we strengthen our social capital, I am confident that we can, together, make Singapore an even better home for current and future generations of Singaporeans.  I thank all of you once again for your support and ask for your continued partnership in the President’s Challenge.

17        Thank you very much.