“In 10 years, this will be a metropolis. Never fear.” – with this vision, a country was mobilized into action and all pursued a common goal. Today, after 47 years of wandering the capitalist deserts, crawling from one GDP number to the next, this young metropolis appears lost, weary and thirsting for a new dream.
Ask any heartlander, the basic building block of the Singapore society, for a few words that would describe the Singapore of today and you would hear these: successful, rich, prosperous, stressful, expensive and even soul-less. These gloomy words are trademarks of an industrialised city. With cold efficiency, we have achieved colossal buildings, fast cars, grand housing and mint many more millionaires each year. But for the salaried you and me, we desire a happiness that was not bought with GDP.
We desire a Singapore with soul. And the Singapore Conversations is an opportunity for this city to seek it’s lost soul.
In the history of modern Singapore, a public outreach platform such as “Our Singapore Conversations” has never been heard of, at least it has never been conducted in the scale that we now see. In 1985, a Feedback Unit was set up with the aim of giving Singaporeans “a forum to understand major policies, ask questions, make suggestions and generally participate in working out a solution”.
In 2006, the Feedback Unit was restructured to form REACH. The agency moved beyond gathering public feedback, and became a medium for engaging and connecting with citizens. It started off as a Facebook group and when the size of it grew, it built a digital platform and continues to reach out and engage citizens online. The ease of connecting on a computer however, also removed the life and soul of human conversation. Moreover a large group of people, who did not or could not use a computer, or could not articulate themselves well, are left out. Online opinions fast gained the reputation of being the domain of the young.
Process, more than results
In the world of marketing, corporations have an exercise called “crowd sourcing”. Starbucks, for example, has a program called “My Starbucks Idea”. Customers come together, pitch ideas, proposals and views about how the coffee giant should be shaped. Every customer had a piece of virtual real-estate they could call their own. When ideas become real life products, patrons are proud to have contributed to the Starbucks process.
Singapore Conversations, is for all things, crowd sourcing. When citizens from all walks of life come together, air their views and have small debates about what they believe should be Singapore’s direction, a certain group dynamic happens. The process of intra-citizen engagement causes one to think and reflect about the state of Singapore’s affairs today in relation to their ideals for the future.
The Conversations exercise is being conducted on a very large scale. Which ought to be expected, otherwise it just wouldn’t make for an exhaustive or empirical conclusion. Curiously, it is notable that amongst the 26 member committee, was not one person from the political opposition, nor did it call for special interest group representation such as ACRES, AWARE, SPCA and the LGBT for example. Government leaders, made up almost a third of the committee, their numbers should be diluted by more community representation for the people’s voice to come out stronger
It is disappointing to learn that members of the opposition chose not to participate. The market is mum, but we know that the elephant in the room is: party differences. There is a possibility they do not want to be seen endorsing an enemy project, whatever the reason, politics aside, the Conversations would have made for better representation with their opinions and vision.
This magazine prefers to see the Conversations as a government initiative. Non-partisan and objective. Through the Conversations, we can discover nuggets of cultural gold: what does it mean to be a Singaporean, who is Singapore and to know what collectively as a nation, what our values are, where do we want to head. We believe engaging all walks of our nations’s people, regardless of race, language, religion or party affiliation.