SINGAPORE: The People's Association (PA) is pursuing a more "resident-centric" way forward, with three shifts in direction.
Speaking to grassroots leaders at the annual PA Grassroots Seminar on Saturday, the association's deputy chairman Lim Swee Say urged them to take on a mindset change and to put residents as their priority.
The People's Association is on target to reach out to one in two residents by 2015, said Mr Lim.
Over the last three years, it has also helped more people from minority racial groups.
But Mr Lim said there are still some people with the perception that grassroots organisations exist to serve the government.
He said: "From time to time, there are some perception -- I'm not saying it's really widespread but at least there are some perception -- that grassroots leaders are here to help the government, to help PA, to help the grassroots advisers.
"But actually, this is not really the core mission of the grassroots leaders. The job of the grassroots leaders, the role of the grassroots leaders and I'm sure for many of you, when you step forward to serve as grassroots leaders, it's not because you want to help the government, it's not just because you want to support PA, but more importantly, I think you came in because you wanted to do something for the community.
"You want to step forward to serve the residents, to serve the people. I think that really is what brought you forward to join as grassroots leaders. So therefore, the first area we can do more, we can do better, is to become more resident-centric."
"Let us invert this grassroots triangle. Instead of the government on top, now we put government below, people on top.
"So... your main focus must be resident-centric. PA advisers, we are here to support you, not the other way round."
One example of this, Mr Lim said, was recently played out at the Edusave Merit Bursary Awards in Bukit Gombak.
Instead of holding two (three-hour long) mass prize-presentation ceremonies, grassroots leaders spent two full days having 51 small and cosy sessions.
Dr Kee Wei Heong, Bukit Gombak Citizens' Consultative Committee chairman, said: "Our adviser and a few of us had a very nice informal chit-chat with the parents and the students -- that was about 15 minutes -- and then she made them hug the parents in appreciation, and that's where all the emotions come out.
"And once we've completed that, she presented the awards to them quite informally because we asked parents, the siblings, the uncles, the aunties, the grandmothers, grandfathers to also come forward and share that moment with the students.
"The difference was that we were able to spend quality time with the families."
Mr Lim said the second shift for PA is to involve more partners such as schools, government agencies and companies.
The third shift is that grassroots leaders should aim to deepen emotional connection with the people.
Mr Lim said: "I would say that it's not so much about putting in more resources, more funding, but rather it's a re-prioritisation of the funding and the resources.
"Instead of PA coming up with more and more of these top-down programmes, top-down initiatives, we want to turn the process the other way round, depending more on the ground-up initiatives.
"So I think I would say on the whole, I believe that the resources need not necessarily be the limiting factor, but rather the key challenge would be in terms of how we can adopt a new mindset, a new model and spread these best practices as quickly as we can."
Grassroots leaders welcomed the move, adding there is more they can do.
G Selvaraj, chairman of Sembawang Community Club's Indian Activity Executive Committee, said: "The people on the ground, they would understand how to connect with the people.
"For me, I've been staying in Sembawang all my life and because of that, I felt a strong sense of community bonding that I should give back to Sembawang, the place which shaped my life, and that's the reason why I joined the grassroots organisation and try to contribute.
"We need to initiate more activities that would bond people together, so that we will not forget about our traditions, our cultures, our past, and this will keep on reminding people that this is our land, this is our home."
Dr Kee said: "Every grassroots leader must make it a point to make sure he's able to personally know his immediate neighbours and in order to be recognised as a volunteer leader.
"They must be able to understand that he's there to help them, he's there to serve them."
Mr Lim said the three shifts are in line with the prime minister's call for the community and government to do more to support the individual. - CNA/al
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