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DPM Wong calls on PA to help build consensus among Singaporeans amid growing diversity

SINGAPORE — The People’s Association (PA) should aim to foster consensus amid growing diversity in the society, as part of the organisation’s efforts to refresh itself, said Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong.

DPM Wong speaking at PA’s Community Seminar on Oct 29, 2022.

DPM Wong speaking at PA’s Community Seminar on Oct 29, 2022.

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  • Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong on Saturday (Oct 29) called on the People's Association to build consensus amid growing diversity of views among Singaporeans
  • He also suggested that the association look beyond its grassroots network, and bring in others who are keen to contribute to the community on an ad-hoc basis
  • While contributions of senior grassroot leaders are appreciated, they should entrust youths to be agents of change, and not merely engage them, he added
  • These are areas in which PA can refresh itself and stay relevant, given its important role in building a cohesive society, said Mr Wong

SINGAPORE — The People’s Association (PA) should aim to foster consensus amid growing diversity in the society, as part of the organisation’s efforts to refresh itself, said Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong.

“Residents have all sorts of concerns, anxieties, as well as different aspirations and needs. And it's not always possible to reconcile what everyone wants today,” said Mr Wong at PA’s Community Seminar on Saturday (Oct 29).

Mr Wong added that with tensions emerging between those who have done well and those who are less well-off, as well as those with different worldviews, there is an increasing need to find ways to get Singaporeans to listen to one another and seek compromises and common grounds.

PA can play a role in addressing this, by providing safe spaces for people to engage one another and air differing views.

Addressing over 1,800 volunteers, grassroot leaders and community partners, Mr Wong said that the statutory board has in the public eye become almost synonymous with community events.

But the main task of PA is not as “event organisers”, he said. Rather, the events are simply a means to achieve PA's mission of developing cohesiveness among members of the community.

This is important in helping Singapore navigate various challenges such as a worsening economic outlook, an ageing population and tensions between the United States and China.

Mr Wong said that this is also why he has launched the Forward Singapore exercise to engage Singaporeans on how we can refresh and update our social compact.

He added that PA is an "integral part" of this effort, given its network of 40,000 volunteers and the role it has played so far as the "social glue" for our neighbourhoods.

While PA has since its formation in 1960 played a key role in Singapore's nation-building, it has to refresh itself to better achieve its mission, said Mr Wong.

Besides fostering understanding among residents amid growing diversity, two other ways the PA can do so are to strengthen citizen participation in the community, and to stay connected to young people.


In his speech, Mr Wong cited how Singaporeans can be divided in their views over a whole host of issues, from housing to foreign workers.

“(On housing,) half the room will say, ‘Please make property prices come down’. The other half of the room will say, ‘Please don’t take too drastic an action, otherwise my asset value will come down’. So you’ve got divided views.” 

Similarly on foreign manpower, some want rules to be tightened to reduce the number of workpass holders, while small- and medium-sized enterprises want the rules to be eased due to a manpower crunch, he added.

Sometimes, the disagreement can even be over the color of the corridor lighting, said Mr Wong, recalling how one resident raised such an issue passionately during a dialogue session.

“So increasingly, we will have to find ways to get Singaporeans to engage one another, to listen to the views of our neighbours and fellow citizens,” he said.

“PA can help to facilitate this, by developing more platforms for different groups to share their views candidly with one another, provides a basis for such sharing of views, and help Singaporeans build consensus on the way forward for our society.” 


Mr Wong also said that PA can help strengthen citizen participation among members of the community.

He drew attention to how the grassroot movement had played a big role in helping those in need at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“And many responded with spontaneous acts of kindness, stepping forward to help others, looking out for their neighbours, and providing support to fellow Singaporeans,” he said.

He said the response was born out of a “deep seated instinct to do something for others in need, and to help make things better”.

To better harness this instinct, he suggested that PA go beyond its strong base of volunteers and tap another group of people, namely those who are keen to contribute to the community, but on an informal or ad hoc basis.

“Others want to volunteer, but… for a very specific issue or cause that (they) care about,” he said.

He suggested that PA can offer platforms “beyond the current grassroots structure” that are more flexible avenues for people to volunteer in the community.

On the third area of focus, Mr Wong said that PA “must stay connected and relevant” to the young.

He noted how the grassroots movement comprised many senior and veteran leaders.

While he thanked them for their contributions and said that their "wealth of expertise and wisdom" will continue to be tapped, Mr Wong urged that they "give space" for the next generation to also step up and contribute.

He acknowledged that it is "human tendency" for senior generations to have negative views towards younger ones, saying that this was nothing new.

“I remember when I was a young person in the 80s, people called my generation 'lazy and slackers' too. But we turned out alright I think,” he quipped.

He stressed that in spite of differences in views and ways of doing things — which he attributed to the youths growing up in a different age from their parents — there is a need to be fair to a younger generation of volunteers by allowing them to be involved in the community.

“And we should give them space to try, experiment, even make some mistakes along the way. It's okay, because the best way to learn is to make the mistake, and learn from them,” he said.

“So PA must embrace our youths as partners and agents of change,” said Mr Wong, adding that this goes beyond engaging them or having a youth network.

“Show them we trust them, empower them to take charge, to lead projects on their own, and eventually to take on bigger leadership positions in the community.”

Speaking after Mr Wong, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Edwin Tong said that PA must “double down” in its community building efforts.

The grassroots organisation must also work with more people and expand its network “in order to serve more people, and serve them better”.

Mr Tong, who is also deputy chairman of PA, unveiled two new initiatives to spur civic participation without tying individuals down to structured organisation, including seed grants for ground-up initiatives.

Related topics

People's Association Lawrence Wong volunteerism

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