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Youths vie for grants of up to S$50,000, and a chance to turn their ideas into Govt policies

SINGAPORE — Since last September, 250 youths have embarked on a six-month challenge to better understand the Government’s standpoint on issues, and help come up with ideas that could eventually become policy.

A participant making a pitch at a Youth Action Challenge session on Jan 18, 2020.

A participant making a pitch at a Youth Action Challenge session on Jan 18, 2020.

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SINGAPORE — Since last September, 250 youths have embarked on a six-month challenge to better understand the Government’s standpoint on issues, and help come up with ideas that could eventually become policy.

The participants, a mix of students and young working adults aged 15 to 35 — some of them already championing social causes — have now begun pitching their policy ideas in hopes of winning up to S$50,000 in funding to turn them into reality.

Dubbed the Youth Action Challenge, this initiative is part of a wider plan by the Government to engage youths here, said Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu on Saturday (Jan 18). 

Ms Fu, who was speaking at a pre-Budget 2020 engagement with about 300 youths, provided an update on the challenge for the first time since an open call for participants was launched last August.

More than 40 teams were formed, and they were paired with mentors — leaders from the industry, community and policymakers — to refine their projects. 

Participants are currently going through a round of judging, and the number of teams will be whittled down to 12. They will present their ideas in a final round on April 4, to a panel comprising Singapore’s fourth-generation (4G) leaders, industry experts and youth leaders.

Besides the S$50,000 grant, which will be disbursed depending on how much funding each project will require, the 12 teams will also get free use of co-working spaces at *Scape’s Hubquarters in Orchard between April and September, and continued mentorship and incubation of their ideas.

THE IDEAS

Participants are tackling a range of issues across three broad themes: 

  • The environment: Mitigating climate change and achieving zero waste

  • Societal issues: Promoting mental well-being, supporting disadvantaged youths and persons with special needs

  • Jobs and the future of work: Reimagining the future of work, promoting innovation and spirit of enterprise

Some of the ideas that have emerged so far include:

  • Creating new ways of using Okara (a by-product of soy extraction) to reduce food waste

  • Addressing single-use plastics in one-off food deliveries

  • Up-skilling mid-career workers and improving small- and medium-sized enterprises’ hiring processes

  • Marketing Asean as a viable region for career and economic opportunities

  • Increasing incentives and reducing barriers for private sector organisations to be more inclusive towards children and youth with special needs

  • Encouraging youths with mental health conditions to seek help

GETTING YOUTHS TO ‘ROLL UP THEIR SLEEVES’

Ms Fu said the Youth Action Challenge — which is part of the second phase of her ministry’s plan to engage young people to shape a vision for Singapore in 2025 — was started because achieving the kind of future youths want “is not just all talk”. 

“If we want a better Singapore, we have to roll up our sleeves and do the work,” she said.

Ms Fu added: “Building a strong society is not something that the Government can do alone. The Government does not have all the answers. We are excited about the ideas and solutions coming out of the challenge.”

‘GOVT IS INTERESTED IN WHAT YOUNG PEOPLE HAVE TO SAY’

Speaking to reporters, Ms Sim Ann, Senior Minister of State for Culture, Community and Youth, who was present during a round of idea pitching on Saturday morning, said youths can assist policymakers in creating much better plans.

Said Ms Sim: “There will be those who are particularly sharp in pointing out a policy gap somewhere, where maybe a public service may not meet all the beneficiaries who are intended.

“Or perhaps, some may be able to point out how an existing public good or service can be better enhanced (and) made more accessible for people.

“There are also those who point out that there are perhaps some shortcomings in communications where sometimes good ideas, good schemes and assistance plans are just quite not able to connect with the people whom they are designed to help.”

The Youth Action Challenge then comes in to concentrate minds in coming up with problem statements and proposed solutions, she added.

“All of my colleagues in Parliament and the Cabinet are interested in what young people have to say…” said Ms Sim. 

“For youths who are part of this process, I think we can guarantee them that there will be a very interested audience who are keen to assist them and also help make their ideas more feasible.”

The challenge is also an effort for policymakers to “lean forward and meet young people more than halfway” and show them how the process is done, she added.

This is so that youths could also “have a better idea, for instance, of trade-offs, how to prioritise between different good things that we want to do, and also the challenges of implementation, of communication, and of mobilising people to support worthy ideas”, she added.

PART OF WIDER PLAN TO ENGAGE YOUTHS

The Youth Action Challenge is part of the SG Youth Action Plan, which was initiated in May last year to build on the engagements the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth and the National Youth Council had with youths in 2018.

Ms Sim and Mr Edward Chia, who is the co-founder and managing director of Timbre Group, co-chairs the Youth Action Plan, which had a first phase between May and August last year whereby close to 70,000 youths were engaged to share their vision of Singapore in 2025. 

The engagements captured the themes and shared values that youths care about, among them inclusiveness, fairness and sustainability.

Although phase one is over, youths are still invited to share their thoughts at www.sparkthenext.sg to further refine what is defined as their vision for the future.

A Youth Action Plan panel is expected to finalise this vision in April.

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