Sunday, October 28, 2012

Hopes for "Our Singapore, Our Voices" = Hopes for 'National Conversation"



 After A-Levels last year, a group of friends and I embarked on a project we named  "Our Singapore, Our Voices". Our hope was to create an inclusive platform, where people could share freely their thoughts- ideas, emotions, stories- whatever it might be; we wanted the platform to inspire people to come together and play an active role in solving the problems we face.

At the start of the year, we emailed a few prominent people- Cabinet Ministers, Members of Parliament, Heads of NGOs- to solicit their support and advice. Though, not all replied, we did receive varying offers of assistance from many of them. 

However, due to our various commitments, such as National Service and University Applications etc., we didn't quite have the time to bring "Our Singapore, Our Voices" to live. We could only go as far as creating a Facebook group for it.

While, we ourselves haven't been able to bring the idea to fruition, I am pleased that the government has stepped in by doing something similar to what we envisioned through the "Our SG Conversation" discussions, it has launched.
The crucial difference between what we envisioned and what the government has done is that we wanted a platform which went beyond playing host to discussion; we wanted it to be a place where Singaporeans organized themselves to solve collective problems. We wanted a Singapore where Singaporeans exercised their initiative and took action; this way we believed Singaporeans' sense of ownership and national identity would be strengthened.

As I was looking through my past files, I coincidentally discovered the document which contained my outline of the vision and mission of 'Our Singapore, Our Voices". The document I wrote about 7 months prior to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong officially mooting the idea of a "National Conversation" very much captures my hope for it. The following is an edited version of it.

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Vision:

A positive, galvanized Singaporean society, which impartially recognizes the nation’s “unique treasures” and challenges and is ready to take ownership and contribute.

Mission

To create an inclusive platform for Singaporeans to share their stories, propose solutions and discuss issues on a sustained basis.

Elaboration on Vision

A positive, galvanized Singaporean society

Over the past few years, the increasing interest in public matters is clearly palpable. We see that citizens, both in the online and offline world, have become more strident in their criticism. But just so often, this public discourse seems to be a venting of the pent up frustration: a product of a disenfranchised society which seems to excessively place the burden of responsibility on the government rather than see itself as also holding the key to unlock a brighter future for the nation.

This is certainly not healthy for the country. People must feel upbeat about our future. They must understand that even for the most complex national issues, from their individual positions they can have a great impact. Citizens must feel compelled to do their part. Overall the tone of public discourse should move away from pessimism to optimism; disenfranchisement to empowerment.

which impartially recognizes the nation’s “unique treasures” and challenges

Not everything about Singapore is negative and there are things which we ought to affirm and celebrate. At the same time, they are serious issues which face and it is imperative to have greater awareness of them.

Awareness doesn’t just mean superficial appreciation of the facts and figures out there but rather deep understanding of matters and our responsibilities; deep enough to make taking action compelling.

ready to take ownership and contribute.

Our Society should not become no action, talk only. (NATO). Talking, discussing is only the first step. The most crucial step is taking action to fix our collective problems. Nothing other than action truly helps us make progress. If action isn’t taken and progress isn’t made, it indicates a society’s poverty of conscience, goodwill and ambition.

Mission. WHAT AND HOW?

To create an inclusive platform for Singaporeans to share their stories, propose solutions and discuss issues on a sustained basis.

What does it mean?

An Inclusive Platform

People from all walks of life, regardless of their background must be able to contribute in this platform. We should aim to minimise barriers as much as possible.

To Share Their Stories, Propose Solutions and Discuss Issues

Partly because of our belief in being inclusive we need to be open to the idea of welcoming different sorts of pieces. Not everyone would be able to muster a contemplative, rigorous essay on say the problem caused by the surge of foreigners. But that doesn’t mean the cleaner who experienced directly the competition posed by foreigners doesn’t have something to contribute to public discourse. So in line with being inclusive, we need to be open to the idea of different forms of pieces as coming in.

We must also recognize that it is the emotionally rich stories bringing to the light the human dimension of issues which truly compel people to action. Down the middle expositions on what the problem is and what we can do certainly matter. But that sort of pieces alone cannot inspire action.

 Discuss Issues On A Sustained Basis.

It is absolutely critical that issues are discussed on a sustained basis if we are to inspire people to action and to allow the many strands of thoughts out there to percolate on our platform.
Currently, many platforms such as The Online Citizen and Strait Times often don’t go beyond a cursory glance on the issues. For instance, there might be a review editorial page on the plight of the poor and there is little follow up from there.

These platforms are somewhat like torchlights which highlight to us that so and so issues exist. But we need to go a step beyond that. We need to be like magnifying glasses- zoom in on issues, keep the attention there so as to let the scattered energy and varying strands of thoughts coalesce together, find solutions and inspire people to take them.
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P.S.
There are many interesting aspects of the National Conversation that I have wanted to write about like the often neglected political dimensions of it and the necessary cultural attitudinal shifts which are necessary to allow for a fruitful national discussion. I will reserve those commentaries for another day.

I still do believe that Our Singapore Our Voices can play a constructive role in progress of Singapore. If you are interested in bringing the dream alive or if you are interested to know more about it, drop a mail to palaniyapan@gmail.com .