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People sector revolution to tackle social challenges

30 Sep 2013

Mr Lien (right) and Mr Sadasivan sharing a light moment during the U@live Forum on “Lead a revolution”
Are Singaporeans ready to “lead a revolution”? This was what Mr Laurence Lien, CEO of National Volunteer & Philanthropy Centre and a Nominated Member of Parliament believed citizens can do when he spoke on the topic at the U@live Forum on 25 September 2013.

“When I talk about a revolution, it’s really a people sector revolution. That means us, as citizens, really reclaiming responsibility for the nation’s problems, community and social issues, and doing something about it ourselves,” he stressed. Instead of relying on the government to handle all challenges, he called for a “new social compact” where citizens and the state work with each other.

Mr Lien, an NUS alumnus deeply involved in the non-profit sector, was convinced that everyone has something to offer even though many are holding back because they lack confidence. “Each of us can contribute and we all have strengths; whether in small ways or big ways, we can make a difference,” he said. “So believe in yourself.”

He was gratified to see that more young people are socially conscious and want to do things for society, organising themselves to support community, social and environmental issues.

Holding appointments in various community organisations, Mr Lien noticed that there is in fact a surplus in volunteering “supply”, as a great number of people are willing to give their time and money. However, many do not know where and how to contribute due to insufficient understanding of what the needs are. Thus, mobilisation of manpower and initiation of actions are critical.

He lamented a dearth of leaders who can mobilise and organise the willing pool of volunteers, supporters and donors effectively. He felt that the lack of empowerment on the ground for people to step forward is deterring them from rendering their services.

Mr Viswa Sadasivan, forum moderator and Chairman of the U@live Organising Committee, observed that Singapore’s form of volunteerism is very much activity-based. He wondered if it should be viewed from a cause-based perspective instead, such as the approach adopted by non-governmental organisations.

Mr Lien agreed, saying that volunteerism should include advocacy for causes. For this to work, models are required of people who can lead and take risk. If their efforts are successful, others will also follow suit.

During the question and answer session, the audience raised issues such as when Singapore will be ready to embrace an inclusive society, the most pressing social problems and ways to overcome them.

U@live, a monthly forum that showcases the outstanding members of the NUS community, is spearheaded by the NUS Alumni Advisory Board and the Office of Alumni Relations.