• The Convergence

Tackling Our Complex Future

By Calissa Man En Qin (Book Prize Participant)


Photo: Singapore Jubilee Bridge/Jason Goh

My daughter dares to dream. She can be a leader. A scientist. An artist. Anything. She can learn with joy and passion. She can be a worthy equal of her peers, regardless of her gender, race and class. As I attend her graduation ceremony, I cheer for the rainbow of diversity onstage. Her peers come from all strata of society, all walks of life. Their future shines bright – their lifelong education prepares them for the workplace of the future and active citizenship extends far beyond the 4 walls of the classroom. The Singapore I dream of transcends discrimination and builds a home of promise and possibility for all.


With that said, how do we build a resilient, inclusive social compact that ensures social mobility, while tackling extensive technological and social disruption, in order to see this dream come true? These timely challenges lie at the core of Singapore’s future development and policymaking – an increasingly pluralistic Singapore must adapt and disrupt, or be disrupted. In our complex times, an oft-repeated refrain rings true: change is the only constant. Society is increasingly polarised politically and socially, just as it is becoming increasingly diverse.[1] Allied to the onset of disruptions like the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the disadvantaged are adversely and disproportionately affected. Their statuses, employment opportunities and even places in society are imperilled by disruption.[2] Hence, disruption widens existing fault-lines in society, persistently perpetuating the greater divide between the haves and have-nots.


With strong governmental efforts over the years, the status quo is seen to be replete with measures to ensure inclusivity amidst disruption; the balanced representation of ethno-religious minorities is advanced with constitutional protections that prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, religion, and nationality.[3] To advance social mobility, a plethora of policies were implemented. Melding self-reliance and communal support, redistributive measures from KidSTART to SkillsFuture illuminate education’s power as a social leveller.[4] The Workfare and Public Rental initiatives inculcate self-reliance, empowering individuals through self-help.[5] This is a promising start; I commend policymakers for their empathy and egalitarianism.


Even so, we must acknowledge the persistent pre-existing inequalities in opportunity that continue to plague our society. Endowments of wealth and social capital are compounded over time as the well-educated and wealthy invest heavily in their children’s future.[6] To ensure an equal playing field for all, changes within our education system and public service should be implemented.


Firstly, affirmative admissions for secondary and higher education should imbue meritocracy with equity. Using a standardised rubric that promotes holistic education and recognition of diverse talents, teachers can nominate promising students. This enables the opportunities for the less-privileged students to gain pathways to self-actualisation, combating disparities of class, race, gender and more.


Secondly, we need institutionalised mentorship programmes in our educational institutions and public service. Assisted by equity advisors and implicit bias training, mentors foster inclusive excellence by providing advice, role models and guidance. Such reforms shape a community where all champion equity, support diversity and practice inclusion.


Thirdly, intersectional policy making can formulate, implement and refine more inclusive policies. A notable example would be the poverty simulation, “Living On the Edge”, by the Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE) and Daughters of Tomorrow (DOT). This experiential workshop sensitizes stakeholders to the circumstances faced by the poor, as participants get to experience being in the shoes of multi-stressed families alongside the daily challenges and choices they face and make.[7] Such discussions and simulations help participants walk a mile in the shoes of disadvantaged individuals. Hence, citizens and policymakers alike are pushed to acknowledge their positionality as decision-makers and agenda-setters, to understand how their identities shape lived experiences and privileges.[8] This encourages the unveiling and inclusion of perspectives hitherto elided in the scope of policy making and knowledge creation.


It is high time we looked beyond the limited confines of race and religion enshrined in our National Pledge – myriad facets of discrimination exist and intersect to create a complex matrix of discrimination. Singapore’s social fabric, and its citizens are just as nuanced and layered as the local dish, rojak – we lie at the critical intersections of various spheres of power and privilege. Elements of individual identity do not exist independently of each other - each informs the others, often creating a complex convergence of oppression.[9] As Collins eloquently opined, “Fundamentally, race, class and gender are intersecting categories of experience that affect all aspects of human life; thus, they simultaneously structure the experiences of all people in this society. At any moment, race, class or gender may feel more salient or meaningful in a given person’s life, but they are overlapping and cumulative in their effects.”[10] Social identity markers like age, gender, sexuality and disability, alongside economic identity markers like education, employment, class, are legitimate, pertinent categories of analysis in our policy discourses.[11] Their power lies in the profound expansion of public policy and Singapore’s future, benefits only amplified by utilising multiple lenses and disciplines. To build a more cohesive and resilient Singapore, we need to employ intersectionality for nuanced, differential solutions that truly serve our diverse communities.


However, focusing only on policy design and implementation alone would be untenable. Beyond whole-of-government solutions, we need whole-of-nation engagement to tap on the unbounded synergies of collaboration. From agenda-setting to policy evaluation, the active involvement of citizens and policymakers, in public consultations, policy forums, and collaborative workshops, reshape our conception of public service delivery, and governance itself. Such mechanisms afford on-the-ground perspectives and deepen empathy, as policymakers and citizens learn from and with each other. We even gain fresh views, while harnessing society’s talents. This also nurtures unity and resilience; diverse groups proactively resolve social ills, instead of always relying on our paternalistic government for aid. With the courage to embrace bold ideas and risk, Singapore can undoubtedly tackle the problems of today and tomorrow holistically.


I aspire to see a future of Singapore where anyone can think big and dream bigger, where glass ceilings have shattered, where everyone truly belongs. This is the true Singapore dream: a faith in a better tomorrow, a better life for your family, a better society where anyone can reach their full potential if they possess the drive to do so. Read Singapore’s story and you’ll find a common narrative thread: progress. Pick up your pen. We can write a better future, together.


[1] Prime Minister's Office Singapore. “DPM Heng Swee Keat at the Singapore Summit 2019.” Prime Minister's Office Singapore, Newsroom (September 21, 2019). https://www.pmo.gov.sg/Newsroom/DPM-Heng-Swee-Keat-at-the-Singapore-Summit-2019. Accessed 10 November, 2019.


[2] Prime Minister's Office Singapore. “DPM Tharman Shanmugaratnam's Dialogue at the IPS 30th Anniversary Event.” Prime Minister's Office Singapore, Newsroom (October 25, 2019). https://www.pmo.gov.sg/Newsroom/dpm-tharmans-dialogue-ips-30th-anniversary-event Accessed 9 November, 2019.


[3] Public Service Division. “Cultivating a Harmonious Society, Becoming One People.” Public Service Division, Heart of Public Service. https://www.psd.gov.sg/heartofpublicservice/our-institutions/cultivating-a-harmonious-society-becoming-one-people/ Accessed 11 November, 2019


[4] Ministry of Education. “Opening Address by Mr Ong Ye Kung, Minister for Education at the 9th Teachers’ Conference 2019 at Singapore Expo Hall 2.” Ministry of Education, Newsroom (May 28, 2019). https://www.moe.gov.sg/news/speeches/opening-address-by-mr-ong-ye-kung--minister-for-education-at-the-9th-teachers-conference-2019-at-singapore-expo-hall-2. Accessed 11 November, 2019.


[5] Haskins, Ron. “Social Policy in Singapore: A Crucible of Individual Responsibility.” Brookings (2011).


[6] McKnight, Abigail. “Downward Mobility, Opportunity Hoarding and The ‘Glass Floor’,” UK Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission Research Report, London: June 2015.


[7] Daughters of Tomorrow. Daughters Of Tomorrow Annual Report 2016, pp. 13. http://daughtersoftomorrow.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/AR-2-.compressed-5.pdf Accessed 10 November, 2019.


[8] Hankivsky, Olena, and Renee Cormier. "Intersectionality and public policy: Some lessons from existing models." Political Research Quarterly 64, no. 1 (2011): 217-229.


[9] Hancock, Ange-Marie. Intersectionality: An intellectual history. Oxford University Press, 2016.


[10] Anderson, M.L., & Collins, P.H. Race, class, and gender: An anthology (5th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Thompson (2004).


[11] Manuel, Tiffany. "Envisioning the possibilities for a good life: Exploring the public policy implications of intersectionality theory." Journal of Women, Politics & Policy 28, no. 3-4 (2007): 173-203.


Bibliography

Anderson, M.L., & Collins, P.H. Race, class, and gender: An anthology (5th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Thompson (2004).


Daughters of Tomorrow. Daughters Of Tomorrow Annual Report 2016, pp. 13. http://daughtersoftomorrow.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/AR-2-.compressed-5.pdf Accessed 10 November, 2019.


Hancock, Ange-Marie. Intersectionality: An intellectual history. Oxford University Press, 2016.

Hankivsky, Olena, and Renee Cormier. "Intersectionality and public policy: Some lessons from existing models." Political Research Quarterly 64, no. 1 (2011): 217-229.


Haskins, Ron. “Social Policy in Singapore: A Crucible of Individual Responsibility.” Brookings (2011).


Manuel, Tiffany. "Envisioning the possibilities for a good life: Exploring the public policy implications of intersectionality theory." Journal of Women, Politics & Policy 28, no. 3-4 (2007): 173-203.


McKnight, Abigail. “Downward Mobility, Opportunity Hoarding and The ‘Glass Floor’,” UK Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission Research Report, London: June 2015.


Ministry of Education. “Opening Address by Mr Ong Ye Kung, Minister for Education at the 9th Teachers’ Conference 2019 at Singapore Expo Hall 2.” Ministry of Education, Newsroom (May 28, 2019). https://www.moe.gov.sg/news/speeches/opening-address-by-mr-ong-ye-kung--minister-for-education-at-the-9th-teachers-conference-2019-at-singapore-expo-hall-2. Accessed 11 November, 2019.


Public Service Division. “Cultivating a Harmonious Society, Becoming One People.” Public Service Division, Heart of Public Service. https://www.psd.gov.sg/heartofpublicservice/our-institutions/cultivating-a-harmonious-society-becoming-one-people/ Accessed 11 November, 2019


Prime Minister's Office Singapore. “DPM Heng Swee Keat at the Singapore Summit 2019.” Prime Minister's Office Singapore, Newsroom (September 21, 2019). https://www.pmo.gov.sg/Newsroom/DPM-Heng-Swee-Keat-at-the-Singapore-Summit-2019. Accessed 10 November, 2019.


Prime Minister's Office Singapore. “DPM Tharman Shanmugaratnam's Dialogue at the IPS 30th Anniversary Event.” Prime Minister's Office Singapore, Newsroom (October 25, 2019). https://www.pmo.gov.sg/Newsroom/dpm-tharmans-dialogue-ips-30th-anniversary-event Accessed 9 November, 2019.

Calissa is a second-year Political Science major. When she isn't reading, she's writing about public policy, gender studies or her next big project.


Views expressed here are strictly those of the author(s) and not of the organization.

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