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Speech by Ms Anita Fam, President, National Council of Social Service at the Social Service Summit 2021
14 Jul 2021
Good morning, Minister Masagos Zulkifli, and friends. Welcome to our annual Social Service Summit! I am so grateful that over 800 of us are able to gather today albeit virtually.
First and foremost, I would like to thank each and every one of you for persevering despite the challenges that the pandemic has presented us with. You have worked tirelessly to ensure that services to our service users have remained uninterrupted, which was much needed during these trying times. I was also deeply moved by the video earlier and am proud of all the efforts made to serve the community.
We need to continue to work together to ensure that our sector remains resilient, agile, and ready to meet any challenges which the future may bring.
2020 more than tested our resilience and uncovered gaps in the sector. As the COVID-19 situation is still evolving, we must continue to seize the opportunity to make ourselves ready for whatever the future holds for us. In May 2020, we convened the Beyond COVID-19 Taskforce where we brought together leaders from different sectors to develop plans so that we could emerge stronger post-pandemic. Through the findings, we identified key challenges and gaps that the sector faced. However, we should not see these as just gaps. Rather, these are opportunities for us to do better as a sector. Let me share more on each of these opportunities.
First, the pandemic accelerated digitalisation in our sector. We need to continue this momentum. Technology can help us enhance operational effectiveness and deliver quality social services. It is important that SSAs continue to build up their competencies and capabilities to manage data and digital projects. For example, through the NCSS Back-to-Basics Project, APSN Centre for Adults adopted a functional rehabilitation system. This sought to simulate real-life tasks to deliver contextualised training which increased training efficiency and empowered trainees to be viably employed in the workforce.
Secondly, we need to harness the potential of volunteers as a key way to augment manpower. We need to tap on the increasing social consciousness and interest in volunteerism that arose from the COVID-19 pandemic to support organisational needs. Thus, volunteer management is an essential skill that we need to grow. We also need to work closely with our friends in the corporate sector to tap on their expertise, experience, and resources.
Thirdly, to increase funding sustainability, we need to explore new modes of fundraising. We also need to be cognisant of the changing behaviour of our donors and funders by adopting a philanthropic mindset. I will share more about this mindset shift later.
Fourth, as part of service delivery, we need to be innovative in the way we deliver our services. This could be through the use of digital tools. We also need to empower and leverage the strengths of our service users by co-creating, co-designing and even co-delivering user-centric services and solutions.
Fifth, regarding leadership in the sector, we need to adopt adaptive leadership to overcome the current and future challenges and crises. To achieve this, we need Board members who are diverse and able to bring in knowledge from different sectors to our sector, yet be able to understand and grasp the intricacies and challenges peculiar to our sector. Also, our SSAs need to work towards making sure that both their board and management leadership are in strategic alignment. That is the key for sustained organisational success.
With the opportunities that I have mentioned, the social service sector must strive to continually transform and respond to the needs exacerbated by COVID-19. The theme for this year’s Summit is ‘Reimagining the social service sector’ – most apt as we move into the next normal together.
To this end, I wish to share two thoughts which I feel are fundamental to us changing the way we do things in the sector.
First, we should be person-centred and system-centric. Not programme-centric. Secondly, we should shift from a fundraising mindset to a philanthropic mindset.
By being person-centred, we should put the service user at the very core of what we do and prioritise the service user’s quality of life. Traditionally with programme funding, we support a service user through just one programme or with just one SSA. Adopting a person-centred system-centric approach requires a fundamental shift in how some of our services are to be delivered as well as how we are to define our roles and relationships going forward – not only as social sector professionals but also of our service users too. Therefore, as we progressively adopt an integrated person-centred approach, we should work less in silos and instead think more about working across services, agencies, and sectors such as social, health and education.
We also need to encourage and increase collaboration with private sector organisations to leverage their strengths and ours. We saw this earlier in the video where AMKFSC and New Hope collaborated with the private sector to enhance their internal capabilities.
The second mindset shift is moving from the concept of fundraising to philanthropy.
Fundraising is resource generation focused on the ‘now’ with limited potential for the future. We therefore need to inject the science of philanthropy into fundraising to take it to new heights. Philanthropy is a more strategic long-term approach to resourcing which will help our SSAs achieve sustained outcomes and create empowered, independent communities.
Traditional programme funding rarely covers the full cost of running a programme and typical overhead rates do not capture true administrative costs. I hope that SSAs, donors and funders will appreciate the full costs involved in delivering quality social services and fund for the long haul which includes general operating costs as well as capacity building. Corporate functions too are a critical part of SSA capability for us to emerge stronger in the next normal and provide better quality services to those in need. In short, we need to change our mindset and “fund for growth”.
We also need to build up trust capital between a funder and the recipients through open and strategic conversations on resourcing. Such relationships, which may go beyond financial support and involve other activities such as mentoring or board membership, will allow the funders to gain a more in-depth understanding of the SSA’s activities and spending. With the trust cultivated, funders will be able to support an SSA’s mission and objectives by providing funding to cover core costs rather than time-limited projects. From the funding recipient perspective, the comfort of a financial buffer enables an SSA to think longer term, optimise resources and invest in corporate capabilities needed to achieve financial sustainability.
Increasingly, donors are seeing the value of long term sustained impact. Data is an asset for philanthropy because it helps funders get the most social capital out of every dollar they have invested. It is therefore essential for the sector to equip itself with the necessary understanding so that they can articulate and measure social impact.
In addition, we also need to explore different resourcing possibilities such as starting a social enterprise which can provide a separate income generation source, exploring creative funding instruments or the creation of an endowment fund which can provide a sustainable recurrent annual source of income. Not one size fits all so what I have suggested here will work for some of our SSAs and not all. The key here is to explore.
At today’s Summit we would also like to take the opportunity to explore and discuss what the next iteration of our Service Sector Strategic Thrusts (also known as the 4ST) should be. We first shared the 4ST in 2017 after much consultation with many of you as part of our social service ecosystem. The 4ST is our sector roadmap which details the shared aspirations for our sector and the pathways to fulfil them. A lot of significant work has been done over the past five years under each thrust. Let me share some examples:
Our first thrust is Empowered Individuals, Their Families and Communities. At the service user level, various initiatives have been launched by SSAs to empower our service users. For example, Voices for Hope by Alzheimer's Disease Association empowers persons living with dementia and their caregivers to step up and speak up as self-advocates to promote greater acceptance of individuals who are coping with dementia. At a sector level, through the NCSS Quality of Life studies, needs were aggregated and communicated to bring about systemic changes for vulnerable groups.
To ensure that people are connected and able to access resources and knowledge, the Social Service Navigator was launched in 2018 as a one-stop online portal providing information on social services. This was the first time that such comprehensive information on such services had been consolidated on an online platform. NCSS will continue to update and enhance the Social Service Navigator to best support sector needs.
We also increased the participation of vulnerable populations in the workplace and community. For example, through MENDAKI’s Back-to-Work Women’s Programme, women who were unemployed for a long period of time were equipped with job-ready skills to return to the workforce and be self-sufficient.
I am also happy to announce the launch of The Empowerment Guide. This Guide is our response to your feedback on what empowerment means in practice and application. It aims to translate the practice of empowerment in the social service sector by breaking down the concept into relatable and practical terms. I highly encourage all social service leaders and practitioners to use the practical steps listed in the Guide to start your own empowerment journey. By doing so, you will find that service delivery will improve. The Guide is also relevant to anyone who is keen on applying the concept of empowerment to what you do in your various capacities, whether you are a funder, researcher, or advocate. The journey to empowerment is a collective dynamic effort, ever changing, so we need to walk this journey together.
As part of Thrust 2 which is Effective social purpose entities that deliver quality, innovative and sustainable solutions, we have augmented the manpower capabilities of the sector and increased the capacity and capability of our social purpose entities.
In the past year, NCSS supported 28 SSAs in their organisation development journey. We also supported SSAs in improving their human resources practices through our People Practice Consultancy and provided manpower funding for SSAs to hire new talent for capability-building projects focusing on organisation transformation under our Transformation Support Scheme.
To better support our Volunteer Management Practitioners who play a critical role in recruiting, training, and engaging volunteers, NCSS will be launching a Learning & Development Roadmap for them. This roadmap will provide guidance on the skills and competencies required for our Volunteer Management Practitioners to perform effectively.
We can also all look forward to the launch of the Community Capability Trust (CCT) Fund, which kicks in next year. The CCT will drive capability and capacity building within our sector over the next decade.
We have also made significant progress under Thrust 3 which is a Caring, Collaborative and Impactful Social Service Ecosystem. We did so by increasing giving to the social service sector through the ComCare Fund, Care & Share funding, and more recently, the Courage Fund and Invictus Fund in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
It is also encouraging to see more of our sector stakeholders and partners adopting a more philanthropic mindset in terms of corporate giving. One such example is the Maybank Momentum Grant. Launched by Maybank Singapore and The Majurity Trust earlier this year, this interest-free recyclable grant will provide capital and capacity support to up to 20 small charities who have been struggling due to the pandemic. It is the first of such grants in Singapore and I hope that we will see more of such collaborative efforts in the years to come.
With the opportunities in the sector which I had shared earlier, as well as the larger shifts in societal dynamics, it is opportune for us to refresh the 4ST and relook areas of priorities in the sector for the next 5 years and beyond. As we embark on the next iteration of the 4ST from 2022 onwards, service users will be kept at the core of what we do as we stay true to the 4ST vision of “Every person empowered to live with dignity in a caring and inclusive society”.
The next iteration of the 4ST will include actionable steps to guide the sector in achieving the strategic directions and outcomes laid out in the roadmap.
I am excited to hear your views and suggestions at the breakout sessions on how we can do this together.
Although we are meeting virtually today, I can see that our virtual room is filled with current and future leaders, all with the potential to reimagine our sector’s future together. My hope is that our conversations today do not end this afternoon but will carry through long after the end of this year’s Summit.
May you all have a very fruitful session today and may we take this opportunity to build and tap on our collective wisdom. Thank you!