Opening Remarks by Dr Janil Puthucheary, Senior Minister of State, Ministry of Communications and Information, at the RSVP Singapore National Senior Volunteer Month Opening Ceremony on 12 September 2020
Mr Koh Juay Meng, Chairman, RSVP Singapore,
RSVP Volunteers and Smart Nation Ambassadors,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
A very good morning to all of you who are gathered here, we are celebrating another year of seniors volunteerism and we want to say thank you for your contributions to serving our community.
National Senior Volunteer Month
2 The National Senior Volunteer Month is an annual signature event for RSVP Singapore. It started out as a Senior Volunteer Week and was rebranded in 2015, as it gained traction among senior volunteers here in Singapore. Every year, RSVP Singapore organises activities in partnership with at least 40 Social Service Agencies and government agencies, and reaches out to more than 1,000 volunteers to encourage the spirit of volunteerism. The growing number of volunteers is a testament to the good work that RSVP Singapore has put in and demonstrates the joy of giving back to the community.
3 This year’s theme is ‘Embracing senior volunteerism in this Digital Era’, and it is timely in today’s context. COVID-19 has presented all kinds of challenges for every aspect of our society and for everyone. It has reinforced the need for us to embrace and adopt technology – especially now that we have to learn and work from home, interact with one another and make transactions online. This trend has started before COVID-19 had come along because the world was moving towards (digitalisation), and it was something that we as Singapore saw as part of our future to create opportunities for the next generation. So COVID-19 did not change that; it just made it (digital transformation) go faster and hopefully, we are ready for it. Today’s online event is an example of how we have to get used to new ways to stay engaged and make it work for us in this digital era.
4 This can pose challenges for the community, but I am happy that RSVP Singapore volunteers continue to be adaptable and steadfast in helping the community. This is one of the key things that our seniors – whether they are volunteers, our mentors or teachers – can show us and the younger generation, how to volunteer and have joy and fulfilment in giving back to the community. They are great role models for us to be adaptable in this digital era.
5 One of them is Madam Florence Lim, a 73-year-old senior who has been volunteering with RSVP Singapore for a decade. After four years in RSVP Singapore’s mentoring programme, she now leads a team of volunteers to conduct activities for seniors at senior activity centres. Madam Lim did not allow the pandemic to stop her from helping others; she had started e-volunteering in August and now conducts regular online activities and exercises over Zoom to keep the beneficiaries in the centres actively engaged. There are many others like Madam Lim out there and we are grateful for their efforts.
New Modality to Engage The Community on Tech
6 We in the Government also have to play our part and we have developed new digital platforms to engage Singaporeans. This year, the Smart Nation & Digital Government Office (SNDGO) launched an online initiative titled #SmartNationTogether. This platform was built to engage and equip citizens with the relevant skills and mind-sets to utilise technology to overcome COVID-19 disruptions to our lives and our jobs. Today, more than 6,000 participants have benefitted from 80 online programmes for children, young parents, working adults and seniors. These sessions have helped seniors gain confidence in using digital solutions such as TraceTogether, SafeEntry, and supportgowhere.gov.sg, as well as other digital government services such as SingPass Mobile.
7 Our senior volunteers have also stepped forward to support the #SmartNationTogether initiative. When the Government Technology Agency introduced the use of SafeEntry to support contact tracing efforts, Mr Steric Tan, a 71-year-old Smart Nation Ambassador, was concerned that many seniors would not know the various methods to check-in when they visited malls and supermarkets. With the help of SNDGO, he curated teaching materials and organised a Zoom session to teach seniors how to use SafeEntry. Another passionate volunteer is Madam NoorJahan binte Kamaruddin, a 60-year-old RSVP volunteer who wanted to help seniors understand the benefit of using navigational apps. She offered to conduct a lesson on how to use the MyTransport app by the Land Transport Authority as well as Google Maps, to help seniors search for bus and train routes. I can imagine the session was much appreciated by the senior participants who signed up, because it would help make their lives a bit easier and more convenient to get around.
Building an Inclusive Digital Society
8 Many Singaporeans have embraced digital platforms with ease, not just the young but many senior Singaporeans too. But there are some who do not have access to such digital platforms. There are seniors who feel cut off from their friends and their grandchildren, and who miss their daily routine of social activities and interactions at the community clubs.
9 We are committed to building an inclusive digital society where every Singaporean is empowered with digital skills and would know how to interact and transact online and, has the means to access digital platforms. That is why we have formed the SG Digital Office under IMDA in June this year.
10 To date, the SG Digital Office has supported 16,000 seniors and have set up 30 SG Digital community hubs across Singapore to reach deeper into the community and ensure that our seniors are well-supported at each step of their journey, as their lives become increasingly digitalised. We are looking to open 25 more of these hubs at libraries in the coming months.
11 IMDA has also launched the Seniors Go Digital programme to strengthen digital literacy and access among seniors. With this programme, seniors can look forward to learning digital skills through virtual classes, one-on-one coaching at the community centres, small group learning with their friends and conducting hands-on learning opportunities.
12 Even with all these efforts, there is room for us to do much more to bring Singaporeans along this Smart Nation movement. I am glad that we have partners like RSVP Singapore who will be organising an engagement session with volunteers and partners, on behalf of Smart Nation. This will be part of the larger national effort called the Emerging Stronger Conversations, to reflect on and discuss issues related to digitalisation and technology during this COVID-19 crisis. These discussions will reflect on the challenges faced during COVID-19 to not just think about how we as Singapore overcome this crisis, but how we can remain steadfast, adaptable and ready for the future after COVID-19 is over. I encourage all of you to come forward and share on how we can steward a better Singapore, together.
Emerging Stronger Together with a Memorandum of Understanding
13 Beyond ensuring digital access and literacy for all, Singapore’s Smart Nation initiative is also about fostering active citizenry for a more caring society, one in which citizens can step forward to help others along in the journey. While these conversations take place, the stories such as the ones I have shared of Florence, Steric and NoorJahan, as well as the untold stories of many others, show that there already ground-up efforts from seniors in the community who are working with the Government to make a difference in this Smart Nation journey.
14 I am therefore pleased to witness the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between SNDGO and RSVP Singapore today, which will take these ground-up efforts one step further. The MoU will serve to drive deeper engagements with the senior community on tech issues, cultivate a pool of tech savvy seniors who can help others on their digital journey, and help develop a training curriculum for the larger Smart Nation Ambassadors network.
15 The stories I have shared today show us that Smart Nation is not just for, about or by the young. Our seniors too have an equal part to play. We must never think the senior generation is in any way left behind. The work that RSVP Singapore does has shown that seniors can lead the way and bring us along in this Smart Nation journey in digitalisation and in transforming Singapore and the lives of Singaporeans, whether in adapting to COVID-19 or in the way we emerge stronger together. I wish RSVP Singapore and its volunteers, a very happy and fruitful National Senior Volunteer Month.
16 Thank you.