From preschool to home: supporting a child with learning needs

Ethan Wong, like any other preschooler, enjoys playing with toy cars and Lego blocks. The bubbly five-year-old attends NTUC First Campus’ My First Skool @ Punggol Place. According to his mother Mrs Wong however, he used to have some difficulty following instructions and would be easily distracted in class.

After a screening assessment by his preschool, which identified him as eligible for early intervention services, his parents enrolled him in the Learning Support (LS) programme in September 2018. Under this programme, children with learning needs receive support in their preschools from Learning Support Educators, in areas such as handwriting, social communication, language development and literacy.

In addition to supporting Ethan once a week at his preschool, the Learning Support Educators also taught Mrs Wong how to better support her son at home. She conscientiously incorporates the toys that her son likes into step-by-step instructional games to increase his attention span for example.

Today, after eight months of early intervention support, Ethan is able to stay attentive in class and follow two- to three-step verbal instructions. Mrs Wong says such improvements take time and require support both within and outside of the classroom. “I believe parents need to take part. Parents need to go back and practise more with their kid at home,” she says.

It helps that the LS programme is conducted within the preschool. Mrs Wong does not need to seek external sources of help and can spend more time supporting her child’s development. She also finds it a useful resource for parents who may not be familiar with such programmes, and is a “good start” for children with mild learning needs.

In preschool, Ethan was supported by Ms Veronica Tang, a Learning Support Educator from NTUC First Campus. Ms Tang – or “Teacher Veron”, as students affectionately call her – gives extra guidance to children from My First Skool with developmental needs. Over the course of three months, she conducted 10 early intervention sessions with Ethan. These sessions were customised to Ethan’s specific learning needs, targeted at focusing on tasks at hand and following step-by-step instructions through the use of play and daily routines. Ms Tang provided a progress report to Mrs Wong after each session.

Ms Tang says early intervention services give “peace of mind to parents” because they know they have “additional support” at their children’s preschools.

Recognising the importance of such support, MSF announced in January 2019 that spending on early intervention programmes would be raised to around $60 million per year, up from $45 million previously.

The Ministry further announced in April 2019 the setting up of a cross-sectoral inclusive preschool workgroup to study and develop recommendations to further support children with moderate to severe developmental needs within preschools. The workgroup is co-chaired by Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Social and Family Development Associate Professor Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim and National Institute of Education Associate Dean (Education Research) Kenneth Poon.

And progressively from July 2019 till end 2020, the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) will oversee both early intervention services and preschool services.

These initiatives will ensure better coordination and delivery of the various services for children with developmental needs.

Ms Deniece Bidhiya, Senior Manager (Learning & Developmental Support) at NTUC First Campus’ Child Support Services, says more parents have been enrolling their children in such programmes since the school started offering them in 2012.

Initially, she shares, some parents were apprehensive. A common concern was that their children might feel singled out through such intervention lessons, or be viewed differently by their friends.

“I always assure parents that the Learning Support Educators are professionals and know how to build a relationship with not just the child, but also their peers.”  She adds that the children find Ms Tang’s activities so fun, they sometimes cannot wait for their turns with her.

As Ms Tang describes her approach to education, “Learning cannot be just: ‘Sit at the table, read a book and then write, write, write’. It needs to be engaging.”

Judging by the scene when she walks around the preschool, the students are certainly engaged. They crowd around her, eager to chat and share their latest drawings with her.

Stay-at-home Mom with Peace of Mind

Lee Siok Hong’s family is one of 5,000 households slated to benefit from enhanced child care subsidies. As a non-working mother, the increase in subsidies will allow her to focus on raising her two young children.

Sitting on the couch in her living room, Siok Hong is surrounded by the trappings of home. For most of the day, she tends to her six-month-old baby, Mavis, while her older child, Oscar spends his day at a child care centre.

The 38-year-old put her career in admin and customer service on hold to focus on raising her two children in their crucial early years. With her husband as the sole breadwinner, Siok Hong and her family fall under the middle income category – they do not have to worry about making ends meet, but still feel the pinch of raising a child.

Siok Hong estimates that monthly child care costs for Oscar alone reach up to $450. This adds to the family’s expenses, which include necessities such as diapers for Mavis.

The increase in child care subsidies which Siok Hong will receive from the Early Childhood Development Agency will go a long way in helping her defray some of these costs.

From 1 March 2019, thanks to the Government’s enhanced support for non-working mothers, families like Siok Hong’s can enjoy a further boost in subsidies ranging from $100 to $440, subject to means testing.  It is on top of a $300 monthly basic subsidy.

Besides higher subsidies, Siok Hong can also enjoy these subsidies until her younger child turns 24 months, up from 18 months previously.

Siok Hong recalls that when she took care of Oscar as an infant, she often had to wake up in the middle of the night to tend to his needs. Going to work the next day was exhausting. While Oscar was at infant care, he often got sick and this brought Siok Hong constant worry and stress at work, as she was unable to leave to pick him up.

Instead of having to repeat this tiring routine for Mavis, Siok Hong feels reassured that she can stay home to focus on caring for her.

Read more about ECDA’s announcements here.

More on MSF’s announcements here.

Want to join social work? Be a ‘fool’ like this social worker

Ian Peterson has worked for 18 years as a social worker, without losing his resolve. His secret? Faith, openness, optimism and love.

When Ian became a social worker 18 years ago, people sometimes called him a fool. His profession was not well understood then and he was seen to be just a “paid volunteer”.

Now, though, “fool” has taken on a new meaning in his life.

Each letter of the epithet stands for one of his ideals.
“F” is for faith – in people and their assets.
“O” is for openness to the experiences of clients and their families.
“O” is for optimism in the face of difficulties.
“L” is love for social work.

The 46-year-old’s sense of purpose is an integral part of fulfilling his daily responsibilities as the Cluster Director (Northwest) of Care Corner Singapore Ltd.

He works with vulnerable clients and fellow social workers, overseeing three family service centres at Admiralty, Queenstown and Woodlands. In his time, he has helped those struggling with family violence, gambling and drug addiction. A proponent of an integrated approach to social service, Ian coordinates with his colleagues to identify common issues that clients face. Based on these findings, together they might launch targeted and group programmes for these clients.

Ian is now working with MSF, applying his knack for community-based care to launch Community Link (ComLink) at Marsiling. As part of this initiative, social service hubs will be launched in four areas: Jalan Kukoh, Marsiling, Kembangan-Chai Chee and Boon Lay. Overall, ComLink will benefit some 1,000 families staying in rental flats. While ComLink is new, Ian says it builds on current support networks.

“I believe that in every community so far that I’ve worked with, there is some level of community participation already.  You are just enhancing what’s existing to see whether you can take it to the next level.”

Ian-2420
Ian having discussion with his colleague

For Ian, the relationship between social workers and clients is a collaborative journey. Clients do not simply have deficits but bring their own assets to the table, he says. His work involves collaborating with clients and “helping them to reach that level of motivation, where they can move on in life and to increase their social mobility”.

For example, Ian once worked with a family going through a painful divorce. In “journeying” together with the mother and her three children, Ian saw them create new meaning in their adjusted lives. “They became strong pillars of support for each other, especially when they were able to open up and share how difficult it was to lose the dad.” The older children had to step up to help with housework, and for the youngest, the challenge was homework.

Community, it seems, is never far from Ian’s musings on social work. As the “fool” says: “Always know that there’s always a lot of team support and community network that exists.”

MSF will be working with community partners to launch ComLink in four estates to provide more integrated and coordinated support for families in rental flats. Read more about this here.

More on MSF’s announcements here.

70-year-old Colours Her Way to Health

At the Fei Yue Senior Activity Centre in Hougang, a fellow resident passes Mdm Jaya Lidya d/o Samuel  an outline of a house overlooked by trees. Beaming, Mdm Jaya gets to work, shading the branches brown. This is part of a typical day for the 70-year-old who, like the scene she is colouring, is a picture of exuberance.

When she was young, though, Mdm Jaya contracted polio, which has affected her mobility. In spite of her condition, she is determined to live a full life, enjoying wheelchair dancing, flower making, cooking and bingo, – among other activities at Fei Yue Senior Activity Centre.

Mdm Jaya is also close to her family. She lives with her sister in a HDB studio apartment. She has a big extended family, too, including nephews and nieces who like to share jokes with her whenever they visit.

Besides this crucial family support, she receives cash assistance as part of ComCare Long Term Assistance (LTA). Since 2016, this scheme has helped to defray some of her living and medical expenses.

From 1 July 2019, Mdm Jaya, along with other ComCare LTA beneficiaries, will receive an increase in cash assistance.

Mdm Jaya cites her family and her social service officer from Social Service Office @ Hougang, Priya d/o Sreetharan, as her pillars of support.  Having worked together over the past two years, Mdm Jaya and Priya have grown particularly close. This connection is important, says Priya, for understanding and meeting the needs of those they serve.

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Mdm Jaya with Priya from Social Service Office @ Hougang and Moses from Fei Yue Cluster Support

Apart from ComCare LTA, Mdm Jaya receives aid from the Silver Support Scheme and the Pioneer Generation package. Helping Mdm Jaya get the best support from the network of support, Priya says, requires coordination between various agencies, like Fei Yue Senior Activity Centre and Tan Tock Seng Hospital, where Mdm Jaya receives her medical treatment.

For Mdm Jaya, volunteering is all part of quality living. She takes part in various events by organisations for the disabled, and is helping to raise funds for the Singapore Cancer Society.

“I do a lot of activities,” says this pioneer who has become an invaluable member of her community. “You can say I’m quite busy!”

For more information on the ComCare enhancements, see here.

More on MSF’s announcements here.

Changing lives with a PoP

After an enviable medical and corporate career, Dr Rajeshree Nimish Parekh has dedicated her life to empowering women. Her method of choice: empowering women through the intricacies of beading and braiding.

Bracelet-making involves a rhythm. “Left, right, in, out, again and again,” says Dr Parekh, affectionately known as Gina by her colleagues, who has found the looping of strings into knots to be a “soothing influence”. Since turning this hobby into a charitable enterprise, she has introduced other women to its joys—and its empowering effects.

As part of her PoPstrings Project, residents at the Star Shelter bond through learning to make bracelets. PoP stand for “Power of Positivity”. For these survivors of domestic violence, braiding and beading are a means of earning supplementary income when the finished products are eventually sold.

Before turning her hands to beads and threads, Dr Parekh had applied her dexterity to surgery.

In India, where she was born, Dr Parekh was the chief operating officer and medical director at UnitedHealthcare India. She was also consulting and working for various companies from her time in India to Singapore. The corporate world, though, left her with the nagging feeling that “there was something missing in my life”.

She took a break from work and started braiding as a hobby. Along the way, she would gift family and friends her creations.

 Her bracelet-making hobby would evolve after a chance meeting with mutual acquaintances at a wedding in Kenya. One was a Star Shelter employee. They chatted and met up with fellow women at the Singapore Council of Women’s Organisations (SCWO), which founded the shelter in 1999. At that meeting, Dr Parekh offered her medical skills. To her surprise, SCWO was most drawn to her PoPstrings Project.

Dr Gina-1746

When asked what empowerment means to her, she says it is a level playing field for everyone, and the ability to express yourself. “It doesn’t necessarily have to mean that women must have corporate careers or be at the workplace. Empowerment can even be having equal footing in the home environment, where you are respected for who you are and your opinion is valued.”

Looking back at her career, Dr Parekh recalls often being the only woman at meetings between senior leaders. With PoPstrings however, she is intent on keeping the project as inclusive as possible.

Residents sometimes will bring their children along for braiding classes. When a resident’s nine-year-old son asked if he could learn how to braid, Dr Parekh’s answer was obvious.

“I said ‘sure’. I’m not setting gender stereotypes here.”

 

The community has a role to play in tackling issues of family violence

The following piece is an op-ed on family violence by Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Social and Family Development Associate Professor Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim which was published in Berita Harian on 25 September 2018. The English translation is appended below for reference.


Masyarakat punya peranan tangani isu keganasan keluarga

BARU-BARU ini, saya hadiri satu persidangan anjuran Rumah Wanita Casa Raudha mengenai keganasan rumah tangga.

Ini mencetuskan satu siri sinopsis yang ingin saya ketengahkan di sini.

Sebagai seorang kanak-kanak, saya sering mendengar pepatah orang-orang tua “Jangan masuk campur hal orang lain”.

Bagi mereka, menolak rasa ingin tahu kanak-kanak dengan memberitahu mereka supaya jangan jaga tepi kain orang adalah lebih mudah daripada melibatkan mereka dengan urusan orang lain.

Saya selalu merasa ada sesuatu yang tidak kena dengan nasihat sebegini. Meskipun kita mahu memastikan anak kita selamat dan terhindar daripada orang yang tidak dikenali, kita juga mahu mereka menjadi baik, berhati perut dan mempunyai perasaan ihsan.

Daripada memberitahu anak kita supaya tutup mata terhadap masalah orang lain, kita perlu mengajar mereka supaya buka mulut jika ternampak perbuatan salah laku sejak kecil.

Ini penting lebih-lebih lagi sekarang ini kerana saya lihat dan dengar kes keganasan rumah tangga. Semuanya berlaku di belakang pintu tertutup.

Dan yang paling menyayat hati saya ialah apabila ia melibatkan kanak-kanak dan anggota keluarga yang terdedah kepada bahaya tersebut dan tidak berupaya melindungi diri mereka sendiri.

PENDERAAN MENYAKITKAN

Malangnya, sesetengah kanak-kanak menjadi mangsa perbuatan orang yang sepatutnya memberi mereka kasih sa yang dan perlindungan – ibu bapa dan anggota keluarga mereka.

Keganasan yang dilakukan berupa penderaan secara fizikal, pengabaian atau penderaan seksual, yang bukan saja mengakibatkan kecederaan tetapi juga menjejas emosi dan/atau psikologi kanak-kanak.

Hasil penyelidikan menunjukkan bahawa kanak-kanak tersebut menampilkan kadar kognitif yang lebih tinggi dan keadaan psikologi dan emosi yang mencabar.

Dalam beberapa kes, kita melihat generasi keluarga yang membesar dengan penderaan. Dan lingkaran itu terus berputar.

Baru-baru ini, rakan-rakan saya berkongsi dengan saya cerita sedih seorang wanita bernama Lydia (bukan nama sebenar), ibu yang begitu menyayangi anak kecilnya.

Lydia yang menjadi mangsa penderaan suaminya, terpaksa melarikan diri ke rumah perlindungan bersama anaknya itu.

Mereka tinggal di sana selama beberapa bulan, di mana beliau mendapat pekerjaan yang stabil dengan bantuan rumah perlindungan berkenaan.

Anaknya juga menyertai program sokongan bagi menangani trauma yang dialami nya akibat terdedah kepada keganasan keluarga.

Meskipun pada permukaaanya keadaan mereka sudah mula menjanjikan harapan, namun kehidupan mereka jauh daripada sempurna.

Lydia telah memfailkan perceraian dan mendapatkan hak penjagaan anaknya, tetapi suaminya terus mengganggu mereka.

Bagi Lydia dan anaknya, bekas luka emosi mereka berterusan, lama selepas luka fi zikal telah terubat.

Masalah yang melanda Lydia mungkin sudah berlalu berbanding dengan ramai mangsa penderaan.

Namun terdapat beberapa mangsa kembali kepada pendera, kadang-kadang bersama anak mereka.

Ramai daripada kita tidak faham mengapa mangsa masih sanggup menjalin hubungan yang menyakitkan hati mereka.

Alasannya, saya dimaklumkan rakan khidmat sosial saya, banyak dan berbeza sebabnya.

Ada yang percaya bahawa pendera boleh berubah.

Ada yang melakukannya bagi memastikan hubungan anak dengan kedua ibu bapa tidak putus.

Ada yang merasa bahawa mereka telah melakukan sesuatu yang menyumbang kepada masalah penderaan. Ada yang tidak tahu pilihan lain.

Tetapi apa yang saya pelajari juga, ada sesuatu yang disebut “lingkaran keganasan”. Ia bermula dengan fasa pertama – di mana ketegangan mula muncul. Fasa kedua menyaksikan ledakan krisis. Fasa ketiga ada lah apa yang melemahkan kebanyakan mangsa – fasa berbulan madu. Ia adalah ketika pendera kononnya mahu bertaubat.

Pendera cuba memujuk rayu dan meminta maaf. Pendera memberi jaminan kepada mangsa bahawa apa yang terjadi hanyalah sekali dan tidak mungkin berulang. Mangsa berlembut, memaafkan dan cuba melupakannya. Tetapi ketegangan kembali semula.

Sebagai sebuah masyarakat, kita perlu akur bahawa tiada sesiapa yang seharusnya didera. Kejadian penuh tragik dan lingkaraan keganasan perlu dihentikan.

Di Singapura, Sistem Rangkaian Keganasan Keluarga Kebangsaan menarik ramai rakan kongsi masyarakat bagi menangani isu keganasan keluarga secara kolektif. Kami mempunyai undang-undang, peruntukan kaunseling, tempat perlindungan krisis dan Pusat Pakar Keganasan Keluarga berasaskan komuniti dan Pusat Pakar Perlindungan Kanak-kanak.

Polis bekerja rapat dengan kementerian saya bagi menangani isu ini, bersama rakan kongsi daripada badan kehakiman, penguatkuasaan undang-undang dan perkhidmatan sosial.

Kita – sebagai jiran, rakan sekerja, rakan dan keluarga, apa yang boleh kita lakukan? Adakah kita hanya berdiri dan berpeluk tubuh? Apakah selepas kita melihat tanda tetapi tetap mengabaikannya?

Bagaimanakah kita dapat mengekalkan hati nurani yang murni apabila kita melihat ke arah lain semata-mata kerana tidak mahu “masuk campur hal orang lain”?

Polis, pekerja sosial dan pendamping hanya boleh bertindak jika setiap daripada kita berwaspada dalam mengesan dan melaporkan perbuatan penderaan.

Kita semua boleh memainkan peranan, sebagai contoh hanya dengan mengetuk pintu jiran kita apabila kita melihat sesuatu yang tidak kena atau dengan mengetepikan masa kita untuk meringankan stres pihak pengasuh.

Langkah mudah ini mengingatkan semangat gotong-royong yang pernah wujud di Singapura. Marilah kita hidupkan semula semangat kampung ini yang boleh membantu mencegah masalah penderaan daripada te rus berleluasa.

Apabila “orang lain” adalah jiran kita, rakan sekerja, sahabat dan anggota keluarga, tidak ada alasan untuk kita tutup mata.

Walaupun “orang lain” adalah orang asing bagi kita, kita mesti melakukan perkara yang betul.

Dan kita sedar “perkara yang betul” adalah “masuk campur” kerana jika tidak “orang lain” mungkin mati.

Terdapat banyak “Lydia” dalam kalangan kita.

Setiap tahun, hampir 3,000 mangsa keganasan keluarga mendapatkan perintah perlindungan di Mahkamah Keadilan Keluarga. Mungkin lebih ramai lagi yang takut tampil bagi mendapatkan pertolongan.

Marilah kita membantu mangsa dan keluarga mereka bagi memecahkan lingkaran penderaan dan pengabaian mereka dan lakukannya lebih awal. Marilah kita bertindak, hulurkan tangan dan pecahkan kesunyian terhadap keganasan keluarga – hari ini.

Penulis Setiausaha Parlimen Kanan (Pembangunan Sosial dan Keluarga merangkap Pendidikan)

Profesor Madya Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim.

Source: Berita Harian, Singapore Press Holdings Limited.

https://www.beritaharian.sg/wacana/masyarakat-punya-peranan-tangani-isu-keganasan-keluarga

The community has a role to play in tackling issues of family violence

I recently attended a conference by Casa Raudha Women Home on domestic violence. This sparked off a series of synapses, which I’m sharing here.

As a child, I would often hear this age-old adage from my elders “Jangan masuk campur hal orang lain”.

For them, dismissing a child’s inquisitiveness by telling them not to be a busybody is easier than getting them involved in the complexities of other people’s business.

I have always felt that there was something troubling about this piece of advice. While we want to keep our children safe and away from strangers, we also want them to be kind, compassionate and empathetic. Instead of telling our children to turn a blind eye to other people’s problems, we should teach them to speak out if they see wrong being done from an early age.

This rings true even more crucially now, as I see and hear of cases of domestic violence. Most happen behind closed doors. And the ones that break my heart the most, are the ones that involve children and vulnerable family members who cannot fend for themselves.

VIOLENCE HURTS

Sadly, some children suffer at the hands of the people who are supposed to provide them with care and safety – their parents and family members. Such abuse comes in the form of physical abuse, neglect or sexual abuse, which cause not only physical harm, but emotional and/or psychological harm to the children. Research has shown that such children exhibit higher rates of cognitive, psychological and emotional challenges.

In some cases, we see generations of families growing up with abuse. And the cycle perpetuates itself.

Recently, my colleagues shared with me the heart-breaking situation of a woman, Lydia*, a doting mother of a young child. Lydia had suffered violence at the hands of her husband and fled to a shelter with her young child. They stayed there for many months, during which she secured stable employment with the shelter’s help. Her child also attended the shelter’s support programme to cope with trauma – accumulated from long-term exposure to family violence.

While their situation is starting to look hopeful on the surface, their lives are far from mended. Lydia has filed for divorce and custody of her child, but her husband continues to harass them. For Lydia and her child, their emotional scars persist, long after the physical ones are no longer visible.

Yet Lydia may already seem enlightened, compared to many other victims of abuse. There are some who decide to return to their abuser, sometimes with children in tow. Many of us do not understand why victims stay on in a relationship that hurts them.

The reasons, I have learnt from my social service colleagues, are countless, and vary from relationship to relationship. Some believe that the abuser can change. Some do it to ensure that their children have contact with both parents. Some feel that they have done something to trigger the abuse. Some know no other options.

But what I have also learnt, is that there is something called a “cycle of violence”. It starts off with the first phase – where tension starts to build. The second phase sees the explosion – the crisis. The third phase is what misleads most victims – the honeymoon phase. It’s when the abuser appears to repent. The abuser cajoles, persuades and pleads for forgiveness. The abuser assures the victim that what transpired was a one-off episode, with no chance of a sequel unfolding. The victim relents, forgives and tries to forget. Until the tension starts to build again.

As a community, we must agree that no one deserves to be abused. That this tragic, vicious cycle of violence must stop.

In Singapore, our National Family Violence Networking System ropes in many community partners to address family violence issues collectively. We have robust laws, counselling provisions, crisis shelters and community-based Family Violence Specialist Centres and Child Protection Specialist Centres. The Police work closely with my Ministry to address this issue, alongside partners from the judiciary, law enforcement and social services.

For each one of us – as neighbours, co-workers, friends and family, what can we do? Do we simply stand by and do nothing? How can we see the signs and still ignore them? How can we maintain a clear conscience when we look the other way, because we don’t want to “masuk campur hal orang lain”?

Police, social workers and befrienders can only step in if each of us is vigilant in detecting and reporting suspected abuse. We can all play our part, for example simply by knocking on our neighbour’s door when we notice something amiss or by volunteering our time to relieve caregivers of their stress. These simple acts of kindness are reminiscent of the kampong spirit that Singapore once shared. Let us bring this spirit back. It can go a long way to prevent abuse.

When “orang lain” is our neighbour, co-worker, friend and family member, there really is no excuse for ignorance. Even if “orang lain” is a total stranger, we must do the right thing. And we know deep down that the “right thing” is to “masuk campur” if we have to. Because otherwise, “orang lain” may die.

There are many “Lydia”s in our midst. Each year, almost 3,000 family violence victims file for protection orders at the Family Justice Courts. There may be more who are afraid to seek help. Let us help these survivors and their families to break their cycles of abuse and neglect, and break them early. Let us step in, offer help and break the silence against family violence – today.

Writer Senior Parliamentary Secretary (Social and Family Development & Education)

Associate Professor Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim

4 ways to lead with pragmatism and flexibility

The second part of our posts on The SPARK Series 2017 features the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Housing and Development Board, Dr Cheong Koon Hean’s sharing on leadership. Jointly organised by the Ministry of Social and Family Development, AMKFSC Community Services Ltd, Singapore University of Social Sciences, and the Social Service Institute, The SPARK Series 2017 is an initiative aimed at grooming future thought leaders and change makers of the sector.


As the former CEO of the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) and current CEO of the Housing and Development Board (HDB), Dr Cheong Koon Hean has vast experience in the national macro planning of Singapore’s urban and housing landscape.
She shared about her pragmatic and flexible approach to leadership that helped her bring about solutions to urban planning challenges such as space constraints, limited resources and the growing needs of Singaporeans.

1) Have a long-term vision, and wait for the opportunity

As the “master planner”, Dr Cheong emphasised the importance of planning for sustainability. With Singapore’s problem of being a “small island with big needs”, Dr Cheong found it essential to take the necessary steps towards urban planning.
Citing the example of Marina Bay, Dr Cheong shared that long term planning meant that blueprints for the area were in the making four decades ago, and land was reclaimed ready for the time when the city had to expand. When Dr Cheong took on the role of URA chief in 2004, it was the opportune time to drive the Marina Bay project forward as Singapore was in a phase where it needed to increase its competitive edge. Marina Bay provided the opportunity to give Singapore a new signature image as a global city.
While you may have big aspirations that you are eager to execute in your organisation, it is essential to be patient, take incremental steps towards your goals and plan for the long-term.

2. Seeking personal motivation within organisational vision

The motivation for doing a good job must come from within each person in the organisation. It is important for every staff to know the `purpose’ and the `meaning’ behind their job. If our job is meaningful and we feel that we are contributing, then we will be self motivated and there is no need for supervisors to look over our shoulders. A shared `organisation culture’ is also important so that we work as a team and look out for one another.

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As part of The SPARK Series, participants went on a trail at Punggol Riverside Park.

3. Embracing top-down and bottom-up leadership approaches

A balance of top-down and bottom-up leadership is necessary for aspiring change-makers. Usually, the leader needs to provide the strategic perspective and to steer the broad direction of the organisation. On the other hand, the leader does not know everything and should be open to ideas and suggestions from his or her colleagues. The leader encourages participation from all.
Encouraging individual ownership of projects promotes a sense of belonging within the community, and creates more stakeholders who are potential leaders of the community. Additionally, holding conversations at the ground level opens access to innovative solutions.

4. Be pragmatic and flexible

When multiple agencies work together, friction is inevitable due to individual interests. Leaders are responsible for mediating these conflicting interests and seeking collaboration among all stakeholders. Decision-making entails trade-offs.
Having a big-picture perspective and a pragmatic approach paves the way for feasible solutions. It increases your understanding of each party’s stake, giving you different angles to approach an issue and value-add to an initiative.
Through marrying both pragmatism and flexibility, leaders would be able to better galvanise the multiple stakeholders towards a common objective and lead their team into finding innovative solutions.


 

The SPARK Series 2017 runs until 15 December 2017. Read more about the series’ first workshop, “On Leadership”.

How do you lead through change?

The first part of our posts on The SPARK Series 2017 features Senior Fellow of the Civil Service College, Ms Lim Soo Hoon’s sharing on leadership. Jointly organised by the Ministry of Social and Family Development, AMKFSC Community Services Ltd, Singapore University of Social Sciences, and the Social Service Institute, The SPARK Series 2017 is an initiative aimed at grooming future thought leaders and change makers of the sector.


How do you lead beyond your discipline and challenge the social sector? Senior Fellow of the Civil Service College, Ms Lim Soo Hoon shared her insights and experiences as former Permanent Secretary of the Ministries of Community Development, Public Service Division, Prime Minister’s Office and Finance.

1. Leadership based on relationship

There’s a difference between having a team that will work with you and a team that will work for you.

As leaders, our job is to unify the team to accomplish a task together. Give your subordinates space and encourage them to clarify issues. People tend to have a greater sense of belonging to a team when they know that they have something to contribute. Feedback from subordinates is valuable, and people on the ground tend to have a better sense of the problem, and possibly even the solution.

Besides knowing how to lead downwards and build relationships with your team members, it is also important to lead upwards and know how to manage your boss. For example, when writing a proposal, subordinates who lead upwards know their bosses’ reading style, and thus are able to get information across effectively and efficiently.

2. Embrace change

In the past, leaders were the experts and had all the information. Now, access to information is widely available, and our subordinates may very well be more skilled at a task than we are.

This may be challenging, as many of us would like to have control, rather than to be controlled by others. Therefore, how we react to our subordinates is very important – if we always react negatively, we can be sure that our subordinates would not want to approach us to point out our blind spots. We then lose a valuable resource.

With the many uncertainties that change brings, former experts have to relearn skills. To lead through change, leaders have to persuade and convince people of what’s in it for them, and that it would be worth the cost.

3. Be curious

Leaders are expected to have the foresight and curiosity to know what is going to happen. That is only possible if we read widely – not just keeping abreast of the happenings within our sector, but also issues outside our sector, as those happenings are well likely to impact our own sector in a matter of time.

It takes more than one person to create change. It requires leaders who have a vision for the future, as well as supportive team members.

There is no guarantee that the risks we take will have positive outcomes, but what is more important is the way in which we handle negative outcomes. If mistakes are made, admit it and change the direction if necessary.


The SPARK Series 2017 runs until 15 December 2017. Read also about the series’ second workshop, “On Building City for Community”.