SINGAPORE: Mental health, future job opportunities and environmental sustainability were among the issues in focus among youths who participated in engagement sessions as part of the SG Youth Action Plan.
The initiative, started by the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY) in May 2019, involves a panel of 14 youth leaders, plus the co-chairs Senior Minister of State for Culture, Community and Youth Sim Ann and Mr Edward Chia, CEO of Timbre Group.
The aim is to engage young Singaporeans in shaping their vision for the country, and developing plans for youth, community organisations and businesses.
“We reached out to more than 400,000 youths and we've engaged more than 70,000 youths,” said Ms Sim. “We're very excited because we've had very good participation and ideas from our young people.”
Speaking to the media on Wednesday (May 27), Ms Sim outlined the progress that the SG Youth Action plan has made in the past year.
This will culminate in a Youth Action Challenge digital summit that will be held from Jul 13 to 19.
Twelve teams will present their ground-up initiatives, which are guided by the key themes that have emerged from the engagement sessions.
While the summit was supposed to be held in April – it was postponed due to COVID-19 circuit breaker measures - Ms Sim said this gave the youths the chance to update their projects in light of coronavirus situation.
“Much of the themes are evergreen - like sustainability, helping the vulnerable in society and the economy. But in terms of the execution, there's bound to be some aspects which they need to update because of our ongoing fight against a pandemic,” she explained.
“The pandemic is really a test of preparedness … (the SG Youth Action Plan) helps to get them ready to play a very proactive role.”
MENTAL HEALTH AND YOUTH EMPLOYMENT
On the topic of mental health, Mr Chia said that the panel managed to make “good headway” in championing support for the issue, for instance, by working on providing peer support training.
“When youths have issues, they tend to want to talk to their friends first, rather than knock on the doors of the school counsellor. (But) sometimes their friends might not also know how to react effectively and know what is the quick first response,” he added.
Ms Sim noted that mental health ranked second in terms of participants’ concerns amid the COVID-19 pandemic, with the top concern being interaction with friends.
“We are glad that we started keeping tabs on this issue early,” she said.
The SG Youth Action Plan will have a new dedicated website, which includes a special COVID-19 subpage, said Mr Chia.
“We have come up with a depository - how youths can take action for themselves and if they require additional help, there are also links that we have provided for.”
“It's important firstly to let the youths know that they are not alone in this situation.”
Another area that SG Youth Action Plan is focusing on is promoting mentorship as a way to empower youths to fulfil their potential. This is done through matching youths to mentors, industry professional and job opportunities.
It’s an area that has come to the fore given that “traditional methods” of job search have changed with the coronavirus outbreak, said Ms Sim.
“You're not going to have in-person job fairs and networking sessions, so it's all the more important to provide that assurance to young people,” she explained.
For example, SG Youth Action Plan panelist Ms Swedha Rajaram, who is also part of Advisory Singapore, started the Advisory Mentorship Programme Online to match students with industry mentors amidst concerns due to COVID-19.
Mr Chia added that there would be a heightened level of “urgency” faced by the youths who are graduating and entering the workforce this year.
“We hope to resource more of such organisations that will provide such mentorship,” he told reporters.
MORE SUPPORT FOR YOUTHS TO TAKE ACTION
To empower youths to do more in this time of crisis, the National Youth Council (NYC) has introduced a COVID-19 edition of the Young ChangeMakers Grant, to provide seed funding for ground-up initiatives related to the coronavirus situation.
Singaporeans and permanent residents aged between 15 and 35 can apply, and their projects should benefit the Singapore community in line with national objectives around COVID-19.
There are three priority areas for projects – jobs, supporting vulnerable groups and mental wellbeing.
The funding criteria has been relaxed, said Ms Sim to make it easier for young people to implement plans and help the vulnerable.
For instance, applicants can now tap the grant for fundraising projects for local beneficiaries.
“In the past, we’ve been focusing the funding on the operational aspect (of projects), but we also recognise that we are in a very different time right now and the needs are acute,” said Ms Sim.
Approvals and disbursements will be faster, she added.
Upon approval, up to 50 per cent of the approved grant will be disbursed within seven working days, compared to two to three weeks previously.
Additionally, S$30 million from the National Youth Fund has been set aside over the next five years for partnerships with youths to champion ground-up initiatives that are in line with the SG Youth Action Plan.
“This serves as an encouragement,” said Ms Sim. “As long as there are good ideas, we are very prepared to listen and we're very prepared to support.”
One project that received funding from the National Youth Fund last year is the Happiness Initiative, a social enterprise that takes a preventive approach towards mental health by equipping youth with “the science of happiness”.
Based on positive psychology, the Happiness Initiative works with schools and corporations to promote practical ways in which one can “flourish” and “find their purpose”, said its co-founder Sherman Ho.
"We try to run activities that are engaging and interesting rather than just throwing out jargon."
One example is the Happiness Film Festival held last year, with the support of the National Youth Fund. “People relate very much to stories, so we use all these films to facilitate conversations,” the 31-year-old added.
Since they can no longer hold physical events, the social enterprise has moved online and is now compiling a four-week webinar series that discusses “resilience and resolve”.
Despite the ongoing pandemic, Ms Sim remains positive about the various ideas, adding that youths can be “pathfinders”.
“We hope that many of them will feel equipped and empowered to put their ideas into action, help themselves, and also help others and help us navigate this post COVID-19 world,” she said.