Connecting the World

SIF Connects! builds unique relationships with different communities around the world, centred on the goal of promoting understanding and collaborations between Singapore and world communities.

PHOTOS SINGAPORE INTERNATIONAL FOUNDATION

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very year, the Singapore International Foundation (SIF) hosts a series of events under the umbrella of SIF Connects! for Singaporeans and Friends of Singapore (FOS) to meet, connect and rekindle friendships. Held in different cities around the world, these meetings provide a platform for Singaporeans and FOS to share ideas, skills and experiences, and explore ways to collaborate and promote greater understanding between different communities, as well as to address common social issues.

Here are three SIF Connects! gatherings that show Singapore’s friendships with different communities around the world.

CREATIVE SUSTAINABILITY

Residents from Shanghaiʼs Xiaodongmen sub-district and students from the University of Shanghai for Science and Technologyʼs Department of Animation and Public Arts helping to create part of the art installations. FACING PAGE: Visitors interacting with an art installation during the Art Of Sustainability: Pulse Of A City exhibition in Shanghai.

SIF marked more than two decades of cross-cultural ties between Singapore and China with SIF Connects! Shanghai, which was held in conjunction with the launch of the Art Of Sustainability: Pulse Of A City exhibition on Sept 9, 2016. The mixed-medium exhibition was part of an art exchange project which was started in March 2016 to encourage the public to take action towards sustainable urban living, via art. The project comes under SIF’s Arts for Good initiative, which encourages positive social change through collaborations between Singaporean artists and their international counterparts.

The Shanghai project was led by Chinese curator Fu Jun, in collaboration with social enterprise The Living! Project from Singapore. Fu is an alumnus of another SIF exchange residency programme that involves engaging business professionals. The Living! Project’s cofounders, Sun Yu-li and Allan Lim, worked with eight other Chinese and Singaporean artists. Comparing the two cities, Fu said: “Both cities, which are developing rapidly, face similar practical problems... Therefore, building a sustainable and liveable city is a goal that both strive towards. It is a responsibility borne not only by governments and experts but also by society at large and by every single citizen.”

“[Singapore and Shanghai] face similar practical problems... Therefore, building a sustainable and liveable city is a goal that both strive towards. It is a responsibility borne not only by governments and experts but also by society at large and by every single citizen.”


Fu Jun, Chinese curator

Through visits to urban planning institutions, non-profit art organisations as well as the local arts community in both cities, participants gained insights on how to raise awareness of urban sustainability issues and galvanise community action for positive change. Lim said: “I have come to understand and appreciate that while artists and inhabitants of both cities reflect similar social issues and observations in their works, we differ in how we approach the issue of sustainability.”

Chinese artists said that they were struck by the Singaporean artists’ strong sense of social responsibility and how they have used their role as artists to effect positive change. In China, they said that there are less of such interactions between the artistic circles and the community. This has inspired them to want to be more involved in bringing attention to the plight of the less privileged through their art.

Said Chinese artist Du Haijun: “I noticed that [Singaporean artists] have great concern for society and a deep understanding of what sustainable development means for cities. I will integrate the concept of environmental protection into my future artworks, and make further efforts to strengthen my social function as an artist.”

The exchange has also given Singaporean artist Kenneth Lee food for thought on the role of the arts in community engagement. He said: “In a city where the arts can utilise and revitalise public spaces, it can bring together communities to interact and bond with one another, breathing life into the city.”

CELEBRATING DIVERSITY

“[Singapore has] a lot to teach the world about how to continue to build social harmony, promote very high levels of education, how to deal with issues related to the silver generation when inevitably people are going to live longer, as well as healthcare improvements...”

Kent Lucken, USAI chairman and managing director of Citigroup

SIF Connects! Washington, DC, held on Sept 8, 2016, in the United States, celebrated 50 years of friendship between the two countries, as well as 25 years of SIF’s efforts in building bridges between Singaporean and American communities through its programmes.

The event also marked the debut of a dialogue organised by SIF in partnership with non-profit organisation US-Asia Institute (USAI). Themed Innovative Social Policies For A Better World, the dialogue drew over 130 Singaporeans and FOS, including Congressional Singapore Caucus co-chairs Bradley Byrne and Denny Heck. The caucus builds ties between Singapore and the US.

During the session, attendees shared insights and ideas on what Singapore and the US can learn from each other in building a more cohesive and resilient community. Leading the discussion was a five-member panel comprising Singaporeans and Americans from the government and civil society sectors. The panellists were Ambassador Ong Keng Yong, SIF chairman and executive deputy chairman of the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies; Ambassador Zainul Abidin Rasheed, Singapore’s Ambassador to Kuwait and Special Envoy to the Middle East; Kent Lucken, USAI chairman and managing director of Citigroup; Claire Fallender, director of the Global Venture and Fellowship programme at Ashoka; and Dr Mathew Mathews, a senior research fellow at the Institute of Policy Studies. Matthew Herrmann, US House of Representatives Chief of Staff and SIF representative in Washington, DC, was the moderator.

The dialogue touched on a broad range of topics, such as top-down versus bottom-up approaches to promoting social cohesion. Singaporean panellists shared how the city state has always made maintaining social harmony its top priority, with the state putting in place mechanisms to ensure the integration of different communities and minority representation in government, among other initiatives. American panellists, on the other hand, shared the US experience in promoting diversity at the community level.

Panellists also shared lessons in creating equal opportunities for all, including promoting gender integration and ensuring that less advantaged groups have similar opportunities to succeed.

When the discussion turned to policies that help to improve human capital, Lucken said: “[Singapore has] a lot to teach the world about how to continue to build social harmony, promote very high levels of education, how to deal with issues related to the silver generation when inevitably people are going to live longer, as well as healthcare improvements… I remain impressed with what Singapore is doing to create value [in terms of] both financial and human capital. We probably have a lot to learn.”

Summing up the discussion, Herrmann said: “There are a lot of things that we can learn from both countries... From the US perspective, we have been a country that is very Euro- or Canada-focused. There is a real cultural shift that is slowly taking place now. We are starting to realise that there’s probably a lot more that we can learn, not just from Singapore, but other countries in Asia.”

LEFT TO RIGHT: A guest viewing an exhibition providing an overview of SIFʼs work during SIF Connects! Chennai; Shukla Bose (extreme right), founder and chief executive offi cer of non-profi t organisation Parikrma Humanity Foundation, interacting with guests during SIF Connects! Chennai; Singaporeans and FOS reconnecting during SIF Connects! Washington, DC; FOS at SIF Connects! Washington, DC.

PARTNERSHIPS FOR GOOD

In India, as testament to SIF’s ever-expanding network, SIF organised the inaugural SIF Connects! Chennai in the capital of the Indian state of Tamil Nadu on Feb 17 this year. The event commemorated 22 years of positive collaborations between SIF and its Indian partners, which have resulted in stronger relations between Singaporean and Indian communities in the areas of education, healthcare, social entrepreneurship and arts and culture.

Over 120 FOS and Singaporeans attended the gathering, in which SIF’s partners shared their experiences of working with SIF and its volunteers, known as Singapore International Volunteers (SIVs) or Citizen Ambassadors, to improve healthcare practices in India.

Dr Esther Joosa, an art educator and Citizen Ambassador, talked about her collaboration with Indian social welfare organisation Buds of Christ. Last year, they helped to train social workers from four nongovernmental organisations in Tamil Nadu to incorporate art programmes into their care-giving practices for HIV-affected communities. Artworks such as hand-painted masks and portraits by project participants were featured in an exhibition at the event. Jeyapaul Sundar Singh, director of Buds of Christ, said that the project helped to build a connection between the social workers and those living with HIV. He added: “I really want to thank SIF for making that beautiful connection. SIF has indeed lived up to its vision of making friends for a better world.”

Shukla Bose, founder and chief executive officer of non-profit organisation Parikrma Humanity Foundation in Bangalore, talked about her work with SIF to improve the nutrition and health of schoolchildren from the Parikrma community. Through the project in 2014, SIVs shared knowledge and resources on basic nutrition, healthier eating habits and hygienic food preparation with Parikrma teachers as well as parents within the community. The project benefitted more than 1,450 children aged between five and 17, and more than 1,200 families. Bose said: “SIF volunteers are very special because they have expertise in their field and are really dedicated. They absolutely plunged into the work with great passion.”

The event also saw the appointment of Sathish Raman from business association Confederation of Indian Industry as SIF’s first representative in Chennai. He will support SIF’s work in building friendships and networks between Singapore and India.

 


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