Speech by Mr Goh Chok Tong, Emeritus Senior Minister, at SIF’s 20th Anniversary Partner Appreciation Dinner
Ladies and Gentlemen
I am pleased to join you to celebrate the 20th birthday of the Singapore International Foundation (SIF).
Growth of SIF
Two decades ago, the world saw the beginning of a wave of unprecedented globalisation. Countries were becoming more open and better connected economically, socially and culturally. As Singapore became wealthier and more confident, many Singaporeans felt the need to contribute to the well-being of communities less fortunate than themselves. The Americans had their Peace Corps and the French their Médecins Sans Frontières. As Prime Minister in 1990, I felt that we should nurture this compassion of Singaporeans and encourage them to do good outside Singapore. They could then volunteer their services to the global community of nations, and at the same time, maintain links with the Singaporean overseas communities. I therefore supported the establishment of the Singapore International Foundation.
SIF has grown and matured. The Singapore Volunteers Overseas project was launched in 1991. Since then, more than 2,000 Singaporeans have done good deeds through sustainable projects in some 17 countries. In addition, more than 10,000 youths have participated in the Youth Expedition Programme. To give you some examples, Singaporean medical volunteers have helped to build the capacity of doctors and nurses in developing communities such as Cambodia, Vietnam, Myanmar and Indonesia through training workshops in fields like cardiac intensive treatment, paediatric and palliative care. Singapore volunteers have also been active in education, from guiding the teachers from a special needs school in Kolkata, to teaching English to government officials in Laos, and coaching Myanmar practitioners in early childhood development.
In recent years, the SIF has refocused its mission to build good relationships between Singaporeans and others, and not just help alleviate the plight of communities. The emphasis is on growing friendship to do good together. It has been evolving and expanding the scope of its programmes and activities, weaving the networks of Friends of Singapore, building communities of special interests and staying in touch with our friends around the world.
In May this year, SIF embarked on yet another milestone partnership. It signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the British Council to strengthen cross-cultural understanding between the people of Singapore and the United Kingdom (UK) through arts and cultural exchanges. Such partnerships promote the sharing of new perspectives and strengthen the ties between our countries.
Inspiring a Better World
When we were a developing country, we benefited from the assistance and goodwill of developed countries. They were generous with funding, technical and skills training, and other forms of assistance. Similarly, since we had done well, we started to help others through technical assistance rather than financial assistance. We firmly believe that it is better to teach a man how to fish than to give him fish. We had learnt to fish successfully and we believe that sharing our development experience with others is the best way for us to be a good global citizen.
Our primary vehicle is the Singapore Cooperation Programme (SCP), which is administered by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Within our means, we provide technical assistance bilaterally or in collaboration with other countries and international organisations to help developing countries attain the Millennium Development Goals. Since the formation of SCP about 20 years ago in 1992, we have trained over 75,000 people from 170 countries in diverse fields such as public administration, trade and economic development, environment and urban planning, civil aviation, land transport, port management, education and healthcare. SIF is the non-government counterpart of SCP. Its efforts complement the Government’s and have gained us much goodwill from our neighbours and others. SIF has contributed to the good image of Singapore as a helpful and trustworthy friend.
But the influence of SIF’s programmes goes beyond this. In our push for rapid economic development, important characteristics of developed countries such as graciousness and generosity risk falling by the wayside. Hence, it is important for us to live beyond self and family and help build a kind and gracious society. I believe that the projects which SIF undertakes to help others will also make us better Singaporeans. They expose Singaporeans to the less fortunate in developing countries, kindle their generous spirit and motivate them to do likewise at home in Singapore.
Beyond the individual level, organisations have a greater ability to leverage on the wealth of skills and ideas in Singapore for the greater good. For many of SIF’s partners, Corporate Social Responsibility, or CSR as it is commonly known, is becoming increasingly important. The esteem of an organisation is no longer measured solely on economic returns, but also on its reputation as a good corporate citizen. I am glad to note that last year, over 110 local and overseas partners worked with SIF on its various programmes. They contributed funds, services and volunteers or served as host organisations for exchange programmes. I encourage SIF’s many partners to continue contributing to a better world.
Going forward, the SIF will continue to help bridge Singaporeans and other communities through its programmes.
Such programmes have often resulted in tangible impact. One good example is the work done by 135 Indonesians who participated in the SIF-ASEAN Fellowship over the last decade. Through this student exchange programme, a group of Indonesian Fellows were exposed to the education system in Singapore. Knowing the importance of education, they banded together to found a charity that provides scholarships to promising students from needy families in Indonesia. Because of this, many Indonesian students can now pursue their education to the university level. One of the Fellows who remains closely connected to the SIF was appointed the SIF’s first alumni representative to continue fostering relationships and partnerships between the foundation and other alumni members in Indonesia.
This is but one of the many stories of the meaningful friendships forged by the SIF over the last two decades. In celebrating the strong SIF alumni network, I look forward to launching the SIF’s commemorative book entitled “Inspirations for a Better World” later this evening. I hope that you will be inspired by the ideas and stories shared by 40 of the SIF’s alumni on how they are contributing to a better world. You can play your part by acting on the ideas presented in the book, or pass them on to inspire others to do likewise.
In closing, I hope the SIF will continue to grow in breadth and depth. I congratulate the SIF and all its partners on their successful journey together thus far. I commend the dedication of your staff and volunteers. Your journey continues as your mission remains important.
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