SPEECH BY MS GRACE FU, MINISTER FOR SUSTAINABILITY AND THE ENVIRONMENT, AT THE SOCIAL OVEN ON 6 DECEMBER 2021
Ladies and Gentlemen
Good morning. I thank the National University of Singapore’s Entrepreneurship Society for inviting me to join you at this year’s Social Oven.
2 Many of us would be familiar with the term ‘sustainable development’. The United Nations (UN) views this as a multi-dimensional topic that considers economy, society and culture, on top of environment impact. This definition is embodied in the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals, which address global challenges ranging from poverty, inequality, climate change, environmental degradation, peace and justice, which are all critical to achieving a better and more sustainable future for all.
MANAGING SOCIAL IMPACT OF SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT IN SINGAPORE
3 As a hinterland with no natural resources, Singapore has always prioritised sustainability in our policies. This started from our early days of nation building, where our founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew envisioned Singapore to be a Garden City. Today, we continue to pursue our vision of building a green and liveable home through the Singapore Green Plan 2030, which balances economic growth with environmental protection and social inclusion.
4 The Singapore Green Plan is a not a single dimensional plan with a sole focus on reducing carbon emissions. It is a multi-dimensional plan that also looks into longer term issues, such as resource resilience. Many of you who grew up in Singapore would appreciate the importance of water to our country’s survival and how much we have devoted our resources into conserving, cleaning, and reclaiming water. Today, we are confident that we can ensure a safe and secure water supply even as our economy and population grow.
5 Singapore’s resource limitations mean that there will be costs and tradeoffs in our journey towards sustainable development. While this is felt most acutely in our land use, there is impact on businesses and our people too. As we transit towards a low-carbon economy, how can local companies and our workforce keep pace to offer relevant products, services, and skills? With climate change and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic disrupting global supply chains, how do we ensure that costs of living remain affordable, and maintain a safe and secure supply of essential resources such as energy, food, and water? How do we involve all segments of society in environment and sustainability causes when some greener alternatives may cost more, at this moment?
6 To address these challenges, we have introduced various social and economic policies. For example, the Singapore Motor Workshop Association has worked with various agencies to train technicians in servicing electric and hybrid vehicles as we phase out internal combustion engine vehicles. In October this year, the Monetary Authority of Singapore tightened our monetary policy to ensure that prices of goods and services remain affordable. Last year, the National Environment Agency and PUB offered the Climate Household Friendly Package to one-, two- and three-room flat owners to offset upfront costs of installing energy- and water-efficient appliances to encourage more Singaporeans to do their part for sustainability. The GST U-Save Vouchers have also been a permanent part of our social support to approximately three quarters of households since 2012.
7 With growing prevalence in extreme weather conditions and global warming, there will be more trade-offs to consider when we design our policies. While we may put in place mitigating measures to offset certain impact, we need to ensure that the extent of these measures does not negate the effectiveness of our policies. To this end, the Singapore Green Plan also aims to bring all segments of society together to agree on a common position for these trade-offs and create an inclusive change process.
THE ROLE OF SOCIAL ENTERPRISES IN SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT
8 Achieving social inclusivity in our sustainable development will require more than just policies. Support from businesses and civil society are equally important. Social enterprises, which aim to balance profits with social goals, are well-positioned to reach out to different segments of society and identify unmet or emerging needs. They are also valuable resources for companies. A public perception survey conducted by the Singapore Centre for Social Enterprises (raiSE) in 2020 found that businesses are looking to social enterprises to guide them in making positive social impact. Businesses may not be very well-versed in social impact projects such as helping the elderly or the low-income. Social enterprises help to bridge the gap between private sector resources with community needs on the ground, while ensuring financial sustainability in the long term.
9 In a separate landscape study conducted by raiSE and the British Council last year, there are an estimated 2,660 social enterprises in Singapore. While most social enterprises focus on providing employment opportunities and skills development, I am also glad to see that 24 per cent of these social enterprises in Singapore are contributing to environment and climate conservation. Among them is Edible Garden City (EGC), which has been advocating for food resilience and the grow our own food movement, while training and providing autistic adults with employment opportunities in urban farming. Others such as Just Dabao and Green Nudge work directly with businesses to improve their operations for better environment and social impact through initiatives such as waste reduction, coastal cleanups, and awareness building programmes.
YOUTHS AND SOCIAL ENTERPRISES
10 EGC, Just Dabao and Green Nudge are just some of the social enterprises that contribute to environment and sustainability causes. It is interesting to note that their founders started these social enterprises when they were youths. The same landscape study by raiSE also found that 40 per cent of our social enterprises are youth-led. These establishments were found to be doing well, with 67 per cent breaking even or making profit, which is better than the overall sector performance at 57 per cent.
11 The statistics show that social enterprises are financially viable and present new opportunities for our youths to go beyond volunteerism or charities to integrate doing good as part of everyday lives. I am heartened to see that many of our aspiring social entrepreneurs have come forth to start your journeys or advance your ideas with the Social Oven this year. Through this programme, I hope that you will be able to learn and gain meaningful insights from industry practitioners to refine your proposals to create bigger and better impact for a more inclusive Singapore.
12 Let me conclude. Social enterprise is a promising and growing sector. By balancing revenue and social impact outcomes, they play a vital role in shaping Singapore to be an inclusive society as we pursue our sustainable development goals. Youth-led social enterprises will add value to this ecosystem, as our youths bring fresh perspectives, innovative ideas and creative energy to achieve both financial and social objectives.
13 To our participants today, I wish you all the best in your proposals and upcoming pitches. I am glad that you have taken the first step through this year’s Social Oven and hope that your experience here will help you achieve your goals in the longer term. I also encourage you to look up the SG Eco Fund by my Ministry and the National Youth Fund by the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth to explore some of the government funding available to support ground-up and youth-led initiatives. To all our other guests, thank you for your support in nurturing a new generation of social entrepreneurs. To the organisers, I wish you a successful run of the Social Oven 2021.
14 Here, I would like to make a pitch. There are many good ideas out there, and resources should not be the factor to hold you back from acting on them. Government funding, such as the SG Eco Fund offered by the Ministry of Sustainability and the Environment and the National Youth Fund by the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth, is available to support ground up and youth-led initiatives. I encourage you to look them up, start and learn with something small, before deciding on expansion or making it more permanent. Thank you so much and I hope to see many new exciting social entrepreneurs or entrepreneurs joining us in the future, with successful stories.