DPM Heng Swee Keat at the NYAA's 30th Anniversary Celebration Gala Dinner

DPM Heng Swee Keat | 27 October 2022

Speech by Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies Heng Swee Keat at the NYAA's 30th Anniversary Celebration Gala Dinner on 27 October 2022.


President Halimah Yacob,


Members of the NYAA Advisory Board and Council,

NYAA Awardees

Ladies and gentlemen.

I am delighted to join you in celebrating the 30th anniversary of the National Youth Achievement Award (NYAA). 

Rite of Passage 

The NYAA was launched in 1992 by the late President Wee Kim Wee. As President Wee said in his speech at the launch of the NYAA, the goal of the programme is to “mould our youths to their fullest potential.”  To do so, NYAA provides youths with the opportunity to develop themselves, involving them in community service, outdoor adventure, and many other activities. 

The NYAA has since become a rite of passage for many young Singaporeans. More than 700,000 youths between the ages of 13 and 30 years old have gone through the NYAA journey. Before COVID-19, more than 30,000 students signed up each year as new participants. While the numbers have dipped slightly during COVID-19, I am confident that this will rebound quickly now that we are on the path to recovery.  

I am sure that those of you who have participated in the NYAA will agree with me that it is not about the awards, but the journey. And as with all journeys, we learn something along the way. The NYAA journey provides an opportunity for our youths to put values into action. The values of care, respect, responsibility, and resilience, amongst others. Let me speak about these in turn. 


First, respect and care. 

The NYAA brings our youths out from the classroom, into the community. 

It gives our youths an opportunity to learn something outside of their traditional learning space, the classroom. They get to meet people from all walks of life, and to understand different perspectives. 

This exposure is useful in helping our youths develop a respect for the intrinsic worth of each individual, and to contribute to a more caring society. For many of the NYAA participants, the journey has opened their eyes to the challenges and difficulties that others in society are facing, including those who are less fortunate than them. The learning goes beyond what is happening in Singapore. For example, during COVID-19, NYAA organised a webinar with youth leaders across APEC, to discuss the challenges that various societies are facing. Through these experiences, our youths develop a more rounded perspective, and develop their own convictions on how they can play a part in contributing to a more caring and inclusive world.

More broadly, the programme also helps our youths develop a respect for different cultures and viewpoints. When working in teams, and also with community partners, youths on the NYAA have to navigate diverse cultures and perspectives. This is especially important in a multicultural and multiracial society like ours. I believe that this cultural sensitivity will be a key advantage for our youths throughout their lives. It gives them an excellent foundation to work in multicultural settings, and to build connections with people from around the world.  

Second, responsibility. 

From its inception, the NYAA has encouraged youths to appreciate the outdoors and develop a sense of adventure, especially since we live in a highly urbanised environment in Singapore. This has also inculcated in our youths a sense of responsibility for our environment. And this was long before climate change and sustainability came to the forefront of the global agenda. 

In 2017, when we were celebrating the NYAA’s 25th anniversary, I challenged the NYAA to increase your efforts on this front.  I am glad to see that the NYAA and our youths have stepped up. For example, with the support of HSBC, NYAA launched a Climate Change Mitigation Project in 2020, partnering with ITE and our SMEs, to co-create climate solutions. Students from the ITE colleges were attached to SMEs to find solutions for these businesses to be more sustainable in their operations. The winning team from ITE College East recommended practical and effective steps to minimise ice wastage for a café selling beverages, leading to a significant reduction in water and electricity consumption. The team represented Singapore at the International Swiss Talent Forum in Switzerland, and shared their ideas with youths from around the world. Well done! 

The third value is resilience. 

Life is not a bed of roses. Anyone who is not so youthful, like myself, would have gone through the inevitable ups and downs of life. But what is important is that you have the resilience to bounce back after setbacks. Continue to live a purposeful life, and contribute to society.  

So I am glad that the NYAA journey is not a walk in the park either. It is designed to be rigorous. To achieve the three levels of the awards, youths will have to spend a minimum of 2 years completing the various projects and activities. Many youths have said that this is one of the most difficult things that they had done so far. And that through the process, they learned the value of resilience and not giving up. This resilience will serve our youths well in the journey of life. 

Take Mr Jeremy Lim for example. Jeremy was born with brittle bone disease. He is unable to walk, and has broken his bones numerous times. But despite his conditions, Jeremy embarked on the NYAA journey. In his own words, the journey pushed him to challenge himself physically, mentally and emotionally. 

Another example is Mr Darren Tan. Darren took part in the NYAA when he was an inmate in the Kaki Bukit Prison School. Today he is the Director and Head of Civil Practice with Invictus Law Corporation.  And he too is paying it forward, through his pro bono legal services in the community. And it is not just Darren – thousands of other young offenders have also gone through NYAA and reintegrated successfully into our community. 

I have spoken about the values of respect, care, responsibility, and resilience. The hallmark of the NYAA programme is to put these values into action. The programme galvanises our youths to work in partnership with people from various backgrounds on community projects that make a difference. Through these actions, the programmes help our young to be more aware of themselves and others, and to manage themselves and their relationships with others better. I am glad many of the NYAA participants continue to be self-directed learners and active contributors, even after they have graduated from the programme. 

Next 30 Years 

At 30 years old, the NYAA is young. Soon you will no longer be a youth. What will your next 30 years look like? There is no doubt in my mind that your mission endures. For each generation, continue to impart in them the right values, so that they are ready and prepared to explore the world, and make contributions.  Work together with our teachers to develop the 21st century competencies of our students.

In this regard, I am delighted that we are launching the NYAA Junior Programme – Butterfly Award on this 30th anniversary. The programme has been designed by the NYAA and MOE, and will provide a platform for primary school students to participate in service learning, outdoors activities, healthy living, and family bonding.  It is never too early to start this character-building journey. Our pilot phase involving 8 primary schools and 3 uniformed groups is successful, and we are now launching this fully. 

The next 30 years will have many challenges in Singapore and around the world. There will be geopolitical and economic uncertainties. Ageing population and climate change will also transform our societies. But I am confident that with the values that they have built up in our schools, our youths will be well prepared to meet these challenges and shape a better future for Singapore and the world. I am happy that the NYAA programme is supporting our schools in this mission. Let me express my deep appreciation to everyone of you here, and to everyone who has contributed to the NYAA’s mission over the past three decades – past and present members of the NYAA Advisory Board and Council, corporate partners, and of course, all our volunteers. My special thanks to our Executive Director James Soh and to Aileen, and staff of NYAA, for your years of dedication. Your commitment shines through, and has made a real difference to the development of our youths in Singapore.  

Finally, let me on behalf of all of us at NYAA express our deep appreciation to President Halimah, for gracing not only this special occasion, but also for your strong support for our Gold Award ceremonies. Your support is so valuable for our youths. Thank you very much! 

Education , Youth