DPM Heng Swee Keat at the National Young Leader Award Ceremony

DPM Heng Swee Keat | 18 September 2021

Speech by Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies Heng Swee Keat at the National Young Leader Award Ceremony on 18 September 2021.


Good morning. 

Eight years ago, I was given the honour of launching Halogen Foundation’s inaugural National Young Leader Award. I was the Minister for Education then, and Halogen Foundation’s mission to empower youths resonated strongly with me. I am glad to see that Halogen Foundation and this Award have grown from strength-to-strength since. Over the years, the Award has developed more than 4700 young leaders, and showcased 49 finalists. These young leaders were given the opportunity to enhance their communication and leadership skills, network with leaders and mentors, and receive support in accelerating their social impact projects. As we begin a new decade, I am pleased to join you this morning to confer the National Young Leader Award for 2021. 

Redefining a crisis  

We are more than twenty months into living under the shadows of COVID-19.The pandemic has disrupted lives and livelihoods all around the world. In many societies, youths have borne the brunt of this crisis. Their education has been affected, and many are unable to find jobs. There are some who even speak of a “lost generation” of youths.

Here in Singapore, instead of letting COVID-19 define their generation, our youths are determining their own paths and redefining the crisis. Every generation will face crises. Each generation will be tested. What defines each generation is how they respond. We cannot deny that the pandemic has been a setback for our youths and some of their plans. But instead of feeling dejected, our youths have responded with resilience and fortitude. Many have adapted and adjusted their plans. More importantly, they also reached out to those around them who face even greater adversity. 

This pandemic has brought out the best in our youths. This has affirmed my long-held conviction that our youths have what it takes to succeed and thrive. They have the gumption to pursue what they feel passionate for and what they believe in.  

My interactions with our youths have not squared well with the labels sometimes given to them, such as the “Strawberry Generation”. These are unfair caricatures, and I am glad that the pandemic has put many of these labels to rest. I am often struck by our youths’ strong desire to bring about positive change. They speak passionately about building a more inclusive society, protecting the environment, enhancing mental wellness, and many other issues close to their hearts.  And I could feel this zest for the community and the desire to make a difference even more strongly during COVID-19. Just as important, many of them have asked themselves a simple but powerful question: what is it that I can personally do to make a difference? 

Halogen Foundation and the National Young Leaders Award

Today we recognise some of these young leaders who have answered this question through their actions. We celebrate the 10 finalists of the Halogen Foundation’s National Young Leader Award. After today, all 10 of them will be welcomed into the Halogen Young Leader Fellowship. This fellowship provides a community that will support their projects and aspirations. I am amazed by how much they have done, given that all of them are still pursuing post-secondary education. In fact, none of them have reached adulthood! Despite their young age, they are leaders who have displayed deep conviction in their actions. 

Their projects span a wide range of areas. These include areas like digital inclusivity, educational access for the less privileged, providing meals for the disadvantaged, enhancing mental health, environmental sustainability, and so on. The common thread that runs through all these projects is that these students have gone beyond talking the talk. All of you have walked the talk – taking a step forward to make a real difference. Congratulations to all of you! 

Beyond these Awards, I am also glad that Halogen Foundation is providing a community of support and guidance to our youths in making a positive change. As we are gathered here today in the shadows of COVID-19, it is in similar circumstances that Halogen Foundation was founded.  You started 18 years ago – in the year we experienced SARS. And I was told that you almost went under during H1N1. You have grown your base of volunteers, supporters and donors over the years. And I am glad that you are weathering this crisis better than the previous ones. As you grew, you have also expanded your range of programmes. Your work now includes leadership, entrepreneurship and mentorship. You reach out not only to youths, but also to parents, educators, adult volunteers and mentors. Since your inception in 2003, your work has impacted more than 177,000 youths. You have also mobilised the youth community - close to 700 volunteers in the last year alone. Well done to the Halogen team! May you keep up the good work. 

Singapore Together

I hope that the Awards today will inspire even more of our youths to step forward to drive positive change in the community. There are many opportunities for those who wish to give back, here at Halogen Foundation and beyond. You can also start something new. It is this strong desire to take action and build a better Singapore that inspired me to start the Singapore Together movement two years ago. I am glad that the spirit of collaboration and giving back has gained momentum during the pandemic. I encourage more to step forward in partnership to create a shared future together. 


In conclusion, let me once again congratulate all our finalists, and Halogen Foundation, on your great work. 

Thank you.