Speech by Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies Heng Swee Keat at the Singapore Red Cross Forum 2022 on 19 March 2022.
Chairman of Singapore Red Cross, Mr Tan Kai Hoe,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am very happy to be here with you this evening. First, let me thank Genevieve and your very hardworking committee. You must have put in a lot of effort to bring us together.
Translating Values into Action
Red Cross has a long history in Singapore. The Singapore branch of the Red Cross was founded in 1949, in the aftermath of World War 2. Over more than 70 years here, you have abided by your “north star” – the core values of compassion, passion and professionalism. Just as important, you have strived to translate these values into action, and to inculcate these values in our next generation.
When visiting your exhibition just now, I was struck by the breadth and scope of your undertaking. In the early years of your founding here, the Red Cross provided first aid, social welfare and relief services at a time when such services were not widely available. For example, you provided relief during disasters such as the Bukit Ho Swee fire in 1961 and Potong Pasir floods in 1966. Over time, you have expanded your work to reach out to new vulnerable groups in the community. For example, you provided strong support for the disabled, through the Red Cross Home for the Disabled, as well as a Day Activity Centre. You not only take care of their physical wellbeing, but also their emotional and social needs. With our growing elderly population, you have also put in place befriending services, wellness programmes, medical chaperones, and a home monitoring solution to help our elderly age in place. For at-risk children and youth, your Young Hearts programme offers them valuable support and mentorship. You have scaled up operations to support these various vulnerable groups during this pandemic. You are also keeping Singapore resilient, through your work as the national blood donor recruiter, and providing training in first aid.
A key part of translating your values into action, is to continue to grow and mobilise your volunteers. There are many different ways that people can give – be it their time, their money, their skills or even their influence. Indeed, many of you here this evening have contributed generously to the movement. Thank You! Increasingly, people will want to contribute in more long-term and meaningful ways, to create greater impact. Donors realise that one-time giving is often not sufficient for certain causes. So I am heartened to see that the Singapore Red Cross is innovating on this front. You recently launched a new donation portal – allowing individuals and corporates to make a donation anytime, anywhere, and on any device. The portal also allows individuals to create their own campaigns for causes close to their heart. You have also launched digital initiatives, tapping on social media and other interactive platforms, to engage the next generation of blood donors. These innovations will enable Red Cross to build long-term relationships with your donors.
Importantly, the Red Cross is also inculcating the values of giving in our young, and encouraging them to take action to make the world a better place. The Red Cross Youth today has more than 5,000 members. This includes not just members of the Red Cross uniformed groups in schools. You have also created opportunities for Red Cross youth members to continue to volunteer in the movement, even after they have left school, and well into adulthood. In fact, I met some of them a few years back. This group of enthusiastic youths has initiated many community projects to bring help and cheer to the less privileged, especially during the current pandemic. Even pre-school children in Red Cross Junior played their part, making colourful greeting cards with messages of encouragement for the elderly and lower income families. Throughout the pandemic, Red Cross volunteers have also been making home visits to help seniors with their groceries, bill payment, repair of appliances, in addition to delivering care packages to them.
By galvanising the community to take action, you have made a real difference. This is the kind of spirit that the Singapore Together movement seeks to build on. When we harness our collective wits and will, and put our values into action, we can all do our part to build a better future for Singapore and the world.
Contributing Regionally and Globally
Another striking feature of your work, which your exhibition clearly illustrates, is that your work goes beyond our shores. Indeed, global cooperation is at the heart of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent movement. Since its founding more than 150 years ago in 1863, the Red Cross has evolved into the largest humanitarian movement in the world, with 14 million volunteers in 192 countries. During this period, the first Geneva Convention was signed in 1864, for the first time providing legal protection for wounded soldiers and field medical personnel in armed conflicts. Over time, the Geneva Convention was expanded, to also extend protection to civilians in areas of armed conflict. National red cross and red crescent societies have also been formed in nearly every country in the world. Today, the Red Cross and Red Crescent movement is often at the frontlines of not just armed conflicts, but also natural disasters and other humanitarian crises.
This spirit of global solidarity is an important value that Singapore holds dear. While we are a small country, we believe in playing our part in contributing towards building a better world. So I am glad that the Singapore Red Cross continues to play a proactive and responsible role in the global commons. Just prior to the pandemic, you set up the Centre of Excellence for Pandemic Preparedness in Singapore, to build the region’s capacity to deal with pandemics. This proved to be very timely, and the Centre has facilitated information sharing during the pandemic. You have also been actively involved during the COVID crisis, coordinating an international response that involved the provision of health equipment for more than 30 countries, including China, India, and our neighbours in the region. Beyond COVID, you have also continued to support communities hit by natural disasters, such as those affected by the floods in Malaysia, the earthquake in Haiti, and typhoons in the Philippines. Most recently, the Singapore Red Cross has also supported the relief and recovery of affected communities in Ukraine and Afghanistan.
Looking ahead, the world will continue to face new shared challenges. The humanitarian context will continue to evolve. The current pandemic is a vivid reminder that we inhabit the same planet, and our destinies are tightly inter-woven together. Climate change will also affect all of humanity in the years ahead, with natural disasters likely to increase in frequency and severity. Lack of access to food and water continue to plague parts of the world.
Global cooperation will be key in tackling these shared challenges. Unfortunately, the global multilateral order that has undergirded much of our peace and prosperity is under strain. Support for globalisation has weakened, exacerbated by the strategic tensions between big powers. The ongoing armed conflict in Ukraine is destroying many lives and further putting the global order to the test. The spirit of global partnership exemplified by the Red Cross and Red Crescent movement will become all the more critical in the years ahead. It is important for the world to come together in the spirit of solidarity, to overcome our present and future challenges together. I look forward to Red Cross Singapore continuing to contribute to humanitarian efforts, and promote deeper understanding of our common humanity, both locally and internationally.
Let me conclude. At a time when the global multilateral order is under stress, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent movement reminds us that it is possible to forge a path of global cooperation to tackle our shared challenges. For more than 70 years, the Singapore Red Cross has mobilised the power of the community to contribute to this movement, both at home and abroad. I have every confidence that you will continue to do so in the years ahead, even as our challenges continue to evolve.
Thank you, and I wish you continued success and fulfilment in the years ahead.
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