“The National Youth Council (NYC), currently a division under the People’s Association (PA), will be restructured as an autonomous body under the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth, a move welcomed by stakeholders who felt it meant a ramp-up in support, as well as greater clarity in youth development” (National Youth Council To Be Autonomous Body Under MCCY, Mr. Siau Ming En).
That the National Youth Council (NYC) is no longer under the purview of the People’s Association (PA) is encouraging. Despite reassurance from the government that the PA’s work as a statutory board is non-political, some have decried the perceived politicisation of the grassroots by the People’s Action Party. Making a distinction between the political and the grassroots was ideal, but difficult. Now as an “autonomous agency” under the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY) the NYC should attract a greater diversity of youths.
Yet I temper my optimism with a tinge of scepticism. As a participant and facilitator for the National Youth Forum and the ASEAN Regional Forum, I was never a fan of the old-NYC’s predilection for large-scale conferences. The inter-faith engagement and the friendships forged were often overshadowed by the extravagant expenses, the confusing assortment of programmes, and the desperate efforts to rush presentations for showcases. The forums were hardly sustainable, in other words. Anecdotally the way community project funds are dispensed through the Young ChangeMakers scheme has been criticised too.
And what about old-NYC’s INSPIRIT, a community that sought to bring “young adult leaders together to advocate for youth interest on national and community issues and champion youth causes”, which was rolled out to much fanfare in 2012. What has happened since then? Has anything significant emerged from the group of 120? Will the Youth Volunteer Corps meet with the same, unfortunate fate? “We want to draw political leaders from all walks of life”, former NYC chairman Mr. Chan Chun Sing said during one of INSPIRIT’s first few (and only) events. “Some might come from this group”.
Perhaps removing that layer of PA-bureaucracy bodes well for NYC 2.0.
For this round of NYC restructuring to be more productive, the MCCY should engage youths in conversations. And not just the same individuals who have populated the NYC for far too long. Go to the schools, the neighbourhoods, the hangouts where young Singaporeans frequent. Hear from past participants of the NYC’s endeavours – especially from those who did not enjoy the experience – and do not hesitate to eliminate the relics.
It is a different world where youth involvement has soared and flourished. NYC chairman Mr. Lawrence Wong noted “the growth in the number of youth organisations and youth participation in social groups over the years” (TODAY, June 14), with an increase of the latter from 44 per cent a decade ago to 66 per cent last year. Within this landscape NYC 2.0 must learn to fit in, not stand out. It may have the funds and the resources, but without an understanding of the ground another “restructure” could be in the horizon.
A version of this article was published in TODAY.