Conversation (OSC), 33-year-old
Mr Nicholas Thomas Fernandez
is eager to listen, and to forge
new ways of working together.
I was a teacher, doing a job I liked very much. Then I volunteered for an event that changed the course of my life. I was asked to help out as a liaison officer at the 2009 Asian Youth Games. I worked with the Chef de Mission of the Philippines, assisting him during the pre-Games meetings. That was the first time I was put in a whole-of-government setting, and I saw many different public agencies working together for a single cause.
My interest was piqued: what kind of planning, strategies and effort were needed for such a huge event? I wanted to contribute to efforts like these. I joined the Civil Service College (CSC) in 2011 and began work at the Institute of Public Sector Leadership. The core function of the Institute is to develop a pipeline of leaders through an integrated suite of milestone programmes.
My work now is similar to what I did as a teacher: I still get to develop, collaborate and listen. I’m constantly challenged to do all three in the core work of the Institute and in other projects such as OSC, the largest public conversation Singapore has ever had, with close to 47,000 people joining in from October 2012 to May 2013.
During OSC, I worked with 120 volunteer facilitators in hosting the conversations, and facilitated several sessions as well. Citizens talked about everything during the sessions – from housing, education and jobs to technology, the disadvantaged and public assistance. We conversed across 660 sessions. We conversed everywhere, from the east to the west of the island. We conversed for I hours and hours. The richness of the conversation came from the diversity of views.
The stories we heard moved me greatly and continue to motivate me. For example, a polytechnic student in a wheelchair shared how he’d wake up in the wee hours of the morning to take the first bus to school, and leave for home after the evening peak hour. Why? Because the rush hour crowd made it difficult for him to manoeuvre up the bus.
His experiences showed how we can do more as a country, and his story was just one of many that resonated deeply with me beyond the OSC experience. The conversations all boil down to a simple directive: how we, the Public Service, can make the lives of Singaporeans better.
THIS CONVERSATION MUST CONTINUE
Ms April Chin, 29, was part of the OSC team that discussed questions about our future openly with Singaporeans from all walks of life. Having joined the Public Service in 2009 to work on social assistance policies for lower-income children, Ms Chin moved to the Public Service Division in 2011 where she was a member of the OSC Secretariat.
The conversations brought her closer to the heartbeat of the nation. “OSC was about having a considered and open dialogue about the path before us,” she says. “We wanted to honour the views of all the participants by listening sincerely.” Ms Chin’s background in social work helped her stay focused on the people who were sharing their hopes, stories and concerns. For her, OSC paved the way for fresh approaches in engagement and collaboration. “What OSC proved was that Singaporeans really want to be involved in building our future, together,” she says. “This conversation must continue.”