Session 4 Speech
Mr David Neo Chin Wee
Programme Director
Pioneer Generation Office

It’s a great day to be in SP!

Good morning Mr Soh Wai Wah, Principal and CEO of Singapore Polytechnic,

Fellow members of the Singapore Polytechnic Board of Governors,

Distinguished Guests,

Parents and Graduands,

Ladies and Gentlemen,


It is my privilege and honour to be here this morning, and thank you for inviting me to join you on this big day. My heartiest congratulations to all graduands from the School of Communication, Arts and Social Sciences and the School of Digital Media and Infocomm Technology. To parents, families, friends and faculty members, thank you for being the pillar of strength for all our graduands. At this moment, I would like to invite our graduands to give a big round of applause to show your appreciation to your parents and friends for all the love and support they have given you over the past few years.

Now some of you might be wondering what has the Pioneer Generation Task Force and Pioneer Generation Office got to do with the graduation ceremony? Or what has the Director of PGO, who deals with the older generation, have to say to the bright young graduating students sitting in our midst today? The same questions went through my mind when Lee Yee first invited me to speak at your graduation. Turns out, there are more than a few points in common. Let me just touch on three that might be relevant to you as you start on your journey to take on the world.

Believe in what you do.

First, believe in what you do.

The Government put together the Pioneer Generation Package to honour and thank our Pioneers for their hard work and dedication to make Singapore what it is today.
But yet, a year after its announcement, a survey of 1,500 Singaporeans found that three in 10 do not know about the package. Among those who do, four in 10 were not sure of its benefits.

The Pioneer Generation Ambassador Programme, headed by a Pioneer Generation Task Force, a multi-agency task force, was hence started in August 2014, and the Pioneer Generation Office was also established, with the sole purpose of recruiting, training and mobilising volunteers to conduct face-to-face personalised outreach to Pioneers.

Many were sceptical that the programme would succeed. There were almost half a million Pioneers in Singapore. To be able to have someone sit down and conduct a face-to-face conversation for 30 mins to an hour with each and every Pioneer in their home would mean over 300,000 hours of effort, or more than 35 years of time. Where would we find all the time? Where would we find all the volunteers?

But because we believed in what we were doing, we pressed on. We recruited, trained, and mobilised more than 3,000 volunteers to reach out to more than 300,000 Pioneers within two years, or seven out of every ten Pioneers.

It has been a rewarding journey.  And while we thought that we would be the ones who would communicate the policies to our Pioneers so that they could benefit, it turned out we benefitted more from that interaction. Many of our volunteers, especially the younger ones, related to us the many stories told to them by our Pioneers – stories about how they believed in the Singapore story, took bold steps to make it happen and worked hard to build the beautiful country that we have today. Through that process of listening to our Pioneers, the volunteers too, caught the many values that our Pioneer Generation held dear, values such as Belief, Boldness and Resilience. And none of this would have happened if we did not believe.

As you go on to higher education, join National Service, or enter the workforce, there will definitely be moments when you will have ideas to do things in a better way, and there will be people who will disagree with you or who do not believe that it can be done. But if you believe in it, press on and make it happen.
So, believe in what you do.

Be Bold

Second, be bold. 

From day one, we recognized that a radically different communications campaign would be required to reach out to the pioneers, who had varying levels of literacy and access to information sources. The employment of Pioneer Generation Ambassadors, who were volunteers, to lead the last-mile, door-to-door communication and engagement efforts also represented the biggest shift in communication strategy away from the traditional means. Other innovative ideas involved the use of dialects across various platforms to build rapport and trust, engaging key influencers to convey messages, holding roadshows in the heartlands, as well as commissioning an 8-episode Mediacorp drama and comedy, titled “A Blessed Life”. Recognising that the care-givers for the pioneers also needed to be aware of the benefits and details, the Task Force also engaged Night Owl Cinematics to develop two Youtube videos to reach out to other segments of the population. One of the videos, 11 types of Singaporean Ah Ma, garnered more than 1.5M views.

As a result, we managed to improve awareness about the package from about 70% to almost 98%, just a year and a half later. And among those who knew, awareness improved from 1 in 2 being unsure of its benefits, to more than 1 in 2 being able to quote at least one of the benefits. And this improvement in awareness levels has enabled our Pioneers to gain greater assurance over their healthcare costs, so that they can age gracefully, and age well.

Up till the Pioneer Generation Program, government ministries were accustomed to using only English in their communications to the public. But today we see judicious use of dialects and vernacular languages to communicate when necessary. So by being bold, we have established a new way of communicating to our citizens.

Likewise, there will be many moments in your career, when you may be called upon to challenge conventional wisdom, or the status quo. In those moments, do your homework, hold on to your belief, be bold, and make a change.

So, Be Bold.

Begin each day with a positive mindset

Third, begin each day with a positive mindset.

I started my speech with the line, “It’s a great day to be in SP!”, and there’s a good reason for that. In the Pioneer Generation Office, whenever I see my volunteers, I will tell them “It’s a great day to be in PGO”. And they will shout, cheer, say yeah or whatever it is that makes them feel great.

The door to door outreach conducted by our volunteers is not an easy thing. Every day, our volunteers head out to different HDB blocks, condominiums and landed estates. When they knock on the door, they have no idea who is standing on the other side. It could be a Pioneer who is welcoming, or one who is hostile. It could be a Pioneer who is positive and happy, or one who is desolate. Our volunteers do, from time to time, get doors slammed on them, scolded, or ridiculed. But for every Pioneer who is hostile, there are at least ten others who are welcoming, and waiting for our volunteers to communicate to them the benefits of the PGP so that they will check out that niggling knee pain, or their failing eyesight – which they were previously not willing to do because “scared expensive”.

And so what makes it easier is for us is to begin each day with a positive mindset – to begin each day telling ourselves that today is going to be a great day. Because when we think that today is going to be a great day, we will be more patient with the hostile Pioneer, more encouraging to the desolate pioneer, so that by the time the day is over, each engagement has become more positive, and each encounter more cheerful, and each day truly becomes great.

In the same way, when you move on from today to begin the rest of your lives, you will meet hostile clients, and you will meet challenging bosses. But start each day telling yourself that “Today is going to be a great day”. And you will be more patient with that hostile client, more resilient with that challenging boss. And then guess what? By the time your day is over, it will indeed have been a great day.

Concluding Remarks

In closing, I would like to congratulate all our graduands once again for your achievements and thank all the parents, family, friend, faculty members, and support staff for the key roles that you played in helping our graduands be life-ready, work-ready, and world ready.

To our graduands, as you step out to the world today, Believe in what you do, Be Bold, and Begin each day with a positive mindset, and my prayer for you is that every day will be a great day as you start on the rest of forever. Chase that rainbow and fulfil all your dreams and aspirations. Go change the world.

It’s a great day to be in SP!