Tuesday, October 12, 2010

PA aims to rope in 125,000 young members

As reported in The Straits Times on 9 October 2010:

THE People's Association (PA) has embarked on a drive to recruit 125,000 young people in the next five years, a move seen by some as an ambitious bid to renew grassroots ranks.

It wants every one of its more than 500 residents' committees (RCs) to set up a youth chapter, each with 250members.

These youth chapters - for residents between the ages of 12 and 35 - are meant to help strengthen 'community bonds among young neighbours', the PA told The Straits Times.
Grassroots leaders also view the youth chapters as a source of future leaders for grassroots groups facing the longstanding challenge of leadership renewal.

As of July, only 20 per cent - or 5,300 - of PA's existing 30,000 leaders were aged 35 or younger.

The PA said yesterday that the average age of grassroots leaders has fallen, from 54 in 2005 to 49. Of the 4,115 new volunteers last year, half or 2,046 were 35 years old or younger.

In another sign of the dearth of new leaders, posts within RCs and constituency-level Youth Executive Committees (YECs) and Citizens Consultative Committees are sometimes held by the same people.

To give the RCs a fillip, the PA will give a seed grant of $1,500 to each of them to get their youth chapters started.

About 40 such youth chapters have been set up, with the first 10 piloted in Sembawang GRC in July last year.

Others are in wards from Pasir Ris to Geylang Serai, with a total of 335 core members to date, said the PA.

Some grassroots leaders believe the 125,000 target by 2015 is too ambitious. They point to a similar PA attempt about a decade ago, called 'Young RC', which received mediocre success.
Supporters, however, believe the 'free and easy' nature of the youth chapters, without a rigid structure, will draw the young.

Rather than a sense of duty to serve, which drives many grassroots leaders, the youth chapters will be 'interest-driven' to appeal to members of Generation Y.

'We can recruit them through community activities,' said Geylang Serai YEC chairman Eddie Chen. 'But it will be different interests that attract them to stay.' He cited weekly basketball games or fishing as examples.

RC chairmen work with their wards' YECs to identify young people who can form their chapters' core members.

Activities are organised to coax them to be members, with the ultimate aim of having this core group drive RC-level activities.

Also, they will not be burdened with responsibilities or meetings to attend, as are required of YEC members, said Eunos YEC chairman Sear Hock Rong.

'As and when they feel they have the time, they come,' he said.

Mr Edmund Ng, 34, who volunteers in Whampoa, felt however that the target of 250 people per RC is 'too ambitious', especially for mature wards like his with fewer young people.

So far, the RCs in his ward have no plans to start youth chapters, he said.

The Straits Times understands that the PA settled on the number after ascertaining, from national demographic statistics, that there are more than enough young people in each RC to reach the target.

Eunos' Mr Sear also defended the youth chapters against comparisons with the 'Young RC' initiative. He said the latter was merely a sub-committee to which young RC members were channelled.

Hopes remain high for the youth chapters to be a source of fresh blood, a way to foster gotong royong (neighbourly mutual help), and a plain and simple membership drive for the PA.
'It will open doors for us to get to know the young people in the estate better,' said Geylang Serai's Mr Chen.

One of them is undergraduate Nur Naadhirah, 21, who got involved in the Geylang Serai Youth Chapter through her mother, an RC member. She and the other 30 or so youth chapter members enjoy hanging out together.

But would she be interested in becoming a full-fledged grassroots leader?

'Maybe later. But now, I am still in school,' she said.