What we need is innovation, not just technological or social entrepreneurial, but communitybased innovation – when people work together, they unfailingly bring new, emergent, spontaneous ideas to the surface. And by working together, we take matters of national identity and Singaporean-ness out of the hands of the governing bodies, into our own. C OM M U N I T Y-BA SE D I N NOVAT ION That work can and should begin here, in Singapore. Social change requires us to learn through community: through growing “communities-of-practice”, a term coined by social anthropologist Etienne Wenger to describe the way learning takes place socially rather than just cognitively. Communities-of-practice build social capital and build up trust and mutual cooperation as well as the capacity to innovate. New ideas for social change require new ways of thinking about social structures, and relationships between people and between organisations. Community
innovation will deliver new ways for Singaporeans to relate to the world and to each other— learning together to build a more environmentally-sustainable city, to grow more local food, to make our city not just green but life-sustaining, to form links with migrant labour and reduce the growing hostility towards immigrants. It’s not about growing a gracious society. What does gracious mean anyway? Why be gracious, when our livelihoods are being taken from us? Rather, what is important is to retain our humanity. The Singaporean identity is growing stronger and clearer, but if this identity is built on a foundation of resentment, anger and words of hate against the immigrant community, then that identity seems a lot less desirable to me. Other countries might have grown their own sense of national identity by hating foreigners and people perceived as being “not like us.” That has led to ongoing trans-boundary and national ethnic conflict in countries around the world, even within Southeast Asia. There are racial
tensions within Singapore which are not talked about sufficiently, but our identity has never been linked to spite and hate towards foreigners. There are always new ways of creating a nation, and I am sending out a heartfelt plea: not to let our country’s identity grow strong only through groundless spite and racism against individual immigrants just because they symbolise a larger national phenomenon. It is not the individual’s fault; it is policy and we can solve policy while keeping our sense of humanity and care for other humans, not just other Singaporeans.
Published on Apr 6, 2013