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CFS Change Matters Series: Mens, Manus and Machina – How AI Empowers People, Institutions & the City in Singapore
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CFS Change Matters Series: Mens, Manus and Machina – How AI Empowers People, Institutions & the City in Singapore

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Artificial intelligence (AI) will be a disruptive influence on society, for good as well as ill – and there is a duty to provide a sense of hope, upfront, that humans will be able to prevail.

That was the core message of the inaugural CFS Change Matters Series talk, “Mens, Manus and Machina – How AI Empowers People, Institutions & the City in Singapore”. It was delivered on 21 June 2023 by Professor Jinhua Zhao, Associate Professor of Transportation and City Planning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

“Mens”, “manus” and “machina” are Latin for “mind”, “hand”, and “machine” respectively, and the title plays on MIT’s motto, “mens et manus”. The title of the talk is also the name of a multi-disciplinary collaborative project between MIT and Singapore’s National Research Foundation. The collaboration is co-led by Prof Zhao, and aims to address the following questions:

  1. How will we design technology and train humans to build the skills and habits for human success in a robotics-heavy environment?
  2. How will we adapt our social and business institutions to create the incentives and protections for innovation and human welfare?

In his talk, Prof Zhao shared four key insights into AI.

1. AI will transform, rather than reduce, demand for workers

Enablement, not elimination, of workers

The aftermath of the Industrial Revolution (1760-1840) saw the rise of the machine, leading to a major change in the way we worked. This did not, however, reduce overall demand for workers.

Citing economist James Bessen, 1 Prof Zhao noted that the number of ATMs in the USA grew rapidly from the 1970s, when the first ATMs were installed in banks. However, the role of the bank teller was not eliminated, but enabled. Bank tellers now focused on value-added services centered on human interactions, which could not be replaced by ATMs. As such, the number of bank tellers increased.

Employment grows along with automation

While automation has led to displacement and job loss, there has historically not been a fall in overall employment. Increased productivity from automation, as well as the growth of new human desires over time, have created entirely new jobs and industries.

This has led to an overall increase in employment; in fact, the 2018 US Census counted that more than 60% of jobs in 2018 had not yet been “invented” in 1940.

2. AI is not all the same

Expert versus Learning Systems

AI systems generally fall into two categories: expert systems and learning systems.

  • Expert systems rely on predefined rules and a knowledge base to mimic the expertise of specialists.
  • Learning systems, such as machine learning, mimic the way the brain learns and processes information.

Discriminative versus Generative Models

In addition, AI systems mainly adopt either a discriminative or a generative model in relation to their inputs.

  • Discriminative models classify or discriminate between different inputs, based on their features.
  • Generative models learn the patterns and relationships within the data input to generate new samples that resemble the original data.

The ubiquitous ChatGPT, for example, is a Large Language Model, an example of a generative model AI that can produce human-like chat responses.

3. The real impacts of AI on society

AI will replace white-collar jobs, not blue-collar jobs

While the Industrial Revolution replaced manual workers, AI’s superior analytic and generative skills enable it to replace white-collar jobs like office workers and scientists.

For example, a Google-developed AI known as AlphaFold was able to significantly outperform human scientists in the field of protein structure prediction – a feat normally requiring decades of expertise from humans.

As such, it is “highly skilled” white-collar jobs that may be at risk from AI – a concerning proposition for developed economies that depend heavily on these jobs.

The response of social institutions will determine the impacts of AI

The impact of AI does not occur in a vacuum. Tapping the beneficial impacts of AI on living standards depends on how successfully social institutions can take advantage of it. For example, society must continue to be responsible for providing financial safety nets for those displaced by AI, and for caring for seniors who may find it harder to adapt.

These institutions must also respond to not just the economic challenges, but the social challenges of AI. Citing the intellectual Yuval Noah Harari, Prof Zhao noted that generative AI, for example, could destroy the ability for people to have meaningful conversations – and undermine democracy in the process.2

4. Science, government, and individuals can respond to AI productively

Science can help us control AI

Science must solve the alignment problem3 in order to develop beneficial AI – which takes only actions that achieve human objectives and preferences. Otherwise, AI could unintentionally act in a way that is destructive and harmful to humanity.

Governments can educate humans to fill areas that AI cannot

While AI is powerful, it is not superior to humans in all areas. Humans are better than AI at:

  • Creativity: being able to apply knowledge from one area to another area
  • Dexterity: tasks involving manual dexterity
  • Social intelligence: conducting “social negotiations” with humans, such as knowing when it is safe to turn while driving
  • Long-term planning: being able to break long-term plans (e.g. a 5-year plan) into shorter increments

With that in mind, governments should focus education on creativity and communication, as well as critical thinking: the ability to judge, and to ask the right questions. This prepares students to become evaluators, directors and planners, instructing AI to act on their goals.

The role of teachers will also change as AI evolves and becomes deployable at scale as an individual, customized teaching assistant. AI will enhance students’ learning and help teachers understand students; teachers will be tasked with socially engaging, empathizing with, and supervising students, rather than merely delivering content.

Individuals can change their mindsets to be resilient in the face of AI

Finally, the impact of AI, and job displacement, on individuals will not purely be economic. It will be personal as well, given how central work is to our social and emotional lives, and to our sense of purpose.

Individuals can make the following mindset changes, in order to be resilient:

  • Adopting a lifelong learning mindset: this means developing new skills while working, rather than focusing on academic learning as preparation for work.
  • Adopting a flexible mindset: understanding that while change is the new normal, humans have always had the capacity to adapt. This is especially important for youths.

Final thoughts: how philanthropy can respond to AI

Philanthropists reading this may wonder: how do I respond to the challenges posed by AI? CFS is Singapore’s first community foundation, with 15 years of experience and a network of over 400 charity partners. We leverage our experience and grantmaking expertise to identify and evaluate key opportunities for individual and corporate donors to make greater impact.

We think the following giving approaches may be valuable to respond to AI:

  • Supporting seniors to age well in the community, so they remain cared for and are not left behind.
  • Enabling youths to access quality education, through schools and Institutions of Higher Learning, and prepare for the AI-empowered future.
  • Funding efforts to improve employability, so that individuals develop the skills they need to keep working.
  • Ensuring that mental wellbeing is supported, to help individuals build the resilience to cope with changes.
  • Tackling climate and environment issues, to mitigate and adapt to this additional source of negative disruption.

To find out more about CFS and our leading role in Singapore’s philanthropy ecosystem, please click here.

CFS would like to extend our heartfelt gratitude to our donors Oliver Kwan and Helen He from the Evergreen Changemaker Fund for their invaluable support and extending the invitation to Prof Zhao, which made this event possible.

References

1 Bessen, James. “Toil and Technology.” Finance & Development 52, no. 1 (March 2015): 16–19. https://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/fandd/2015/03/pdf/bessen.pdf.

2 “Yuval Noah Harari Argues That AI Has Hacked the Operating System of Human Civilisation,” The Economist, April 28, 2023, https://www.economist.com/by-invitation/2023/04/28/yuval-noah-harari-argues-that-ai-has-hacked-the-operating-system-of-human-civilisation.

3 The problem of aligning AI with humans’ objectives and values.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Ut elit tellus, luctus nec ullamcorper mattis, pulvinar dapibus leo.Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet consectetur adipiscing elit dolor

The competition was organised by City Harvest Community Services Association and received support from FUN! Fund, a Community Impact Fund jointly established by the Community Foundation of Singapore and the Agency for Integrated Care, with the aim of addressing social isolation among the elderly.

Senior Minister of State, Ministry of Communications and Information & Ministry of National Development Mr Tan Kiat How attended the event. He encouraged the elderly to stay physically and mentally well, as well as urging them to participate in community activities and enjoy their golden years together.

Learn more about FUN! Fund at https://www.cf.org.sg/fun-fund/.

 

The programme provides the children with a non-threatening platform to connect with peers and have positive conversations. In addition, it exposes them to different people who can assist to broaden their perspectives.

L.S., a volunteer with the Reading Odyssey programme @ Spooner Road

中心“常胜将军”胡锦盛:比赛限时反应要快

现年92岁的胡锦盛是最年长的参赛者。自2017年退休后,他几乎每天都到活跃乐龄中心报到,从此爱上了玩拉密,每次可玩上三个小时,在中心是“常胜将军”。

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Lorem Ipsum is simply dummy text of the printing and typesetting industry. Lorem Ipsum has been the industry's standard dummy text ever since the 1500s, when an unknown printer took a galley of type and scrambled it to make a type specimen book.

News

New office for S’poreans to partner the Government and give ideas

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CFS is pleased to be a part of Forward SG, as we build our shared future, together.

We know that collective effort – through financial support, knowledge-sharing, and community collaboration – is the bedrock of a stronger, more inclusive society.

As part of the Forward SG movement, CFS will rev up our mission to forge stronger connections between generous donors and local communities, inspiring those who’ve thrived to give back, create a positive ripple effect in our community – and strengthen our social compact.

Donations will be channelled to where they’re needed most, paving the way for enduring, meaningful change. Read the news below to learn more about the latest Forward SG updates.

To spur civic participation, a new office will be set up to create more space for Singaporeans to work with the Government.

The Singapore Government Partnerships Office, one of the recommendations of the Forward Singapore report, will lead national efforts to engage citizens who want to contribute, by facilitating interactions between them and relevant government agencies.

The office is part of a broader shift to empower people to take individual and collective actions, in the hope that building a shared future will foster unity.

“We recognise that there are some areas where it may be better for the Government to step back and allow more space for citizen participation,” said the report. 

“We will therefore introduce new ways to promote civic participation. We will also support more ground-up efforts by Singaporeans to shape and improve their communities.”

The Government will actively seek input and work closely with all stakeholders and partners, said the report prepared by the fourth-generation political leaders led by Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Lawrence Wong.

Besides creating more avenues for civic participation and ground-up efforts, the report also sketched out ways to nurture a stronger culture of giving and for people to support their fellow Singaporeans.

The recommendations follow the 16-month-long Forward Singapore exercise that saw more than 200,000 Singaporeans contribute their suggestions. 

At a press conference on Friday, Mr Wong said: “This is more than just an engagement exercise. It’s really a partnership effort… between Government, people, community groups, employers, businesses, (it) encompasses our tripartite partnership.

“It’s really a whole-of-Singapore partnership, and that’s the only way that we can implement these big moves and these big shifts together.”

Ultimately, the aim is to build a vibrant, thriving and resilient society where the broad middle enjoys progress, the vulnerable receive care, and the better-off do their part to improve the lives of fellow citizens, said the report.

“We ask that Singaporeans step forward to give back to our society, especially those who have done well and benefited from the system,” it added. 

This could be through financial donations, contributing knowledge, or working with community organisations. 

To this end, a new programme will be introduced to better connect donors to local communities and channel donations to where they are needed over a sustained period.

This will be done in collaboration with the Community Foundation of Singapore and Community Chest.

For example, a donor could support the educational needs of children from several lower-income families not just financially, but also in the areas of mentorship, internship and job opportunities, to help build their social capital and networks.

Businesses can also do more for the wider community, said the report.

It held up business leaders-turned-philanthropists such as Hajjah Fatimah, who donated land to build the Hajjah Fatimah Mosque, Govindasamy Pillai who set up the Ramakrishna Mission charity, and Tan Tock Seng, who donated money towards the building of what became Tan Tock Seng Hospital.

To guide companies in designing business practices and operations that can benefit society, the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre has set up the new Company of Good strategy, and 55 companies have adopted this corporate purpose framework.

Young people can give their views on policies through youth panels that were launched in May. These panels will look into financial security, careers and lifelong learning, digital well-being, and environment and sustainability. 

Mr Wong said some of the top issues for youth that surfaced during the Forward SG exercise were jobs and career choices, mental wellness and sustainability.

“There was a very strong sense of wanting to give back and support others who are less fortunate,” he said, adding that a group of young people worked closely with the Ministry of Social and Family Development team to come up with recommendations to uplift lower-income families.

Another aspect of fostering unity involves strengthening multiracialism and the Singaporean identity, said the report, adding that the Government will do its part by continuing to expand spaces for more interactions between different groups. 

More will be done to promote collaborations between the various self-help groups, and to encourage more Singaporeans to be involved in racial harmony programmes in the community, said the report.

It noted that sustained effort to sensitively manage the difficult issues on race and to create shared experiences through school, and community and national events, has allowed Singapore to enjoy several decades of racial and religious harmony.

“But we must have the humility to acknowledge that our multiracialism is still a work in progress,” it said.

Even as more avenues will be provided for people to contribute ideas, the report said, not all ideas can be accepted and, sometimes, there may be differing views on how to achieve an outcome.

In such cases, the Government will explain its considerations, and take the “practical and pragmatic” approach by looking at data and evidence and considering the circumstances and context before deciding on a way forward.

“Such differences are not so fundamental because our ends are the same, and it is a matter of working out the best approach to take,” said the report.

From Friday to Sunday, Singaporeans will be able to learn more about the initiatives in the report at the Forward Singapore Festival at Silver Garden – Silver Leaf at Gardens by the Bay. After this, the festival roadshow will make its way to various heartland locations until Jan 28, 2024.

There will be exhibition booths on the key policy shifts highlighted in the report, an interactive booth where people can create their own avatars to discover what the shared future holds, and a holographic booth where they can make pledges for Singapore.

Read more about the Forward Singapore report.

 

Source: The Straits Times © SPH Media Limited. Permission required for reproduction

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The competition was organised by City Harvest Community Services Association and received support from FUN! Fund, a Community Impact Fund jointly established by the Community Foundation of Singapore and the Agency for Integrated Care, with the aim of addressing social isolation among the elderly.

Senior Minister of State, Ministry of Communications and Information & Ministry of National Development Mr Tan Kiat How attended the event. He encouraged the elderly to stay physically and mentally well, as well as urging them to participate in community activities and enjoy their golden years together.

Learn more about FUN! Fund at https://www.cf.org.sg/fun-fund/.

 

The programme provides the children with a non-threatening platform to connect with peers and have positive conversations. In addition, it exposes them to different people who can assist to broaden their perspectives.

L.S., a volunteer with the Reading Odyssey programme @ Spooner Road

中心“常胜将军”胡锦盛:比赛限时反应要快

现年92岁的胡锦盛是最年长的参赛者。自2017年退休后,他几乎每天都到活跃乐龄中心报到,从此爱上了玩拉密,每次可玩上三个小时,在中心是“常胜将军”。

Picture of admin bluecube
admin bluecube

Lorem Ipsum is simply dummy text of the printing and typesetting industry. Lorem Ipsum has been the industry's standard dummy text ever since the 1500s, when an unknown printer took a galley of type and scrambled it to make a type specimen book.

Events

Colabs: doing more for persons with disabilities

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a group of people sitting around tables

As persons with disabilities reach age 18 and exit the school system, they face new life challenges, including living their desired life and gaining access to care and support. With a keen eye on identifying opportunities to improve the lives of these individuals, we kicked off the Colabs Disability series which focused on engagement pathways and employment through catalysing cross-sector collaboration.

As part of the series, participants were recently invited to the MINDS’ Idea Employment Development Centre to understand what a sheltered employment workshop in Singapore would look like. Made up of a diverse group, including social enterprises, corporates, philanthropic institutions, government agencies and non-profits, the group bonded over a common desire to learn and do more for persons with disabilities.

The group took part in various work stations at MINDS, where they interacted and worked alongside their clients. On a daily basis, clients were engaged in a wide range of activities, from seeding, retail, craft and kitchen work, to the packing of edible gifts, bottled water, and disposable earphones.

Next, participants gathered to share their aspirations for persons with disabilities, and their ideas on how the current model of sheltered employment could be improved. For many in the room, it was an eye-opening experience and a great chance to explore opportunities to contribute and collaborate.

Within the context of the sheltered workshop, companies and philanthropists can:

Create greater variety in jobs in workshops, or increase the number of jobs available, by connecting sheltered workshops with potential employers to explore and implement job re-design matched to the abilities of persons with disabilities, or encouraging companies to outsource certain tasks to persons with disabilities (e.g. event decoration, gift preparation, logistics). Much of this can be enabled by education and outreach to potential partners.

Provide a variety of social activities outside of work tasks in sheltered employment workshops, through partnerships with existing non-profits.

Improve the financial sustainability of running sheltered workshops by funding wages or subsidies, providing pro-bono services or skill-based volunteering to sheltered workshops in the marketing of existing products such as bottled water, food and gifts.

Companies and philanthropists interested in understanding how to work together with MINDS can contact the Idea Employment Development Centre to explore possibilities.

If you’re interested in what can be done to support persons with disabilities and their caregivers, the DesignSingapore Council has published an ethnographic study documenting how persons with disabilities live, work and interact with society, along with an illustrated overview of services supporting persons with disabilities. 

Some suggestions for collaborative solutions – based on the collective feedback of over 80 participants in the series – are outlined in the Colabs publication ‘A Call for Collaborative Giving: Bridging the Divide for Persons with Disabilities’ which can be downloaded here.

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News

Aleta Planet Foundation: Supporting children and elderly in the fight against COVID-19

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Three people posing with a check from Aleta Planet, expressing joy.

To help bolster the combined efforts in combating the adverse effects of the COVID-19 pandemic within our community, fast growing fintech company Aleta Planet has donated $100,000 to the Mediacorp Enable Fund, a community fund administered by SG Enable.

The proceeds are part of an initial larger commitment of $200,000, and will go towards supporting the elderly who have to work despite their frailties and children with disabilities, as well as those from low income families.

The sum will be donated via the Aleta Planet Foundation, a donor advised fund established in partnership with the Community Foundation of Singapore (CFS). The Aleta Planet Foundation will work with CFS to identify existing needs for the elderly and disabled children, find suitable charity partners to work with and to manage the funds received.

“We are deeply grateful to Aleta Planet Foundation for their strong spirit of charity and choosing the Mediacorp Enable Fund to make their first donation. The generous contribution will provide much needed financial assistance in meeting the last mile needs of persons with disabilities, as well as to help them fulfil their aspirations in life,” says Mr Ku Geok Boon, CEO of SG Enable.

Set up in Singapore just six years ago, the Aleta Foundation specialises in payment solutions to and from China, and plans to increase their contributions to the community in the future as part of their sustainable corporate giving culture.

“As Aleta Planet has reached a level of growth, we feel that it is now fitting for us to give back to the community in which we operate,” said Mr Ryan Gwee, Chairman and Group CEO of Aleta Planet. “This is especially timely amid a pandemic and recession that have created considerable hardship for the most vulnerable groups living on the fringes of our society.”

The donation seeks to also support the elderly who have been abandoned by their families, and will focus on children from low-income families to help them realise their fullest potential in life.

“We look forward to closer collaboration with the Aleta Planet Foundation to identify gaps in the community so as to foster more effective giving and amplify the positive impact they have on our society,” says Catherine Loh, CEO of CFS.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Ut elit tellus, luctus nec ullamcorper mattis, pulvinar dapibus leo.Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet consectetur adipiscing elit dolor

The competition was organised by City Harvest Community Services Association and received support from FUN! Fund, a Community Impact Fund jointly established by the Community Foundation of Singapore and the Agency for Integrated Care, with the aim of addressing social isolation among the elderly.

Senior Minister of State, Ministry of Communications and Information & Ministry of National Development Mr Tan Kiat How attended the event. He encouraged the elderly to stay physically and mentally well, as well as urging them to participate in community activities and enjoy their golden years together.

Learn more about FUN! Fund at https://www.cf.org.sg/fun-fund/.

 

The programme provides the children with a non-threatening platform to connect with peers and have positive conversations. In addition, it exposes them to different people who can assist to broaden their perspectives.

L.S., a volunteer with the Reading Odyssey programme @ Spooner Road

中心“常胜将军”胡锦盛:比赛限时反应要快

现年92岁的胡锦盛是最年长的参赛者。自2017年退休后,他几乎每天都到活跃乐龄中心报到,从此爱上了玩拉密,每次可玩上三个小时,在中心是“常胜将军”。

Picture of admin bluecube
admin bluecube

Lorem Ipsum is simply dummy text of the printing and typesetting industry. Lorem Ipsum has been the industry's standard dummy text ever since the 1500s, when an unknown printer took a galley of type and scrambled it to make a type specimen book.

Opinion

Eileen Heisman: Donor advised funds are a flexible tool that can adapt to changing giving interests

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A woman confidently delivering a speech at a podium, standing before a sign, conveying her message with conviction and authority.

(Excerpts from a keynote speech by Eileen Heisman, President and CEO, National Philanthropic Trust delivered at the CFS Philanthropy Forum 2019)

When I was here in Singapore a decade ago as part of the Community Foundation of Singapore’s (CFS) international advisory committee, the idea of being involved in the global launch of a community foundation was so exciting to me. Everyone here was really eager to learn. They wanted to have impact. I knew CFS was going to set its own path.

Over 22 years ago, I was sitting in a dark, private cubicle trying to figure out what to do with this brand new charity I was part of. Today, National Philanthropic Trust (NPT) – which is the largest independent donor advised fund (DAF) administrator in the United States – has raised US$13 billion in charitable contributions and currently manages US$7.4 billion in charitable assets. In recent years, we’ve started making global grants of around US$700 million to over 75 countries.

I see a lot of similarities between CFS’s journey and my time in that small cubicle. CFS has raised S$130 million and given away S$70 million. With this incredible talent, opportunity and resources you have here, I believe there’s so much more CFS can grow as a community foundation.

What compels a potential donor to act? I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this question throughout my career working with donor advised funds. Just as every person comes to this earth with different gifts and backgrounds, donors have vastly different philanthropic goals. I’ve had the privilege of getting inside the thinking of donors and understanding what excites them about philanthropy. One of the biggest moments in my career at NPT was when a donor from New York City donated US$200 million to us. He was an early adopter and one of those people who saw opportunity.

I like to say donors don’t give to us, they give through us. Donor advised funds are flexible. They are relatively inexpensive. They can meet and adapt to changing interests. If you were interested in a cause when you were younger and that changes as you grow older, you’re not wedded to that particular cause because you can shape the fund according to your preferences. Philanthropy is also about legacy. A DAF is a tool you can spend down over your lifetime or you can pass it down to your children.

It’s one of the reasons why donor DAFs are the fastest growing philanthropic tool in the United States. The number of DAFs has doubled in the US over the last five years. In addition to Singapore, there is growing interest in DAFs in Asia, from China, India, Hong Kong to Japan. As a philanthropic tool, I believe DAFs are going to become more and more popular.

If I had to give a piece of advice to new donors: when you’re getting started with giving through DAFs, it’s important not to overcomplicate the process. Start simple. Find two or three causes you really like. Find one or two good charities in each of those categories, and support those charities over three to five years.

With any social issue, nothing gets solved within one year. In the social sector, we learn about solutions to existing problems from trying new things. Don’t be afraid to fund solutions that are new because it’s the only way we learn. It’s as important to fund failure as it is to fund success.

One of the wonderful things about being part of a community foundation is that it truly is a way to make the world a better place. Doing it with partners and the community’s collective effort makes the journey so much more enjoyable than doing it alone.

Eileen Heisman
President and CEO
National Philanthropic Trust

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Ut elit tellus, luctus nec ullamcorper mattis, pulvinar dapibus leo.Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet consectetur adipiscing elit dolor

The competition was organised by City Harvest Community Services Association and received support from FUN! Fund, a Community Impact Fund jointly established by the Community Foundation of Singapore and the Agency for Integrated Care, with the aim of addressing social isolation among the elderly.

Senior Minister of State, Ministry of Communications and Information & Ministry of National Development Mr Tan Kiat How attended the event. He encouraged the elderly to stay physically and mentally well, as well as urging them to participate in community activities and enjoy their golden years together.

Learn more about FUN! Fund at https://www.cf.org.sg/fun-fund/.

 

The programme provides the children with a non-threatening platform to connect with peers and have positive conversations. In addition, it exposes them to different people who can assist to broaden their perspectives.

L.S., a volunteer with the Reading Odyssey programme @ Spooner Road

中心“常胜将军”胡锦盛:比赛限时反应要快

现年92岁的胡锦盛是最年长的参赛者。自2017年退休后,他几乎每天都到活跃乐龄中心报到,从此爱上了玩拉密,每次可玩上三个小时,在中心是“常胜将军”。

Picture of admin bluecube
admin bluecube

Lorem Ipsum is simply dummy text of the printing and typesetting industry. Lorem Ipsum has been the industry's standard dummy text ever since the 1500s, when an unknown printer took a galley of type and scrambled it to make a type specimen book.

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