Empowering communities to seize the digital future

Last updated: 06 May 2021

Published on: 19 April 2021

By Erinne Ong

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, 30 percent of digital users in Singapore came online for the first time. Even long after the pandemic, the evolution of technology will continue to shape society, allowing us to connect with family and expand our businesses beyond borders or access essential services with a few clicks on a touchscreen.

To help communities embrace digital, the Digital for Life movement was officially announced at the launch of the President’s Challenge 2021 last 8 February 2021. With President Halimah Yacob as patron, the movement seeks to raise S$10 million to fund activities promoting digital inclusion, literacy and wellness.

Spotlighting the organisations and individuals championing these initiatives, the annual Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) Partners’ Appreciation event took place on 30 March 2021. By celebrating ongoing efforts, the ceremony aimed to invigorate participation in more community-led projects for digital inclusion.

Digital for all

Singapore’s vision to build a digitally ready and inclusive society is within reach, with everyone  playing a part in bringing digital to life for everyone. Today, about 89 percent of resident households have computer access, with a growing proportion of seniors using smartphones to access the Internet. Clearly, digital inclusion empowers citizens to leverage technology to overcome barriers—accessing opportunities like distance learning, remote work and telemedical services. 

“We want every member of our society to be able and ready to reap the digital dividend regardless of their starting point.” Minister for Communications and Information Mr S Iswaran

Supporting this vision, generous donors and dedicated volunteers have been the backbone of IMDA’s Digital Access Programmes the past few years, with over S$3 million raised in 2020 alone. “Combined with Government funding, these donations provided more than 20,000 low-income households and 6,400 seniors with much-needed access to laptops and smartphones,” highlighted Minister Iswaran. In addition, given the challenges of learning digital skills, over 6,000 volunteers from all walks of life dedicated 33,000 hours to turn seniors and children into bonafide digital citizens.

Celebrating a growing digital community

From procuring much-needed tech resources to finding people qualified to conduct training, enhancing the digital capabilities of a nation is only possible when the entire community comes together to contribute. Among the volunteer partners recognised during the event was the Institute of Technical Education, who organised classes on communication skills and e-payments. Meanwhile, Grab Singapore collaborated with IMDA to establish Merdeka Generation Digital Clinics assisting seniors in adapting to the digital way of life.

Mobilising youth volunteers and digitally-savvy seniors respectively, Youth Corps Singapore and RSVP Singapore helped seniors go digital at learning hubs and activity centres. Several staff volunteers also came from Standard Chartered Bank, a steadfast supporter of IMDA initiatives since 2017.

Devoting time and energy to make all these programmes a success, individuals with the most volunteering hours were also honoured during the ceremony with certificates of appreciation. Notably, the 2019 awardees were seniors Ms Teo Wee Lee Winnie for teaching digital banking; Ms Ho Piak Khoon for imparting smartphone usage tips; and Mr Tang Chee Mun for championing digital skills for the future. Having reaped the benefits of digitalisation, these seniors extended a helping hand to their peers as well.

Through the Code in the Community initiative, the top volunteers for 2020 Mr Marcus Foo Jun Rong, Ms Huin Wai Mun and Ms Andrea Yow Sin Yin taught coding to students from underprivileged backgrounds. “Your contributions and inspiring examples have had a profound impact on our national push towards digital inclusion,” commended Minister Iswaran.

Shaping a digitally inclusive nation

While the Digital for Life movement may have only been launched last February, several beneficiary agencies have already been empowering citizens from all walks of life to navigate the digital domain. As embracing digital is a lifelong endeavour, it only makes sense to start young. 

“We found that a lot of kids who had laptops didn’t know how to use them properly,” shared Mr Johann Annuar, Executive Director for humanitarian engineering organisation Engineering Good, in a pre-recorded video. Addressing this gap, the team will partner non-profit arts organisation 3Pumpkins and Project D.I.P to not only empower students with basic computer knowledge, but also equip them with laptop repair and computer troubleshooting skills.

Google’s Be Internet Awesome programme, in collaboration with the Media Literacy Council, teaches children to surf the web safely and securely through an immersive game called Interland. “Keeping children safe online is important to empowering those who shape our future,” said Mr Ben King, Singapore Country Director for Google. Moving forward, Google is in talks with the National University of Singapore to have their students introduce Interland to disadvantaged youths.

Meanwhile, after witnessing the isolating impacts of the pandemic, non-profit organisation TriGen, founded by healthcare professionals Ms Joanne Lee and Dr Kennedy Ng, launched Project Wire Up to provide seniors with smartphones, internet connectivity and one-on-one coaching by volunteers to connect them with family and healthcare networks.

“Equipping seniors with digital skills empowers them to build meaningful connections with others. It also gives them increased access to information and services, enabling them to stay relevant and age well today,” said Ms Lee, who is the lead on Project Wire Up.

TriGen is now exploring new digital tools to help seniors with their health. By working with like-minded partners, these organisations hope to expand their digital literacy initiatives so they can reach more sectors in need and leave no one behind.

Making the digital future possible

Indeed, ramping up Digital for Life efforts will be vital to enrich lives through digital technologies. For instance, Standard Chartered Bank and Keppel Corporation are contributing S$1.3 million to bring the Digital for Life fund to a total of S$3.8 million as of March 2021. With the Government matching donations dollar-for-dollar, non-profit organisations can garner support for their community projects when the Call for Proposals for Digital for Life Fund opens in the second quarter of 2021.

“We can and we will achieve more when we come together with strong partnerships between the people, private and public sectors. Let us all do our part to build a digitally inclusive future for all.” Minister S Iswaran.

Interested in bridging the digital divide? Visit http://www.go.gov.sg/digitalforlife for more information on how to help realise Singapore’s vision of a digitally inclusive society.