Left: PA Scholar Tiong Kiat is in the Strategic Planning Division, planning and liaising with external agencies for administrative and collaboration opportunity. He also organises and presents data to senior management so they can make informed decisions. He has a Bachelor of Social Science (Summa Cum Laude) from SMU.
Right: Toh Le Yi, PA Scholar, is a Constituency Manager at West Coast Community Office, managing the communications and social media portfolio. Concurrently, she is also managing various grassroots organisation committees that sees her supporting in the planning and execution of activities to meet the needs of their residents. She has a Bachelor of Social Sciences (Honours) from NUS.
The People’s Association (PA) connects people of all backgrounds and bonds the community closely together. Established in 1960 as a statutory board to promote racial harmony and social cohesion in Singapore, it has enabled people to make friends and build bonds through their courses, programmes and activities as they pursue common interests, be it a Zumba class or a cycling interest group.
Playing their part in this community-building network are PA Scholars Seah Tiong Kiat and Toh Le Yi. Tiong Kiat is in the Strategic Planning Division, planning and liaising with external agencies for administrative and collaboration opportunity. He also organises and presents data to senior management so they can make informed decisions. As for Le Yi, she is a Constituency Manager at West Coast Community Office (CO), managing the communications and social media portfolio. Concurrently, she is also managing various grassroots organisation committees that have her supporting in the planning and execution of activities to meet the needs of their residents.
Their steadfast devotion and dedication galvanise various initiatives and connect people to government and people to people, uniting all of Singapore.
The First Step
Interestingly, Tiong Kiat’s foray into self-help books in secondary school piqued his interest in the social sciences. He went on to pursue a diploma in psychology and developed a critical eye for how the world works around him. As he got to understand new perspectives, he began to think about ways he could give back and improve society.
The PA Scholarship showed him the way. “What PA offers is the opportunity to stay connected to the local community and remain grounded in the everyday realities of residents. That appeals to me because it is not something that many jobs can offer,” said Tiong Kiat
Le Yi exemplifies Tiong Kiat’s notion, having already been a grassroots leader in a Youth Network (YN) and a Residents Network (RN) prior to joining PA.
Her involvement had given her ideas about how things could be improved which she was determined to put into practice. “I wanted to do more to harness strengths within the community, and co-create localised programmes with my residents in addition to addressing their fears, concerns, and aspirations,” she recalled.
Hence, for them, the PA Scholarship was the chance of a lifetime – the opportunity to make a difference.
Learning the Ropes
The first “community” the scholars would be part of were their schools. They both studied Social Science; Tiong Kiat took up the degree in SMU while Le Yi went to NUS.
PA believes in supporting its scholars beyond academics, so Tiong Kiat did not limit himself to lectures and grades. With PA’s support, he went on exchange programmes, took up internships, and attended bonding sessions with other scholars. Scholars were even invited to do write-ups for events and emcee for various occasions to give them more exposure.
Le Yi also enjoyed extensive support from PA, embarking on study trips to France in 2017 and Korea in 2019, as well as a semester-long exchange to the Netherlands. PA also appreciated her passion for research, and signed her up for research traineeships and assistantships throughout her degree.
Their time in university has primed them for their role in PA in many ways.
“I like to joke that Social Sciences offers no tangible skill that is transferable to work,” Tiong Kiat laughed. “But the truth is, Social Science is much more subtle. It changes the way you see your work, values the work you do and ultimately how you do your work.”
Le Yi agreed: “Being mindful of and receptive towards the diverse interests of my stakeholders have made me better able to convey and manage expectations.”
Their studies cultivated in them compassion, empathy, and reflection – all essential qualities to succeed in PA, where cohesion is the end goal of its initiatives and programmes.
Building Communities Together
Today, Tiong Kiat’s role of gathering, organising and presenting data helps senior management make informed decisions that deliver the right assistance and services to residents on the ground. “The responsibilities include deriving PA’s strategic priorities through analysing the current reality and emerging trends,” he explained.
Even as he works with other agencies, he must keep PA’s mission constantly in mind, then figure out how the upcoming trends, concerns and aspirations of the people affect this strategic objective and incorporate their opinions and feelings into his reports.
Effective collaboration is a major part of Le Yi’s role as Constituency Manager for West Coast CO as well, where she serves as an administrator and facilitator in the formation, development and consolidation of volunteers and grassroots organisations at the constituency level.
While her day-to-day might involve managing the communications and social media portals, Le Yi sees the bigger picture in the simple tasks.
“To me, being a Constituency Manager is about developing an extensive, balanced ecosystem of volunteers,” she emphasised. “I believe it’s about empowering my volunteers with the capacity to innovate and devise novel engagement strategies so that we stay relevant in the community.”
Empowering those to Come
Another way to ensure PA stays relevant is with regular recruitment of new talent, which is why the scholars look forward to welcoming the next generation of scholars.
“PA is all about the people. Keep in mind when applying for the scholarship that the organisation is about building communities, bonding people, and promoting mutual understanding. This is the attitude that aspiring scholars should have,” advised Tiong Kiat.
Le Yi emphasised that prospective scholars must be aligned with the organisation in order to have a fruitful career. “Try to understand the organisation by reading up extensively and talking to people who are working in PA. With this information, think about what a purposeful career means for you, and whether a career in PA would fit. Ultimately, you know yourself best.”