Harnessing human potential

30 May 2016 | General News
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Deputy Prime Minister Tharman speaking about social mobility and inclusion in his opening address

More than 250 academics, researchers and policy makers from 32 countries gathered at NUS University Town on 26 to 28 May to share their thoughts at an international conference on “Intergenerational Transfer, Human Capital and Inequality”. Hosted by the Centre for Family and Population Research (CFPR) at NUS Arts and Social Sciences, the International Sociological Association (ISA) Research Committee 28 on Social Stratification & Mobility (RC28) Conference was held for the first time in Southeast Asia.

Guest-of-Honour Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Singapore Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for Economic and Social Policies, highlighted the complex problems of social mobility and social inclusion in his opening address. Noting that these issues have led to inequality globally, the Singapore government has adopted two fundamental strategies, namely, human potential development and building inclusive neighbourhoods, to address these challenges.

Mr Tharman elaborated on early intervention to develop the human potential even before birth, and sustain the efforts through lifelong education. He said, “This requires local interventions in a local community setting, involving not just professionals but also friendly faces in the community.”

As for creating integrated neighbourhoods, an “activist state” is needed to bring people with different socio-economic status and ethnicities together. These neighbourhoods have to be regularly rejuvenated to avoid “broken windows”, added Mr Tharman.

Keynote speaker Dr Noeleen Heyzer, Social Scientist and Former United Nations Under-Secretary-General, spoke on “Harnessing Human Potential for a Sustainable, Secure Future of Shared Prosperity”. Focusing on Asia, Dr Heyzer, who is an NUS Trustee, pointed out that the “Asian miracle” has lifted many from poverty, yet widened the inequality gap. She examined the stumbling blocks to harnessing the human potential: rising inequality, changing demography, climate change and ecosystem threats, transnational risks and a flawed international financial system.

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From left: Prof Yeung, Dr Heyzer, Mr Tharman and Prof Ho Teck Hua, NUS Deputy President (Research and Technology) shared their views at the conference

To tap the full range of human potential, Dr Heyzer called for the concerted efforts from leaders, public institutions, private sector and citizens to relate to each other in mutual accountability “to shape a world that is fairer, more inclusive and more sustainable for ourselves and for the successive generations to come”. Transformative partnerships can help change the world but “they can only be built if they are based on shared values, shared vision and shared goals of placing people and planet in the centre of decision-making and resource allocation”, she exhorted.

Some 200 research papers were presented at the conference, examining patterns and consequences of intergenerational transfer of money, time, wealth, or psychological resources on human capital development. Findings from different countries based on longitudinal datasets and surveys were shared to help participants better understand issues and facilitate policy solutions.

Professor Jean Yeung, Director of CFPR who chaired the conference programme committee, stressed the criticality of human capital. “Making sure no one is left behind and to have the opportunity to develop to his or her full potential is important in ensuring a sustainable and safe society for the present and especially our future generations,” she said.