Community Care Through Collaborative Leadership

Partners in the NEICP reflect on how they have come together to help vulnerable children in their community in an integrated and holistic manner.


Date Posted

30 Apr 2019


Digital Issue 4, 29 Apr 2019


Ms Lim Kar Yee is Senior Director with the People’s Association. She looks after the five Community Development Councils (CDCs), which were set up in 1997 to promote community development. She is also a member of the Singapore Scouts Council.

Mr Gary Lim is Executive Director of the Singapore Scout Association (SSA) which has contributed to developing youths in Singapore since 1910.

Ms Tan-Wu Mei Ling is Executive Director of SHINE Children and Youth Services. SHINE is a social service organisation set up in 1976 to maximise the potential of children and youths.

What is ICP?

Read More


Kar Yee: About six years ago, we found some of the children in our district had no place to live, or were coming to school hungry, unwashed and so on.  This happened in a particular primary school. Then Education Minister Heng Swee Keat felt that everyone was working in silos on their individual missions, but not in an integrated manner. So he called for a meeting at the North East (NE) Community Development Council (CDC) office, and asked if there was something we could do for the children—together. And that’s how the integrated care programme started.

Mei Ling: The idea behind the North East Integrated Care Programme (ICP) is to integrate resources from different stakeholders, so that we can provide all round care for vulnerable children and through the children, also the families. This is to help vulnerable families be in a better position to provide sustained care and support for the children in the long term.

One of the key tools we used in the programme is called the FAST CDC screener tool, which is an adaptation of the FAST tool that the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) has been using nationally. It's used by professionals like counsellors, psychologists and social workers. MSF modified this tool such that our community partners, teachers and others can use it to identify vulnerable children, their families and their needs, at different levels. The programme is structured to address different level of needs.

We have got the grassroots coming in to support children with a lower level of needs. Low needs doesn't mean no needs. So we address these needs to pre-empt them from falling into a higher needs group. Those with Moderate needs are taken up by SHINE, as well as by the Scouts programmes.

For those in the High Needs, there are two groups. The first are those students with individual needs: their behaviour in school, their level of motivation and how they are relating to teachers, schoolwork and so on. The Scouts take on those with these individual needs into their school-based structured scouting programme. Those with High needs in relation to both the child and the family are taken on by SHINE as part of our casework.

A social worker is placed in the schools to attend to and support the children, reach out to the caregivers, work with school personnel and support them with casework. These social workers work very closely with the Community Development Council (CDC) to provide wrap-around care for the family.

The support provided can range from financial assistance to counselling for the family, to job searches, job placements and even housing. Recently we had a family who was displaced from their home because a fire broke out. They had to move to the grandmother's place. The child's school attendance was already poor and they were now on the other side of the island. Our social worker stepped in and worked with different parties to make alternative housing arrangements, so that the child's schooling wasn't disrupted.

Working through CDC makes a lot of sense for us because for every case, we typically need different agencies to come in to support the family. But for our social worker to go around knocking on every agency door for every family would take a lot of time. The difficulty in casework is if you don't have all these partners, you are forced to prioritise needs. But because the needs are interrelated, you may not resolve the final outcomes that way. With ICP, all the support can come together in a timely and facilitated manner, and at the end of it, the children's outcomes actually improve.

What the CDC does is aggregate resources: these are people that the CDC already interact with in their day-to-day work. They allow us a throughdoor to the parties who can help these families.

Kar Yee: We've found that in the course of building communities, very often, many organisations do not know who or where to turn to. And if we have a prominent aggregator in the community, which is the CDC in this case, it can help link organisations up to a lot of other resources that they may not know.

In the context of North-East ICP, the role of the CDC is very helpful because they bring in other resources beyond just programmes; they also have financial schemes as well. For example, they have emergency relief funds if their home was burnt down. If a home is very badly run down, they can bring in volunteers and corporate partners to come fix it. So in the context of the ICP, the CDC can help vulnerable families both with their programmes and by linking up with partners that they know.


Mei Ling: If we had not been on board this programme, if we were just to approach CDC as a partner, they would be able to help us on a case-by-case basis but it would need a bit more time to get things done.

This partnership allows the CDC's aggregator role to be more formalised and fit for purpose. The CDC has a liaison person set aside to work very closely with our social workers. They understand the needs of the programme. And they have also signed up a panel of support services, with a three-year commitment. So everybody is prepared to give our best to support the children in need. A formalised commitment facilitates the work.

Gary: It is good for us also to be able to plan ahead, because once you sign up for 3 years, you know your commitment. It allows us to plan our resources better. If you work piecemeal, year to year, it is very difficult to plan. Then as you constantly review your organisation and where you want to put your resources, there will be questions about whether it is worth doing this anymore. If you start peeling off one piece by one piece, the structure will fall.

Kar Yee: The good thing about the ICP is that we don’t force anybody to come on board. For example, the Scouts came on board because they saw that there was genuine need and that they could make an impact and difference. So I think this is an important principle of our collaboration.

We have continuous communication among ourselves. We have a shared common agenda and shared vision across all ten stakeholders, meaning our ten partners and the schools. We have a shared measurement tool, the CDC screener FAST tool, which we use both for screening and for measuring outcomes.

Another way we ensure that this collaboration works is that everybody is still doing their own thing, carrying out their own work in a mutually reinforcing way. But together we address a bigger piece of issue.

Collaborative leadership is a leadership of processes.

Mei Ling: Our formal commitment sets the context. But it is the needs of the whole which brings the stakeholders together. Through our ongoing communication and sharing, we understand where each other is coming from. We work out our differences. And we also know what the challenges are. And we help one another.

Recently, we have started doing joint fundraising together—we saw how hard it is to pitch to donors for funds, and we decided we can do it together. It came up because we communicate a lot and have built up trust, understanding, and a deeper appreciation of what we do. This has helped us to see how we can support each other.

The other thing that has come up for us from this communication is work we don't take on, because our partners can do it better. For example, at SHINE we are asked internally why we don't take on the kids with “individual high needs”, but refer them to the Scouts instead. And it is because, as we understand the Scouts model, we realise they can bring kids through from childhood all the way to adulthood. It’s a lifelong engagement. We know that to break the poverty cycle, we may need to engage some of these youths for life, so that their problems are not perpetuated to the next generation. That's something SHINE cannot do: people exit our programmes when they don't need our services anymore. But it is a natural fit for the Scouts' model.


Kar Yee: Collaborative leadership is a leadership of processes. Everyone is a leader but we don’t just look only at individual actions. We look at group action. Collaborative leadership means that we go along with the conversation and process, acknowledging each and everyone’s expertise. A good way to better understand this is through David Chrislip and Carl Larson’s Collaborative Leadershipbook.1

We don’t force our opinion on others. There’s a need for diversity. There’s a need for us to be able to confront each other in a civilised way and work out the solutions in a collective manner. We must all come to a consensus so that we can bring a strong community of collaborators.

People often think it is easy to put all the stakeholders at the same table and coordinate and collaborate. But the difference is whether you dare to speak out, dare to point out something you don’t think is the right thing to do. In ICP, we dare to defend our views and we dare to work out everything together and solve the problem together. Your process has to be right and you have to be patient. You cannot rush things to implementation.

Gary: I enjoy the working relationship in ICP even though there is no leader per se. Kar Yee acts like a facilitator or moderator. Discussions can get heated, but we all understand this is for the good of the project. I think that’s why things work out. Because we don’t force our opinions, we talk about them.

These conversations and their prompting remind us that we have other stakeholders, and that we need to consider the total picture. We are not alone in this work and need to find out what the rest think.

Kar Yee: We encourage people to surface this kind of emotion and be as authentic as they can. Authenticity is important: it shows passion. And if you are doing that, we can address the problem collectively. That is the strength of the community we have built.

You don’t want to end up having a situation where it becomes a politics of advocacy: where whoever advocates better wins, and those particular causes ends up being championed. In our case, our collaborative effort is based on wanting to achieve collective impact for a problem that is real and requires us to solve together.

Each partner has a role to play to achieve collective impact and to build a collaborative leadership culture. In this case, the People’s Association (PA) role through the CDC Planning & DeveIopment Division is also backbone support, besides helping to facilitate and safeguard the process, and ensuring that everybody is heard. If you want to forge a strong multi-stakeholder collaboration, then this particular role is critical to ensure the process is fair and balanced.

Fundamentally, you must listen to your partners. I think that’s the most important in building this culture amongst multiple stakeholders for long-term partnership in the community. And all the partners here are leaders, executive directors and principals and so on. But they set aside their egos, they look at the situation, they look at the children and their problems, and they solve those problems together.

We have reached a stage where everybody can say what they think and feel that is right, and we can then invite other people to have diverse opinions and share them. It makes the process easier.

In this networked world, influence goes beyond traditional ideas of leadership.

Mei Ling: In her role, Kar Yee looks ahead, facilitates and guides. And I think that’s important. We at SHINE are good at what we do as a social service organisation, because that’s our bread-and-butter. But we may not necessarily be good at, for example, articulating our work in an understandable manner to other stakeholders. Kar Yee will come in to give guidance on that aspect and we learn from her. And we may not necessarily know what it takes to support a child or youth through life. This is where we look to the Scouts for expertise. This kind of learning from each other is important. A lot of time goes into talking, meeting, understanding one another and working out what it is that we want to do together and how we want to do it.

You see just the three of us today, but at our stakeholders’ meeting, our teams come along with us. We can be very collaborative at the leadership level but if it doesn’t filter down to the ones that are doing the day-to-day work, they will feel frustrated.  But because they are part of the meeting processes, they have a say, they have a voice, and they hear the kind of challenges that we are trying to resolve. And they know how it is aligned with the work they do on the ground. At the ground, they align their work with it so that we can smoothen everything. That’s why we have 20 to 30 people in the meeting. They are all leaders: not just the executive directors. The social workers, the school counsellors, they too are leaders in their own right.

Kar Yee: Increasingly, in this networked world, influence goes beyond traditional ideas of leadership. If you want to solve complex problems, if you want to build community in a sustainable manner, it is very important to recognise that collaborative leadership is the way to go.

Gary: You need to have certain fundamentals in place in terms of values, beliefs and philosophies before you can even try to do that. I have no doubt it can be replicated. But it may take months or years for the right stars to align. Because we are talking about very different people, very diverse backgrounds, different beliefs.

Mei Ling: The question is: how do we build a culture and systems within the social service sector so that this becomes intuitive? Not because this or that person thinks like that, and therefore we come together. Essentially, we must have a lot of people thinking like that. So that in the day-to-day, we eat, breathe and talk this kind of culture, and we encounter it in the way we interact with one another. And the system and structures are also aligned, so it becomes part of the DNA of the social service sector.


  1. David D. Chrislip and Carl E. Larson, Collaborative Leadership: How Citizens and Civic Leaders Can Make a Difference (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1994).

Back to Ethos homepage