Community Development

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“What should young people do with their lives today? Many things, obviously. But the most daring thing is to create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured.” 

― Kurt Vonnegut, Palm Sunday: An Autobiographical Collage

“The essential challenge is to transform the isolation and self-interest within our communities into connectedness and caring for the whole.”

― Peter Block, Community: The Structure of Belonging

There are many definitions of community development, and each are informed by specific values and ideologies, and specific contexts in time. But all appear to focus on empowering communities to be more self-reliant.



This overview provides a synopsis of the current knowledge base. Having considered all the information, we make sense of it by taking a stab at the following: 1) What are the priority issues that deserve attention, 2) What are opportunity areas that community or voluntary organisations can already take action on, and 3) What knowledge gaps deserve further investigation?

Priority Issues

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Actionable Opportunity Areas

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Knowledge Gaps

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[Here, we will take stock of how others have defined these terms, and arrive at our own definitions so that it can encompass the wide array of work and the relevant key constructs (e.g. participation, empowerment, social justice etc). Also how different groups define it could vary, eg government, social workers, community workers etc, so we should take note of this]

  • The purpose of community development is to create 'solidarity' and 'agency'. The approach is guided by the principles of encouraging self-help, attending to subjectively felt needs and supporting participation.[1] See also here).
  • S Vasoo has defined it as "planned changes undertaken through the efforts of the government, corporate sector and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) or voluntary welfare organisations (VWOs) to promote community better and and community problem solving" - ostensibly the goal is to promote self-help.

Empowerment/Social Justice Model

  • A democratic process where the community comes together to take collective action to determine its own needs and how they should be met (Ife, 2016; Ledwith, 2016). Expounded by the principles of social and environmental justice, Ledwith (2016) describes community development as the practice of “seeing the extraordinary in the ordinary” rooted in the vision of a far, just and sustainable world (p. 5). Its core values are empowerment, co-operation and collective learning, espousing the ideology of equality including respect, dignity, trust, mutuality and reciprocity.
  • "Community development is a practice-based profession and an academic discipline concerned with the organisation, education and empowerment of people within their communities" (International Association for Community Development) [2]

Models of Community Development

Jack Rothman 

Rothman (1995) identify three models of community organization and macro practice: Locality Development (Bottom-up), Social Planning (Top-down), Social Action (Inside-out). Rothman's three models of community practice have probably been one of the most influential conceptualizations of macro social work practice.

Checkoway[3] (1995) identifies six distinct strategies of community change:

• Mass Mobilization

• Social Action

• Citizen Participation

• Public Advocacy

• Popular Education

• Local Service Development

David Thomas [4]

Thomas’s (1983) five strands of community development:

  • Community Action: Confront those in power to bring about change; challenge existing socio-political structures.
  • Community Development: Emphasis is on self-help, collective action and mutual support in communities.
  • Social Planning: Utilise community needs assessments. Assessment of community’s social conditions; adequacy of community services; goal setting; programme development; and evaluation of programmes and services.
  • Community Organisation: Organising public, nonprofit and for-profit agencies to collaborate with one another to meet the community’s needs.
  • Service extension:  Make services available to those in communities who need these services. Reaching out to community members instead of expecting them to come to the agency.

Key Statistics & Figures

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Map of Key Needs & Issues

[This table and arrows acts as a kind of visual map that allows a sense of sequencing; of the broad preconditions necessary for longer term outcomes to be achieved. Hyperlink the categories below to the specific page or sub-header in the page for easy navigation, so that you can click on 'Employment' below for example, and get straight to that page / segment]

Click the links below to go directly to specific areas of interest:

Competency of Community Workers
Awareness & Sense of Belonging Local Response / Mutually Supportive Community Strong Communities
Access to Space & Resources
? Inclusive Communities


Issues Faced by Community Workers / Organisations

Competency of Community Workers

  • Desired Outcome: Skilled and competent practitioners are integral to the success of community development initiatives. They work alongside people in communities to help build relationships with key people and organisations and to identify common concerns. They also create opportunities for the community to learn skills and, by enabling people to act together, community development practitioners help to foster social inclusion and equality. Lackey & Pratuckchai (1991) analysed the skill sets required in community development work. They found that community and group organisation and community analysis skills were the most important, followed closely by leadership and human relations skills. Oral and written communication are also necessary, as are project and programme planning and needs assessment.[5]
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Existing Programmes Gaps & Their Causes Possible Solutions
Training & Certification
Communities of Practice & Networks
Training & Certification
  • Participate in Design school which hosts an array of workshops that exposes participants to the mindsets and skills of a participatory designer and community organiser that drives community change.
  • Skillseed ABCD methodology workshop: Students are put through a rigorous journey based on the Skillseed framework – connecting real world entrepreneurial concepts and their application for social impact.
Communities of Practice & Networks
  • Community Development Network
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Gaps and Their Causes

  1. Few NGOs in Singapore are actively engaged in community development work given their focus on service delivery and constraints in resources. The evolution of a localised understanding of community development and its methods have hence been protracted, and few social workers are exposed and equipped with community development skillsets while on their jobs.[6]  
  2. Lack of systematic consolidation and review of community development initiatives in Singapore. Catherine Briscoe’s review of community work approaches of Family Service Centres in 2005, the IPS Exchange Series No.12 “Mobilising Diverse Community Assets to Meet Social Needs” in 2017 and S Vasoo’s book “Community Development Arenas in Singapore” in 2019 are all important works contributing to the literature on community development in Singapore. However, they remain relatively sparse and do not provide a comprehensive understanding of the knowledge and skills required by community development professionals. It is hence unclear whether community development education curriculum in schools truly impart the skillsets needed on-the-ground.[5] Indeed, academic-practitioner Ng Guat Tin highlights that there appeared to be less professional emphasis on community work, with more attention given to work with individuals, small groups and families. The Department of Social Work at the National University of Singapore offers one compulsory course in community work practice, in its undergraduate major in social work. SIM University offers more in its Bachelor of Social Work: one compulsory course and two elective courses in community development. The only post-graduate community development course is a joint-venture of SIM University and the People’s Association, initiated in 2012.[6]

Possible Solutions

  1. Funding community development initiatives of NGOs in enabling them to hire social workers who can dedicate the bulk of their time and energy towards community development work instead of casework.
  2. Communities of practice that engage and empower changemakers to enact change within their communities through their preferred means. For example, US-based NGO National Art Strategies (NAS) trains and supports cultural leaders in creating positive community change through arts and culture. 
  3. Working closely with the existing resources listed above. For example, students from the NUS Chua Thian Poh Community Leadership Center would have performed research of their own on certain communities, and these insights and research could be better channelled to the different stakeholders.

Local Response, Fostering an Endogenous Process

  • Desired Outcome: One of the cardinal principles of ABCD is that it should be a community-driven process. The role of community agencies should be as facilitators of a process, and as nodes in a widening network of connections the community may have with other actors.[7] The challenge is to avoid a level of involvement that can induce dependency. This challenge is especially pervasive within Singapore whose residents have been systematically disempowered by a tough administrative state that has largely been able to deliver results, and a social sector whose culture is saturated in services.[8]
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Existing Resources

An increasingly critical citizenry – which includes prominent academics and establishment figures – have created an impressive momentum on the issues of inequality and social mobility in recent times. Most notably, Teo You Yenn’s This is What Inequality Looks Like challenges the popular notion of poverty as just an issue of the individual, reframing it instead as a wider societal problem perpetuated by socio-political norms and public institutions.[9] Further exploring this theme through a behaviourist approach, Qiyan Ong, Walter Theseria and Irene Y.H. Ng investigated how financial stains impairs the ability of low-income individuals to make “good” decisions.[10] Ng Kok Hoe’s national homelessness survey also uncovered the limitations of HDB’s public rental housing scheme which at present is not a viable option for some and the lack of a social safety net to support individuals in low-wage and insecure work.[11]

Interests in community ownership of social issues has, therefore, emerged in recent times. Taking heed, numerous NGOs have begun to engage in asset-based community development to encourage community-driven solutions.  

Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee on ComLink: "Most importantly, ComLink will develop a sense of community and mutual help, with neighbours supporting one another in their journeys." [12] MSF also plans to start a pilot Localised Community Network (LCN) programme in the Boon Lay and Jurong West region to come up with ways to better support at-risk youth and their families.This comes under the work of the National Committee on Prevention, Rehabilitation and Recidivism.[12]

Gaps and Their Causes

  1. A comprehensive set of localised community organising tools, as well as practitioners equipped in them, to drive an endogenous process to community development. As practitioners pioneering the Community for Successful Ageing (ComSA) at Tsao Foundation as found, Singaporean seniors have been well taken care of by our government and social service agencies. As such, most of us have become reliant and will seek help from authorities if we face any issue in the community.[6]
  2. Incentives for social service agencies to want to engage in community development work given that service provision appears to make up the bulk of their work and their funding.
  3. Support from the wider community appears to be lacking, including grassroots organisations and members of the public who are less familiar with ABCD concepts and methodologies.[6] 

Possible Solutions

  1. Further development of a localised, effective set of ABCD methods to foster community ownership would be tremendously helpful for practitioners on-the-ground.
  2. Signals and tangible assistance from the government in support of ABCD initiatives would encourage more NGOs to them up in their work.

Supporting Inclusive Participation

  • Desired Outcome: While ABCD is, in principle, an inclusive process in which the contributions of all are valued and appreciated, overcoming institutionalised exclusion (and the complementary acquiescence of the powerless) is no simple task. Of particular concern are the opportunities for women and the opportunities for lower-caste or -class groups to build confidence and ‘occupy the space’ for participation. Neither ABCD nor appreciative inquiry directly confronts the issue of unequal power and its attendant oppressions; instead, both tend to appeal to the higher motive of using power to act in the shared interests of the common good, and to uncover the strengths of those who might otherwise be less valued. Nevertheless, an ABCD approach can be applied in work with the most disadvantaged within the community along with or separate from a more comprehensive community effort. It is also a mobilising strategy that can be complemented by the kind of civic education associated with rights-based approaches to development.
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Existing Resources

S/N Resource Details
1 Community Mediation Centres under Ministry of Law Aims to to provide an attractive, practical and convenient solution for social and community disputes in Singapore.
2 Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act's Community Remedial Initiative Under this programme, the offender could be asked to apologise privately or publicly, or asked to participate in activities by the offended religion, giving the offender opportunities to understand the religion that he has insulted, and learn about Singapore’s multi-religious society.


3 Community Disputes Resolution Tribunals (CDRT) under Ministry of Law Disputing neighbours can conduct mediation sessions online to try to settle their differences.

Gaps and Their Causes

Effective methodologies that practitioners could adopt in resolving community conflicts within informal community spaces and empowering minorities whose socio-cultural context typically renders them invisible.

Possible Solutions

Developing communicative spaces for minorities to participate in community development initiatives, mainstream discourses and policy platforms

Assessing the impact of community development initiatives

  • Desired Outcome: Non-profit organisations and their funders are increasingly asking for more data on “impact”. Funders want to see clearer evidence that their money is making a difference. Non-profits themselves also want to know if their programmes are working – and how they can further improve.
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Existing Resources

  1. Budding ABCD initiatives on-the-ground by committed NGOS with rudimentary performance management practices
  2. Social impact consultancies that specialise in performance management (such as Conjunct Consulting)
  3. Publicly available toolkits, such as Social Return On Investment (SROI) methodologies

Gaps and Their Causes

There is currently a very limited evidence base for the effectiveness of ABCD programmes in support low-income communities to improve their standards of living. This is in part because the assets, methods and outcomes in ABCD rest on a process orientation that may be difficult to adequately capture in conventional programme evaluation approaches and timescales. ABCD anticipates wider and potentially longer-term process benefits that may also need to be captured and appreciated to describe the full benefits.[13]

Moreover, ABCD may well present a problem in that it explicit favours interpretation through the value frameworks brought into being through its process by which the participants, local communities, and actors understand outcomes. These localized value systems may be difficult to translate into the value frames required of central policymakers.[13]

In addition, across most voluntary organizations in Singapore, there is clear evidence that performance information had been primarily used for meeting reporting requirements, much less for achieving accountability and improvement. Performance management within the social service sector has largely overlooked the importance of articulating and testing the theory of change underlying the social intervention in question. Yet such testing formed the logical basis for learning what value the intervention brought about.[14]

Possible Solutions

  1. Understanding from granters of the unique challenges of ABCD in support of grantees who are adopting the approach. For example, traditional performance measures, project goals and timeline management designed for social services cannot be imposed upon ABCD-based programmes.
  2. Development of new performance management approach for ABCD-based programmes that encapsulates the complexity, fluidity and dynamisms of community work.  

Space for community activities

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Existing Resources a MCCY portal to help interest groups find meeting spaces

A Good Space, located in the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre host changemakers looking to make their mark on any community issues in Singapore. Requirements include a programme that reaches out to the general public as opposed to a specific group.

The Red Box by Youth Corps Singapore (YCS) is a space for changemakers looking to reach out to a population of youths aged 16 to 35 years old. Ideally, events held should target one of YCS’ six interest-based clusters

Singapore Sports Hub Library offers seminar rooms and open-areas for individuals looking to organize not-for-profit (i.e. free for participants) events related to Sports Health and Wellness.  

Co-working spaces such as the Hive often allow event-organisers to host seminars or discussions at any of their many venues available at a cost.  

Background and History of Community Development in Singapore

[Such a detailed history seems out of place here in this wiki page, which is primarily to map out needs, assets & determine gaps. Such context is better placed in a research paper and possibly should stay there? To see what is relevant and integratable.]

Socio-political Norms of Singapore

Singapore’s socio-political background brings out important elements in the social processes of community development. The laws, regulations and political norms are signals that practitioners consider when mobilizing residents in their community development work and are intricately linked to a PAP-centric historical narrative.[15] They revolve around maintaining political hegemony through suppressing confrontation, quelling dissent in the name of social stability and economic progress, and using the law to achieve these aims.[15] Understanding the connections of these laws, regulations, and political norms to this narrative has implications for evaluating the evolution of community development in Singapore.

Singapore is a small city-state, with a majority ethnic Chinese population, which is surrounded by larger Malay and Muslim-majority nations, Malaysia and Indonesia. The country has been described as a ‘Chinese nut in a Malay nutcracker’.[16]  This self-assessment has formed the basis of Singapore’s ‘survival’ mindset. The belief is that Singapore is perpetually facing existential threats because of a few factors: firstly, the international system of nation-states favours large states; secondly, the primordial forces of ethnicity and religion are perennial causes for concerns; and thirdly, history has proven beyond doubt that its neighbours have harboured ill-intentions towards the nation-state’s survival.[17]

The insecurities of being a Chinese-majority nation in a predominantly Malay–Muslim region has led to ‘survival’ dominating discourses in the country, so much so that survival has become a “one-word political slogan” that has underpinned the PAP’s reading of Singapore’s many national challenges.[18] The PAP constantly reminds Singaporeans of their nation’s tumultuous conception and touts social harmony as essential to economic survival. To achieve its economic agenda of transforming the postcolonial state into an attractive international financial and trade center, the PAP government aggressively deploys its particular brand of rule of law, which is adherence to rules and procedures rather than the protection and vindication of rights and equality.[15] In fact, political commenters describe the PAP as trading off civil-political rights for economic prosperity and social stability, a bargain that remains to this day.[15]

Within five decades, the island transformed into a nation with the world’s sixth highest gross domestic product, one of the freest economies and one of the busiest seaports.  Meanwhile, as part of the trade-off, the PAP government imposes legal restrictions to curb civil-political liberties and political access provided by its Westminster-style Constitution and in some instances retain, or even enhance, the restrictions already put in place by former British colonial masters. Those who transgress these restrictions are delegitimized through the legal process.[15]

This socio-political background informs contemporary laws and political norms in Singapore.

Early independence of Singapore (1965-1970s)

From Singapore’s early days of independence, the PAP government has erected several formal barriers to civil-political liberties and democratic processes that restricted collective mobilisation efforts that are central to community development work. Additionally, unofficial political norms are socially constructed by practitioners on the basis of their interpretations of the PAP government’s actions and rhetoric.[15] Over time, practitioners have internalised the principle of nonconfrontation in which the civil society organisations must differ to the opinions and interests of the state (bearing in mind their conflation of the state with the ruling party), and avoid open antagonism with the state. 

The Jurong Industrial Mission (JIM), a Catholic VWO that pioneered community work in Taman Jurong, was pressured into ceasing their operations in 1971 after warnings by the government. According to a government press release by the Ministry of Home Affairs dated December 1987, JIM was used by leftists and Marxists as a cover to stir up industrial unrest in Jurong. Despite Alinsky’s advocacy and use of conflict tactics and confrontational stance, he was not known to be a Marxist, believing instead in the American dream of a democratic, free society.[6]

Around the same time, Nazareth Centre was spearheading community work in the Bukit Ho Swee housing estate and had stirred concerns among the political elites because of their ability to mobilise the youth. Sister Sabine, the founder of the Centre, as subjected to internal security scrutiny. She then “retired” in 1969 due to poor health. Nazareth Centre stopped its community work and turned to the provision of social services instead. It is now operating under the name of Beyond Social Services.[6]

The demise of JIM and the change in approach of Nazareth Centre’s community development signalled a strong message to the voluntary welfare sector at that time that the use of a social action approach in community work, in the form of galvanising groups of people who were confrontational, was out of bounds. 

Growth years of Singapore (1981-1990s)

The growth years of Singapore saw the institutionalisation of a non-confrontational, planned, service-delivery model of community development within Singapore through the proliferation of compliant Family Service Centres.

In 1977, at the same time when Residents’ Committees were springing up all over Singapore, the Ministry of Social Affairs (the forerunner of the present-day Ministry of Social and Family Development) established a family service centre (FSC) in the MacPherson housing estate. The objective of setting up the FSC was to help prevent or reduce the incidence of social problems, with community involvement, at the grass-roots level. The focus of the pioneering FSC was on community organising rather than family work or counselling. As a result, there were conscious and conscientious efforts to work with and involve local community agencies such as Citizens’ Consultative Committees, Community Centre Management Committee, schools, small groups and volunteers to improve community well-being in MacPherson. At the end of the pilot project phase (in 1980), the FSC ceased operations despite its apparent success in mobilising local community residents to identify and address local needs.[6]

The FSC model was resuscitated in 1989 with the establishment of four pilot FSCs to provide family services for destitute families, to harness volunteer participation, and to mobilise community resources to assist families in need. Subsequently, more FSCs were set up by various voluntary welfare organisations, in different constituencies in Singapore. These FSCs are expected to engage the local community in which they are located but the intensity in which they have engaged in community networking and community organising were generally lacklustre.

In her study of 35 FSCs in Singapore, Briscoe (2005) explored the usage of seven different modes of community development. She found that the usage of two modes — Social Action and Social Movements — were low. Respondents appeared to be wary of being confrontational with the authorities or criticising public policies. Some respondents said that feedback on government policies were given discreetly. In contrast, there was higher usage of three other modes that had a social service delivery focus —Programme Development and Community Liaison; Community Coalition Building; and Community Education. As for the remaining two modes — Social Planning/Policy and Locality Development —there were also reservations about their usage. [19]

Consequently, in planning for social programmes and services, the government and social service agencies (SSAs) have traditionally focused on identifying and meeting the needs of the low-income that they have prioritised. The autonomy of deciding what change and how the change is carried out lies with the ministry and SSAs. The social programmes and services that follow from their decisions then place greater emphasis on empowering individuals to become “self-reliant” than on the empowerment of the community as a unit. Given the efficiency of the government and SSAs, such needs-based community development (NBCD) efforts are often able to achieve better outcomes for the community within a short time span.

Community Development in Present Day Singapore

Nevertheless, NBCD has major limitations if solely relied upon as a guide.[20] It may foster a pervasive feeling of hopelessness when people in low-income communities internalise a view of themselves as incapable of initiating positive change. Teo You Yenn wrote about how low-income individuals often feel negatively judged and belittled in their interactions with people in positions of authority, including social service professionals, as they navigate Singapore’s social welfare system.[9]

Beyond weakening communities, NCBD-based programmes are often unable to help the low-income in a comprehensive and dignified way. In NCBD, the government’s framing of social problems and its solution dominates that of the community.[6] Satveer Kaur examined how subaltern voices are erased from our national discourse and policy platforms on poverty, resulting in state-provided welfare assistance that is often decontextualized from the lived experiences of the low-income.[21]

These limitations have led to a surge of interest in asset-based community development (ABCD) in Singapore as an alternative approach to improve the wellbeing of low-income communities.  ABCD principles itself on members of a community driving the development of their neighbourhood by identifying and mobilising existing but often untapped assets, thereby creating local opportunities for change. It places importance on harnessing the social capital existing in informal networks and formal institutional resources, such as local government, formal community-based organisations and private enterprise, to drive the community development process.[7]

Social service agencies (SSAs) and other professional groups in Singapore are already adapting the ABCD approach to their programmes and services. Some are complementing their needs-based approach with ABCD principles through a variety of ways. The Sree Narayana Mission empowers their clients by engaging and training them to become seasoned volunteers within their community. Participate in Design (P!D) brings residents and other stakeholders in the planning and designing of their neighbourhood. Their participatory design projects have demonstrated that every individual has something positive to contribute to the design process, and that everyone can be collaborators and not merely consumers. 

Others have started new ABCD-based programmes alongside their ongoing needs-based services. Instead of delivering services, these ABCD-based programmes focus on building the capacity of the community to overcome their challenges. Beyond Social Service’s Youth United Programme aims to fend off delinquency by providing a nurturing environment for youths from less privileged families. A significant bulk of their work involves developing communities from the inside out and strengthening human resources to be better able to organise and act on the issues their children and youth face. 

Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD)

Coined by Kretzmann & McKnight (1996), it refers to the practice of discovering a community's capacities and assets as a means to sustainable community development. As opposed to a needs-based approach to looking at communities, which sees and keeps people as dependent, in a perpetual state of survival, helpless and even performative agents of a social service/aid system, taking an ABCD approach means taking account of the following "assets" and how they can help solve social problems:

  • Gifts: This refers to talents, skills and capacities of community residents - everyone is assumed to have something to offer one another. From labelled people to youth to the low income, all individuals are regarded as full participants in the community-building process
  • Associations: Refers to informal social associations in entities such as social groups, places of workship, neighbourhood associations etc.
  • Institutions. Comprises private businesses, public institutions, VWOs and other more formal entities.

Mapping these assets then allows them to be more effectively employed to meet communities' internal needs. Such a method will inevitably be very relationship-driven.

Asset-based community development focuses on identifying and capitalizing on the tangible and intangible assets available to a community, rather than on what it lacks.

NOTE: This does not mean that communities do not need additional resources from the outside - rather, outside resources will be more effectively used and invested when community assets are already fully mobilised, and when communities have a say in the conditions by which these resources are obtained.

Asset-based community development (ABCD) focuses more on the communities’ strengths and assets as a way to inspire positive change. It allows for the community to drive the development themselves by identifying existing assets. ABCD is seen as a promising strategy for community development and could be used as a framework for organisations and governments.

ABCD is a strategy for sustainable community-driven development. Beyond the mobilization of a particular community, ABCD is concerned with how to link micro-assets to the macro environment. In other words, there is attention paid to the boundaries of community and how to position the community in relation to local institutions and the external economic environment on which its continued prosperity depends.[22]

ABCD encourages the community to use their own assets and resources as a basis for development, and the methods promote the people of the community to focus on what they already possess and leverage existing and potential strengths (Mathie, Cameron & Gibson, 2017). It seeks to identify and capitalize on the tangible and intangible assets available to a community, rather than on what it lacks.

ABCD focuses on the strengths and potentials in a community, and identifies its resources and mobilises individuals, groups, associations, organisations, institutions to come together for the betterment of the community.

Localised Methodologies of Asset-Based Community Development in Singapore

There have been many community development and empowerment models where the needs are identified by the community and they mobilise themselves into action. These models are similar to ABCD because they often aim to enhance mutual support and collective action to mobilize support. However, an asset-based approach to community development are distinctive because they focus on identifying and building on the strengths, or “assets” of individuals and communities. However, ABCD currently lacks conceptual and methodological clarity in Singapore especially because her NGOs operate in a unique socio-political climate which discourages open confrontation with the state and conventional forms of community organising prevalent in more liberal Western countries. This section, therefore, investigates how NGOs in Singapore have adapted ABCD methodologies in response to the formal barriers to collective mobilization and political norms. 

1. Asset Mapping

Asset mapping is used to document a community’s existing resources, incorporating these strengths into community development work. The process of asset mapping typically includes identifying the institutions, individuals, and citizen associations existing within communities that serve as positive resources.

An NGO at the forefront of this in Singapore is Geylang Adventures. Geylang Adventures was started in 2014 for the purpose of exhibiting the not-so-commonly-seen side of Geylang as a cultural and food enclave, beyond its notorious reputation as a red-light district. Its team regularly conducts tours of Geylang in which they explore community issues like overcrowding from the influx of foreign workers and the social stigma of prostitution, as well as how its residents have adapted to them over time. 

Another NGO actively conducting asset-mapping is South Central Community Family Service Centre (SCCFSC). SCCFSC uses a “capacity inventory tool” to identify and mobilise the gifts and skills of residents. Its community social workers would regularly conduct house visits to share about its community development initiative, take stock of the gifts and skills that residents are willing to contribute to their community and link them up with fellow residents who need assistance. 

Geographic Information Systems [GIS] is a computer-based mapping system for online mapping. It can be used as a community assessment tool to collect information about the community’s needs and assets. Allowing community practitioners to collect, organise and display data in relation to geographic location (place). It can also help community members to build a sense of community ownership and help people to see and to understand their communities in different ways.

2. Appreciative Inquiry

In the initial phases of ABCD, the approach to mobilising communities has much in common with appreciative inquiry. Appreciative inquiry is a process that promotes positive change (in organisations or communities) by focusing on peak experiences and successes of the past. It relies on interviews and storytelling that draw out these positive memories, and on a collective analysis of the elements of success. This analysis becomes the reference point for further community action.[7]

The Between Two Homes project by the Dakota Adventures and Run & Gun Media is a prime example of the utilisation of appreciative inquiry in community development work. The project came together towards the end of 2016, as the residents of Dakota Crescent started to relocate. It saw to the creation of a multimedia website to document the relocation process and explore how the community could come together to preserve memories of a place and render assistance to those affected by relocation.

3. Building Social Capital

At the core of ABCD is its focus on social relationships. Formal and informal associations, networks, and extended families are treated as assets and also as the means to mobilise other assets of the community. By treating relationships as assets, ABCD is a practical application of the concept of social capital.[7]

The Goodlife! Makan Kitchen is an attempted undertaken by Montfort Care from 2016 to build the bonding social capital among the residents in their community. Operating from a void deck, at Block 52, Marine Parade, Goodlife! Makan Kitchen comprised 160 square metres, with eight stoves and a separate cooking area for Muslims. The programme targeted older residents living alone and enlisted their active involvement in running the kitchen: organising themselves to buy food ingredients, deciding what to cook, preparing food and cleaning up.

4. Community Conversations

Community organisers utilities community conversations to convene community stakeholders to initiate a dialogue about issues, aspirations and transformations within the community, discuss a shared future and delineate their roles in the creation of that future. 

Both Sides, Now (BSN) is a multi-disciplinary immersive arts experience focusing on end of life (EOL) issues. It includes a range of activities such as theatre productions, puppet shows, visual artworks and arts-based workshops – all designed to help people think about and discuss the topic of dying. In its third iteration, BSN focused on Telok Blangah and Chong Pang neighbourhoods, both of which have higher percentages of senior residents.

5. Participatory Appraisal

Participatory appraisal involves engagement of the people who are the community of concern as co-researchers in the research process. This act of engagement involves a sharing of power, a democratization of the research process, and an action component.[23]

Mohan J. Dutta, Satveer Kaur-Gill, Naomi Tan and Nina Venkataraman’s research project on food insecurity in Singapore had adopted such a participatory appraisal method. Their research focused on uncovering the meanings of food insecurity in the everyday experiences of health among the poor in Singapore. In the process, they formed a steering group of 10-15 residents in each of the communities they were in. These steering groups would drove the development of the design for future interview and focus group-based data gathering, sense-making of data and the development of solutions.  Concurrently, community-wide workshops involving local community members will guide the development and fine-tuning of solutions to be implemented.[21]

Local Initiatives

Cassia Resettlement Team -- See opinion piece in Today written by CRT

Lin Shiyun and team. -- a community artist and her works in and with the community include: Let’s Go PLay OutSide! (, The Rubbish Prince ( and more.

Good Neighbour Award -- Launched in 2009, the Good Neighbour Award recognises and honours residents who go the extra mile to enrich their community with exemplary acts of care and neighbourliness. The Award is jointly organised by HDB and People's Association (PA), and supported by the Singapore Kindness Movement (SKM) and Singapore Press Holdings (SPH).

Friendzone -- Helps creating community amongst young adults in their neighbourhoods. It begins with a hangout at the void deck where you will meet other interesting people in your hood and connect with them over meaningful conversation.

Community Kitchen GoodLife! Makan by Montfort Care

Project 4650 by Dr Mohamad Maliki Osman in his capacity as both the Mayor for South East District and Adviser to Siglap Grassroots Organisations.

ComSA by Tsao Foundation.

OpenJio - a telegram channel that publicises events happening in the social space with the goal of developing a learning community of people who care about social causes.

Resource Directory

Story Builders

Our Grandfather Story

A digital video publisher that documents, curates and retells authentic stories across Southeast Asia.

The Hidden Good

A team of content curators and creators

Our Better World

A digital storytelling initiative by the Singapore International Foundation, that aims to deliver stories of community initiatives around Asia that create social impact.

Associations and Networks

International Association for Community Development

The Constellation

A network of individuals, groups, communities and organisations all over the world working to “connect local responses around the world”.

Democratic Innovations and Civic Participation

Founded in 2000 at the University of Maryland as a research center dedicated to the pursuit of democratic renewal, increased civic participation, and community revitalization

Resources on building community wealth, set up by the Democracy Collaborative

"A global community sharing knowledge and stories about public participation and democratic innovations"

Sorted by case studies and approaches (eg participatory budgeting, deliberative polling, citizen's jury). You can post your own cases too.

ABCD Resources

S/N Resource Description
1 Useful starter kit for practitioners who want to do Asset-Based Community Development
2 Saul Alinsky texts:
3 Re-experiencing the ‘Rojak’ - Narrative Therapy and Community Work in Singapore The Community of Practice (COP) for Narrative Therapy and Community Work under the Social Service Institute showcases how narrative therapy could be used for community development in Singapore. In particular, Chapter 9 and 10 provides an account of the use of narrative theory in community development.
4 Community Tool Box by the University of Kansas The University of Kansas provides step-by-step toolkits of doing work in the community. It includes topics on how to create and maintain coalitions and partnerships, assessing community needs and resources, development a framework or model of change, advocating for change, influencing policy development, evaluating the initiative and others.
5 Community-Based Participatory Research (CBPR) Often used in studies relating to minority groups and vulnerable communities, community-based participatory research (CBPR) is a methodology that encourages active and equal partnerships between community members and researchers. While there is no agreed-upon set of principles and approaches for CBPR, this paper by Fallon and Dearry shares 6 key principles practitioners could reference and adapt for their own community development projects.
6 The Community Canvas The Community Canvas is a framework that helps people and organizations build stronger communities. It provides a template for anyone who brings people together. More resources:

Voluntary Organisations that do Community Development work

ArtsWok Collaborative

IPS case study on ArtsWok

AMKFSC Community Services

Beyond Social Services

IPS case study on Beyond Social Services

A charity dedicated to helping children and youths from less privileged backgrounds break away from the poverty cycle. 

One example of the community development programmes Beyond Social Services has executed is The Community Tabung. Launched in 2013, it is a savings programme that encourages low-income families to top up their children’s Child Development Account (CDA). Every child brings home a tabung (“savings bank” in Malay) where family members and even the child are encouraged to contribute. Each month, Tabung Counting Days are conducted, and each child’s savings is then poured into a community savings pool. Through a multiplier strategy, the collective savings are matched by the donor and government, yielding a greater savings deposit. This programme was designed to encourage personal and collective responsibility for participants as part of a community where there is “give and take”.

Other initiatives by Beyond Social Services are their seasonal festive baking projects. Beyond Social Services secures orders for cookies from corporations to assist low-income families to earn some income. Beyond then cooperates with Caritas Singapore, the social and charitable arm of the Catholic Church, to use their baking facility at Agape Village. Representatives from the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore then performs Sertu, a cleansing ritual which guarantees Muslims that the cookies prepared will be appropriate for their consumption. Suppliers also grant substantial discounts and volunteers offer labour and expertise to the low-income families. Through this programme, community relationships are forged where religious differences and vested interests are set aside.

Filos Community Services

Marine Parade Family Service Centre

There is a community outreach team working with the homeless at East Coast)

South Central Community Family Service Centre (SCC)

Tsao Foundation Community for Successful Ageing (ComSA)

Formal Grassroots Community Building Efforts

S/N Organisation/


Description Role & Function Challenges
1 People’s Association (PA) People’s Association (PA) is a statutory body overseeing neighbourhood efforts to coordinate the work of grassroot organisations (GROs). These GROs include the Citizens' Consultative Committees (CCCs), Community Club Management Committees (CCMCs), Residents' Committees (RCs) in public housing estates and Neighbourhood Committees (NCs) in private housing estates. They encourage community involvement, raise awareness about community issues, explain government policies and reflect feedback from residents as part of the community development efforts. Staff at PA are fully paid and do not partake in decision making processes, providing support to these GROs.  
2 Citizens' Consultative Committees (CCCs) Citizens' Consultative Committees (CCCs) are comprised of residents of different ethnic origins and residents  with some local standing in community affairs or with connections with a number of voluntary organisations such as clan association, merchants' organisation and trade unions. As members of the CCCs are drawn from the informal leaders within and outside constituencies, some of them have acquired the role of mediators between residents and the Government. Besides the CCCs' intermediary role, they lead and plan grassroots activities and oversee community welfare programmes on a constituency-wide basis  Vasoo argues that the community development roles adopted by the CCC were more significant in the 1960-70s as they were more focused on improving the material well being of residents. However, members of the CCC will need to be able to adapt and solve the more complex problems of the urban high rise environment in Singapore.
3 Residents’ Committee (RCs) Introduced in 1978

Neighbourhood level organisation, ran by residents to promote neighbourliness, racial harmony and community cohesiveness amongst residents within their respective RC zones in Housing and Development Board estates.

Liaise with and make recommendations to government authorities on the needs and aspirations of residents; 

Disseminate information and gather feedback on government policies and actions from residents; and promote good citizenship amongst residents. 

Provide a platform for social interaction and support networks to form, tackling problems associated with urban life, such as anomie and social isolation  


educated and younger residents could be enlisted to deal with more complex community

needs and aspiration  


Although funding from Government is limited, this does not deter the RCs from organising activities which can be self-financing.  

Fees for activities are on the whole, affordable.

The RCs have implemented many community activities since their inauguration and residents have benefited directly or indirectly from their involvement.

Declining resources and increased competition for funds to sustain their work.  

Small leadership base.

The more active the RC becomes, the more burdensome it will be on a few leaders who are active. 

Limited physical facilities, hence they face constraints to organise ongoing activities. 

Lack of research and evaluation on RC programmes.

4 National Community Leadership Institute (NACLI) National Community Leadership Institute (NACLI) is the community leadership development arm of the PA. Previously known as the Buona Vista Youth Leadership Training Centre, it provides leadership development programmes to equip grassroot leaders and PA professional staff with the [null skills and competencies required for community development work.]    

Informal Community Networks

S/N Community group Description
1 Cassia Resettlement Team Cassia Resettlement Team (CRT) is a ground-up volunteer group who are engaged with supporting residents who have been relocated from rental flat communities in Dakota Crescent and Sims Drive to Cassia Crescent. How were they able to galvanise civic action, creating a community to meet the needs of strangers and building relationships? What can we learn from their experience? Through their work, this case study "Moving People: Taking Civic Action" distils several considerations for civic action.
2 Both Sides, Now On Death And Dying: Vital Signs For A Healthy Civic Dialogue - This case study is interested in understanding how the arts can contribute towards civic dialogue in Singapore, especially concerning sensitive or taboo topics. Through the discussion of Both Sides, Now, a multi-year arts-based community engagement project on end-of-life issues produced by Drama Box and ArtsWok Collaborative, this case study shares what healthy civic dialogue can be, as well as the conditions necessary for this to happen.
3 Repair Kopitiam Repair Kopitiam is an initiative to bring the community together through repair so as to combat the throw away culture for a sustainable world. It presents itself as an interesting case study that rallies the community around the issue of environmental sustainability, and in combating the Buy-and-Throw-Away culture that is prevalent in modern society.
4 OH! Open House An independent arts organisation that tells alternative stories of Singapore through art. Since 2009, they have brought the appreciation of art beyond formal, conventional spaces such as museums and galleries, to common spaces such as strangers’ homes and underutilised public spaces. In particular, they also map specific communities in Singapore and tell their stories through art, such as the ongoing OH! Stories: Holland Village.
5 Community fridges in Tampines Cool idea: Community fridges in Tampines for public to donate food - Under a grassroots initiative named My Kind Of Fridge, two full-sized refrigerators and one freezer stand at the void deck of Block 441 Tampines Street 43 for the public to donate fresh food, be it vegetables, fish, meat, eggs or fruits, for needy residents of Blocks 441 and 442 which has about 100 rental units in total. The refrigerators, which are open round the clock, have signs that say: "Take what you need. Leave some for neighbours in need." At least one of the refrigerators has a halal sign. The freezer also has a sign that says no pork is allowed as it is reserved for the donation of fish.

Training Programmes

Ngee Ann Polytechnic

Diploma in Community Development (just started 2019)

ITE Work-Study Diploma

Diploma in Community Engagement and Development (quite new, only one cohort out)  


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