betty July 30, 2022

SINGAPORE – Constituency groups that build trust among people of different races and faiths will get a new name and soon step up their activities and outreach.

The Inter-Racial and Religious Confidence Circles (IRCCs), first set up in 2002, will become Racial and Religious Harmony Circles and deepen their work of building trust, understanding and confidence among the various communities in peacetime and in times of crisis.

This is part of upcoming plans decided by a workgroup to ensure IRCCs can better meet challenges such as evolving societal attitudes, fault lines and the impact of social media.

The workgroup was set up in March by the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth. The 28 members, including IRCC leaders and those representing youth, women and community partners, met over six sessions that ended in July.

The changes, to be rolled out in the next two to three years, were announced by Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Edwin Tong at the IRCC’s 20th anniversary celebrations at Parkroyal Collection Marina Bay on Saturday (July 30).

The workgroup’s proposals include getting the Harmony Circles to have more regular and coordinated programmes, including flagship ones, to build trust and understanding and promote more interaction and collaboration between communities.

Singapore has 91 IRCCs across all constituencies, with more than 1,500 members who are all volunteers. The IRCCs organise over 250 activities each year.

The workgroup suggested that July be dedicated as racial and religious harmony month, with Harmony Circles organising community celebrations such as roadshows to engage more people.

Another recommendation is for the networks to be more representative across age, gender and organisation affiliation. Harmony Circle membership should be extended to local community partners such as schools, civic society and business groups, said the workgroup.

It also called for the circles to grow their own capabilities through more structured training.

In terms of outreach, the workgroup recommends adopting digital and physical channels for engagement, as well as revamping the current IRCC website.

IRCCs were first mooted by then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong in 2002 as the world reeled from the impact of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States in 2001.

Emeritus Senior Minister (ESM) Goh, who attended Saturday’s event, said the founding fathers understood from day one that they did not want a society organised along racial and religious lines, which is why successive generations have worked hard to make racial and religious diversity a strength.