Idea Jam: Migrant Workers

Idea Jam: Migrant Workers was an exposure session that aimed to promote conversations and discussions about migrant workers. CAPTains who joined us in this session brainstormed for ideas and solutions to problems they had come up with, and also got a taster of the process of analyzing the situation, generating ideas and critical thinking -- the approach we use when we tackle projects here in the Social Innovation Wing.

In this session, we broke up into three groups looking at three different problems faced by the migrant community: Poor working conditions, lack of support and unfavourable social perceptions.

One group identified poor working conditions as a symptom to the larger root problem of power asymmetry between the worker and the employer, a lack of concern from Singaporeans, and also economic forces that encouraged the suppression of wages of migrant workers in Singapore. We believed that to change the current working conditons (cramped living spaces in dormitories, provision to adequate and nutritious food etc), employers were the ones we needed the government to put pressure on. With this train of thought, we also felt that the government acts when the citizens place pressure on them. However, the clear segregation of citizens and migrant workers in Singapore results in a lack of interaction and understanding between the two. Hence, we felt that every individual can help to bridge this gap. We came up with a carnival where both communities can learn skills like cultural dances and cooking of traditional cuisines. In addition, locals can give the migrant workers tours of Singapore in the heartlands and complete various games and activities together. We believe that this would help forge new connections and diminish fears both locals and migrants may have about interacting with the other.

A second discussion group came together with that belief that the social perception of migrant workers is the most pertinent issue to address. Although social perception is something that is hard to identify tangibly and measure, the session allowed us to dedicate time into understanding the contributing factors and systems which created and sustained these perceptions. We also were able to bounce off questions and ideas among each other. Eventually, we arrived at a consensus that education was a powerful way to influence social perception. Our final prototype involved us using a combination of social media and a public space to promote migrants and public interaction. We created an advertisement that drew parallels between the buildings made of brick and the migrants who were supporting it, building our homes. We also designed a space that was open for students to participate in and be a part of in creating, planning and maintaining. This way, more opportunities for interaction can be present which allows for the negative and false social perceptions to be replaced with better understanding gained from personal interaction.

Another group addressed the lack of a supportive environment for migrant workers in Singapore. Attempting to mobilize students right here in NUS, we built upon the idea of a "Humans of XXX (Construction Site Venue)" concept for migrants to share a little piece of their lives, and receive friendships, engagement and encouragement from students in exchange. We first proposed setting up spaces around NUS with large posters of migrants and their stories as a pilot, and to expand the project for students to participate in creating an environment for migrants to feel appreciated. We would use open unused spaces in the dormitory vicinity and/or construction sites for students to pen their support and come down to engage with the migrant workers in activities like picnics. Hence, building a more welcoming and inclusive environment in Singapore for them.

During the Idea Jam, we managed to spark off conversations about issues surrounding migrant workers, and bring participants through the process we employ in our work in CAPT Social Innovation. We also hope that the participants have learnt ways of critically analyzing problems around us. Beyond that, it is our wish to have everyone realize the potential to make social change lie within them.