In Singapore, an innovative project is training frontline social workers to give financial guidance to low-income families.
In June, the National University of Singapore announced the launch of the Frontline Training Project as part of the Next Age Institute’s Singapore Financial Capability and Asset Building (SG FCAB) initiative. The project will develop and pilot a curriculum for training on basic financial guidance.
Through the new curriculum, “Frontline staff and volunteers will be equipped with the knowledge and skills to continue supporting low-income individuals and families to enhance their financial capabilities and asset building efforts,” said Chia Ngee Choon. Chia is associate professor of economics at the National University of Singapore and co-director of the Next Age Institute, an ongoing special partnership for innovation between Washington University in St. Louis and National University of Singapore.
With separate research arms and independent leadership at the two universities, the Next Age Institute fosters cutting-edge applied scholarship with purposeful, multidisciplinary cooperation. At Washington University, Next Age Institute is part of the McDonnell International Scholars Academy.
The new project grew from the 2017 launch of SG FCAB, which initially focused on training social workers and social work students. That earlier effort drew upon the work of Margaret Sherraden, Jin Huang, Lissa Johnson, Gena Gunn McClendon, and other experts at Washington University’s Brown School.
Colleagues in the Next Age Institute at National University of Singapore and the Washington University adapted a U.S.-based financial capability curriculum to fit the Singaporean context. SG FCAB and the Next Age Institute’s work on financial capability and asset building set the stage for similar training initiatives in mainland China, Africa, and elsewhere.
Since 2017, more than 150 social work students and over 250 social workers have received the training through SG FCAB, which has plans to train an additional 250 social workers by June 2023. Through the continuing education offerings of the National University of Singapore’s Department of Social Work, the training is available to social workers throughout Singapore.
In the new project, the shift from training social workers and social work students to training frontline personnel and volunteers represents a significant expansion for SG FCAB.
“This is a meaningful advance,” said Michael Sherraden. “In moments of financial stress and at critical decision points, informed financial guidance can change lives.” Sherraden is the George Warren Brown Distinguished University Professor at Washington University, co-director of Next Age Institute at Washington University. He has served as a Fulbright research scholar in Singapore (1992–1993), and was the inaugural S.R. Nathan Professor at NUS for 5 years (2013–2018). Nathan was Singapore’s longest serving president.
To create the Frontline Training curriculum, the Next Age Institute will conduct focus groups and draw upon insights from a committee representing nine stakeholders: Singapore’s Ministry of Social and Family Development, the National Council of Social Service, MENDAKI, the Singapore Prison Service, the People’s Association, the Institute for Financial Literacy, the Singapore After-Care Association, Care Corner Singapore, Ltd., and AMKFSC Community Services, Ltd.
The institute will pilot the new curriculum with 60 frontline workers and volunteers in late 2022, finalizing it by June of 2023. In a statement, the institute said that its goal is to embed the curriculum within “ongoing field learning and training.”
Citi Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Citigroup, is funding development and implementation of the new Frontline curriculum with a grant of $330,000 (U.S. dollars), which adds to the $630,000 the foundation already awarded for the SG FCAB initiative.
“The institute’s new training for frontline workers and the ongoing efforts to train social workers dramatically expand the toolbox,” said Margaret Sherraden. “These efforts give frontline personnel the right tools for when financial pressures trigger moments of crisis.” Sherraden is research professor in Washington University’s Brown School.
Grace Xu, a social worker who has already completed the SG FCAB training, shared its influence on her work. “I gained confidence and competency in navigating resources, shared benefits, and opportunities to enhance clients’ employability,” said Xu, head of the social work team at AWWA Transitional Shelter.
At the June 17 event, Corinne Ghoh, the Frontline Training Project’s Lead, shared her perspective on the project’s potential. “When low-income individuals and families experience support in making informed decisions about their finances, they are empowered to assume greater control over their lives and move towards positive changes,” said Ghoh, who holds appointments as an adjunct associate professor of practice at NUS as well as at Singapore’s Ministry of Health.
More about the Washington University arm of the Next Age Institute can be found on the institute’s website.