What is a community initiative?

Community initiatives are defined as an action or series of actions that are self-initiated by individuals or groups, are wholly voluntary and non-profit in nature, independent of institutional ownership, and with the intent to benefit a wider community beyond the group’s own members and immediate contacts.

Community initiatives are a unique form of organisation. They are not profit-driven like companies; nor are they formal entities like NGOs or VWOs. They typically start out at small scales, experimenting with different types of work and operational methods. They often have limited, if any, financial and physical resources. They are driven by the commitment and passion of their volunteers, often resulting in high levels of ownership and a flattened hierarchical structure. Many have no legal status, or formal rules or regulations that guide their actions. And crucially, they may not have a desire to sustain or scale over time.

More often than not, such initiatives arise from a lack or a need in the community, filling gaps or missed opportunities in the built and social environment. Some examples include groups that help older adults who collect cardboard for a living in Singapore (Wong, 2017), and individuals that organise forum theatre events to help residents living in rental flats process trauma and problems at home (Lazaroo, 2017). Because they are not borne out of an institutional mandate, and oftentimes are initiated by people who are not professionals in the field, they can take unconventional and highly grounded approaches towards addressing the need. In this sense, community initiatives are often unique with regards to the work that they do, serving communities in ways that differ from the status quo.

To better understand the different types of initiatives that exist in Singapore, the research team reviewed approximately 50 community initiatives, identified through personal knowledge and internet and social media searches. Through a process of grouping and discussing differences and similarities between the groups, 12 key ‘types’ emerged. These types represent different types of initiative causes and modes of achieving the initiative objectives. These types are not exclusive of one another, rather, they reflect the multiple identities and roles that community initiatives can take on.

Advocate
Advocate

[Outreach campaign; nature walks to raise environmental awareness]

Advocates use outreach, services and experiences to generate general awareness and support for a topic or cause of interest

Befriender
Befriender

[Engaging young children in play activities; home visits to older residents]

Befrienders provide emotional support, interaction and companionship for people in need

City Fixer
City Fixer

[Litter cleanups; painting zebra crossings and road markings; coastal cleanups; fixing potholes]

City Fixers do-it-themselves when they discover a problem and take up the responsibility to upkeep public infrastructure and spaces, such as streets and parks

Conversationalists
Conversationalists

[Human libraries; discussion and storytelling groups]

Conversationalists create a platform and safe space for people to discuss socio-environmental issues and build community, empathy and understanding

Fundraiser
Fundraiser

[Donation drives for communities affected by natural disasters/crises]

Fundraisers collected donated resources and money to give to a project or cause

Givers
Givers

[Providing meals to older residents]

Givers provide goods and gifts to underprivileged and underrepresented communities

Hobbyist
Hobbyist

[Picking up litter while jogging; knitting toys for sick children]

Hobbyists come together for a hobby or common interest and incorporate positive social impact into the work that they do

Kindness Champions
Kindness Champions

[Encouraging people to smile and greet one another; pay-it-forward campaigns]
Kindness Champions conduct acts of cheer and kindness with the aim of building social capital and a more caring, connected society

Multiplier
Multiplier

[Training a network of individuals who can assist people with dementia]

Multipliers are a community of individuals who largely act on their own, but are guided and supported by a common framework and broader network

Petitioners
Petitioners

[Activist Groups]

Petitioners use call-to-action to gather support and directly appeal to government or other institutional bodies to support a specific cause

Placemaker
Placemaker

[Corridor and void deck decorators; community gardeners; PARK(ing) Day]

Placemakers adopt an active hands-on approach to modify their physical environment for creative and functional purposes

Skill-Builders
Skill-Builders

[Coding classes for girls]

Skill-builders teach skills and conduct capacity building for underprivileged or underrepresented communities