We brought down costs for contracts, says Singapore Khalsa Association president

"In all honesty, it has been a joy being part of the transformation at SKA," HERNAIKH SINGH tells Asia Samachar as he prepares to run for another two-year term

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Hernaikh Singh (left) with Aljunied GRC MP Pritam Singh who moderated the SKA’s inaugural Singapore Sikh Community Lecture series in November 2019 featuring Prof Tan Tai Yong – Photo: SKA Facebook
By Asia Samachar Team | SINGPORE |

The out-going team at Singapore Khalsa Association (SKA) believe they have managed to bring about significant changes to make the 89 year old organisation into a ‘premier sports, cultural and recreational Sikh institution’.

Hampered by measures in response to Covid-19 pandemic, Hernaik Singh and his team are fired up to continue their term at SKA once their two-year stint is up this month.

“In all honesty, it has been a joy being part of the transformation at SKA,” he tells Asia Samachar in an interview.

At its AGM on Sunday (Nov 8), the house will elect a new management committee to run the organisation for the next two years. Hernaikh will be challenged by Sukhbir Singh Gernail Singh for the president’s position.

“When we took over, we also promised to exercise prudence in financial management, including reassessing the need for and cost of various activities. We brought down costs for several items such as the contracts. Overall, the financial reports showed a net increase in revenue over the last two years,” he said.

Moving forward, he said his team has worked on another manifesto which will keep them busy for the next two years, if given the opportunity to serve again.

Excerpts from the interview.

What role does SKA play today in Singapore?

SKA has come a long way since its modest beginnings in 1931. It started as a sports club whose objective was to organise games, particularly football, with the occasional hockey and cricket competitions. It has since emerged to become a premier sports, cultural and recreational Sikh institution. This has been possible in no small part due to the association’s continuing efforts to adapt to the evolving local landscape to serve the changing needs of its members and the wider Sikh community.

While SKA’s key role is serving the interests of its members, it also plays a leading and important role as a socially responsible member of the community. In this respect, we have been making significant contributions to the development of the Sikh community and Singapore society at large.

How successful has it been (in executing the above role)?

We believe we have been highly successful executing our aforementioned roles. In 2019, we organised and or participated in close to 70 events across the social, networking, cultural, enrichment and educational spectrum. We also supported and or hosted more than a dozen of our partner institutions’ activities. These activities offered our members the opportunity to be part of a variety of events.

What were the key challenges in carrying out its objectives?

In all honesty, it has been a joy being part of the transformation at SKA. The Management Committee (MC) and I have been part of some really interesting projects and initiatives over the last two years.

In terms of challenges, the first was coming up with ways to reach out to the members to understand their preferences and implement constructive feedback. There is to my mind no perfect formula for getting feedback. So, we sought to do this in the first year through formal get-togethers. In the second year, this was done largely through social settings. On many occasions, we had members taking the initiative to send their views to us as well. Every one of these methods was valuable. They allowed us to glean many useful insights, which formed the basis of many actions taken by the MC. This included the activities that we sought to organise.

The second, as is with any community organisation, was funding. Our intention was to do as much as possible for the members. However, we were constraint by available funding. When we took over, we also promised to exercise prudence in financial management, including reassessing the need for and cost of various activities. We brought down costs for several items such as the contracts. Overall, the financial reports showed a net increase in revenue over the last two years.

The outbreak of COVID-19 has severely impacted the financial position of the association. Moving forward, we aim to enhance the financial position of the association through new revenue streams.

Hernaikh Singh at an SKA event in December 2019 – Photo: SKA Facebook

What have you and your team achieved in the last two years in office?

While we continued with the organisation of several tried and tested events — such as the Vesakhi Mela, Diwali night, Lohri and Teeyan, among others — we also introduced a number of interesting and exciting events. These included the National Day dinner, Parivaar Fun and Children’s Day party, Industry Nite talks, a cooking session, bhangra and dhol classes, taekwondo lessons, parontha brunches, members’ nites, and the veteran football and hockey tournaments. Catering to individuals as well as families, several of these new events provided diversity and variety for our members.

In addition, SKA officially established a Veteran’s Wing through a constitutional amendment at the AGM in July 2019. This stemmed from the view that it is important to reach out and cater to our senior members who helped build the association. In addition to involving the seniors in the Harmony Games in August 2019, plans are afloat for the organisation of regular activities.

In a similar vein, we made the chairpersonship of the Ladies Wing an elected position at the last AGM. This was an important step to highlight gender equality in leadership as well as recognise the significant contributions of the ladies to the association. In addition to Lohri and Teeyan, the Ladies Wing organised several important events, including Mother’s Day celebrations, Family Day and the Chair Yoga.

Focusing on the younger members of the Sikh community, Young Khalsa conducted an Industry Nite talk. At the same time, it spearheaded the organisation of a joint dialogue session, and several networking interactive sessions in 2019.

We understand that the team has plans to ensure a more efficient administrative process. What is the progress here?

When the MC took over the management of the association in 2018, we expressed our commitment to improve the standard of the SKA administration. The objective was to respond to requests and enquiries promptly and effectively. The staff have been working diligently to raise the standard of the service provided by the association.

The MC also agreed to streamline and ensure a more efficient administrative process, including setting targets and goals for the staff. We have implemented a structured performance appraisal system, which include revised job descriptions and key performance indicators for the staff. The MC now plans to revisit and update the human resource manual at the association.

The MC is also working on the bye-laws at the association. The purpose of these bye-laws is to govern the conduct of members and guests while on the premises of the association. We hope to implement these bye-laws by early 2021. Beyond that, we want to explore the implementation of a one-stop delivery service for bookings and an on-line booking system for facilities at the association.

We also want to identify ways to create more online content and processes, and curate activities that engage members, given the increasingly rapid pace of changes and disruptions. Lastly, we want to further enhance SKA’s website and to make it an important marketing platform for the association.

In addition, we are refurbishing the administration office. There should soon be a pleasant and welcoming reception area and a private work area for the staff.

What took the biggest chunk of SKA budget? What was the result/outcome?

The two largest platforms at the association are culture and sports. As such, a significant portion of the SKA budget was allocated to programmes and initiatives under these umbrellas. We felt that it is money well spent for they not only benefitted the SKA members, but also the larger Sikh community. For example, more than 4,000 people from all ethnicities, backgrounds and walks as well as new citizens and foreigners attended the Vesakhi Mela at SKA on 13 and 14 April 2019. Similarly, the sports section boasted of six sports with approximately 180 sports members across 13 teams competing in domestic and international tournaments. We took pride in the fact that we catered to individuals of all races and both genders and, most importantly, different age groups.

Having said that, the MC members, the chairpersons of these committees, the officials and the participants made concerted efforts to source for sponsorship, donations and pledges from corporate, organisations and individuals to offset the cost of the activities under these two platforms. We were successful in our fund-raising efforts before the outbreak of COVID-19. Under the current circumstances, it was only wise for us to scale down events. Accordingly, the organisation of major activities such Vesakhi Mela, Teeyan, Mother’s Day celebrations and participation in sports competitions were put on hold or cancelled.

Personally, what were the major learning points for you?

I have been contributing to the Sikh community in different capacities since the last 1990s. I have been enjoying my involvement all these years. I was part of the SKA MC in the early 2000s. As such, I was somewhat familiar with the expectations. However, there were several important learning points for me.

The first was the importance of open communications within the MC as well as with the larger membership. Within the MC, the members were given the opportunity to share their views on the way the association should function and the types of activities that should be organised for the members. The decisions were taken on the basis of what the majority of the MC members decided. The MC’s decisions and the activities that were planned were then communicated to SKA’s members primarily through the newsletter and social media platforms. When you are open and transparent, people understand and appreciate your intentions, and they will give you their blessings and support.

Secondly, there must be a plan on what you want to do. My MC and I were fortunate on two accounts. When we decided to contest the elections in 2018, we had worked on a manifesto on what we wanted to do for the members and at the association. We also sought feedback from the members formally and informally in the last two years. These were guiding principles for us. We judiciously followed our manifesto and would tick the boxes as and when we fulfilled our pledges. Moving forward, we have worked on another manifesto which will keep us busy for the next two years, if we are given the opportunity to serve the members again.

Lastly, like the phrase, “Rome wasn’t built in a day”, the transformation of the association cannot be achieved overnight. My MC and I realised that much work was needed to chart the path for SKA’s progress. We were also cognisant of the fact that the transformation was not a static target. It would evolve with the changing local and international landscapes as well as the changing needs and interests of the members. We needed to remain current and devise relevant mechanisms at different times of the association’s evolution.

What are the plans moving forward?

The focus is clear and simple. We are looking at SKA’s future. With rejuvenation and SKA’s long-term progress in mind, our team comprises young, enterprising and committed Sikhs who have come forward to assume SKA’s mantle. More than half my team members are below the age of 40 years. This is possibly unprecedented in SKA’s recent history. These young members will have the strong support of several experienced members. Together, we believe that we form a formidable team.

Our team will now focus on the next stage of SKA’s development. With the active support of the members, our team will continue steadfastly in our efforts to further remould the association into an even more exciting, lively and vibrant institution.

We have several important initiatives for the association. We will certainly continue with many of the policies and practices over the last two years. These include the practice of inclusiveness and transparency in the decision-making process and meaningfully engaging all stakeholders, including members, directly and via other platforms so that they actively contribute to SKA’s development.

We will also focus on SKA’s long-term sustainability and progress. In this respect, we will turn our attention to the youths. We will co-opt members, particularly young Sikhs, who can contribute to the long-term growth of the association. We will actively engage Sikh youths and organise activities to meet their professional development aspirations. We will encourage greater participation of Sikh youths in SKA’s development through sub-committee representation. At the same time, we plan to offer professional development support to tertiary students, fresh graduates and early working professionals. We will also create space within the SKA premises for Sikh youths to meet and network with one another.

Beyond the youth, we will intensify the organisation of activities that cater to all segments of the membership. We will organise regular social sporting activities and competitions to provide the opportunities for young Sikhs to excel in sports. We will promote social and cultural activities to enable all Sikhs to experience and immerse themselves in the wonders of our culture. At the same time, we will enhance the activities for SKA’s senior and female members, particularly with the formalisation of the chairpersonships for the veterans and ladies wing committees. We also plan to leverage on national programmes and opportunities to assist in the members and community’s embracing of digital platforms. Lastly, we will continue to identify and engage like-minded organisations to ensure value-added partnerships.

At the end of the day, we want to ensure an environment in which the MC and the members work as a family for the greater benefit of the association.

Any further comments?

Since 2018, we have worked diligently and selflessly to transform the association. We kept our promise of injecting the highest degree of accountability into SKA’s management and decision-making, listening and faithfully representing the views and interests of the members, and to creating an inclusive and member-friendly environment.

We hope that members in particular and the wider Sikh community appreciate the work we have done at the association in the last two years. We would like to carry on the good work and bring about even greater change at the association, moving forward. We hope the members will lend their full support to my team and me. We promise they will see an even more lively, vibrant and member-centric association in time to come.

 

 

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