Singapore’s Next Big Thing

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In the first 50 years of its independent history, Singapore’s transformation to a first-world developed economy is often lauded as an audacious success, overcoming odds and constraints. Having come this far, what will drive Singapore’s future and what would its next success story look like?

On 12 January, at THF’s first public event of 2017, four young leaders in Singapore addressed this question, sharing their views on what they foresee as the drivers of Singapore’s future. The panel discussion was based on The Birthday Book, a collection of 51 essays written by 51 of Singapore’s notable young voices from various fields, answering the question: “What is Singapore’s Next Big Thing?”

The four panel members and book contributors were:

  • Ms Melissa Kwee, CEO, National Volunteer & Philanthropy Centre (NVPC)
  • Mr Veerappan Swaminathan, Director & Co-Founder, Sustainable Living Lab Pte Ltd; Makedemy Pte Ltd; Singapore Makers Association Pte Ltd
  • Professor Eugene Tan Kheng Boon, Associate Professor of Law; Co-Director, Centre for Scholars’ Development, Singapore Management University; Former NMP
  • Mr Aaron Maniam, Director, Industry Division, Ministry of Trade and Industry (Singapore)

First to discuss her essay was Ms Kwee who wrote on “The Dream of the Sharing Community: A New Social Contract.” She focused on how Singapore can truly become a sharing and giving nation, and listing three means of this becoming a reality: Everyone taking the time to pay attention to one another, solving problems and co-creating in a more diverse manner, and being committed. To become a more sharing and collaborative community, we should then look at who is involved and engaged, and whose voices are not heard.

Mr Swaminathan wrote the essay entitled “The Maker Movement,” which he believes to be Singapore’s Next Big Thing especially in the face of rapid global development of technology. The techno-cultural movement arises from a Maker Mindset, or having a growth mindset and “craftsmanship” attitude. A workforce, or even a society with such a mindset – believing that one can find solutions, learn anything, and is motivated to give his or her best effort – leads to a more resilient and future-ready country.

Prof Tan’s essay “As One” addressed his concerns regarding Singapore education system and expressed his hopes for a system that values social equity and supports social mobility particularly for future generations, providing them with plenty of opportunities to develop. The next big thing for Singapore is to nurture a shared responsibility of developing a more egalitarian society, because if one’s neighbour is not doing well, everyone will not do well.

Mr Maniam’s essay “Going Beyond a Scarcity Mindset: A Letter from My Future Self,” focused on generative resources such as knowledge and relationships, which do not diminish through use and does in fact have the tendency to be underutilised. He connected this idea with Ms Kwee’s point of the sharing economy which causes the phenomenon of generativity and is better managed by communities rather than subjecting them to a top-down approach. To make the most of generative resources, he asserts that there must be a new language supporting a shift in how we think about resources to begin with.

The book’s editor, panel discussion moderator, and Associate Director of Public Affairs and Communications at The HEAD Foundation, Mr Malminderjit Singh, also briefly spoke about his own essay “The Neighbourhood School: Education as a Soft Power Tool for Singapore.”  He then led the Question and Answer portion of the event where panellists addressed the audience’s questions, touching on topics such as the importance of community and poly-governance.

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