BOLD and RISK
BOLD and RISK
When SG100 launched their book “BOLD” at the first annual dinner on 22 March 2017 they took a brave step to register their zeal for Singapore’s next step in the world. When Peter Ho, the country’s Senior Adviser at the Centre for Strategic Studies talked to journalist Fern Yu of the Straits Times he too spoke of BOLD but pointed out that, unlike in the early days of modern Singapore, more was at stake today and RISK had to be weighed as well.
The questions are ‘How bold?’ and ‘How risky?’ When you have nothing to lose you can afford to be very bold. When you have established a top class, First World society with a high standard of living and a steady-as-she-goes progression towards the fairer society we all want, there is so much to lose that it is tempting to say “It’s not broke so don’t fix it”. As little as ten – maybe even five – years of that would very likely leave Singapore as a larger version of a small Melanesian island. Singapore has more to achieve than that.
Many steps taken in Singapore have been bold and progressive. Science, healthcare, education, finance have all benefitted and continue to do so daily from entrepreneurial and innovative ventures. Working at the JFDI Start-up Incubator and A-*Star the other day I was delighted to learn that within a few hundred yards of where I stood there were over 2,000 creative start-ups. With companies like Bosch leading truly innovative developments you cannot accuse five million Singaporean residents of not being bold.
But boldness in Singapore has to extend beyond the purely commercial. Small countries that wish to retain their independence must be seen by the world to be bold. It’s a conundrum. Keeping your head down invites predators. Appearing too successful invites predators, too. Is there some way of avoiding predators but remaining highly successful? I think it is the same rule that applies to small businesses trying to grow. Keep your name in front of the people who value your independence. Singapore has done that pretty well – so far.
Today it requires more than innovation that attracts top innovators. The people we need are visitors – people who come to marvel at our visible progress, to admire our unique society. SIngapore’s tourism is growing but not fast enough. The work we have done to create Gardens by the Bay, Marina Bay Sands, a great Orchestra, Concert Hall and Theatre, a nighttime zoo safari and other attractions plus a clean, green city is fantastic. We need more people to come and see it. World public opinion counts for a lot when you are little.
So the ‘bold’ Singapore now needs is not only financial and commercial innovation, it is highly visible, almost Disney-like exhibition. When John Kennedy found the United States slipping into trouble on both the financial and political fronts he told the US citizens that America would put a man on the moon and bring him back safely within a decade. Initially everyone laughed at such extravagance. Four weeks later they all rolled up their sleeves and did it. The US has never been so proud or so popular.
What is SIngapore’s version of going to the moon? A canopy over the island to make us the first environmentally-controlled city in the world? A deal with Johor to build a city as big as Singapore on the other side of the Strait? A new city in the sky? A city where nobody owns a car and all the vehicles are electric – a Silent City? Whatever, the world must want to see it.
When you are spectacular you stay free.