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Small is no limit

Ever since it gained independence in 1965, Singapore has transformed itself many times to adapt to the changing global economic landscape. In just two generations, the tiny city-state has developed into one of the world’s richest and most technologically advanced economies.

In March of 2015, the country mourned the death of its founder, Lee Kuan Yew. While marking the 50th anniversary of independence later that year in August, the so-called Asian Tiger, still confident of its future, asked itself: How does The Little Red Dot stay relevant for the next 50 years?

“Our strategies in the past have worked for us. While they continue to be relevant, global changes and current circumstances also offer us new opportunities,” said Chan Chun Sing, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, who is also Secretary-General of the National Trades Union Congress and a member of the Future Economy Council, which maintains labor competitiveness and steers its industries to adjust to global shifts.

Having limited resources and bound by larger countries, Singapore realized early it had to surmount those geographical challenges. Today, its basic strategies remain the same: invest heavily in human capital, remain open and connected to the world, and provide a stable and transparent business environment.

“Given that we are facing technological disruptions and have attained a certain level of economic development, there are new areas that Singapore can leverage, such as the digital revolution,” Chan said.

Seeing data as a resource, Singapore has joined a global trend in developing urban solutions in line with its Smart Nation movement.

“Connectivity, such as financial and data connectivity, is another area that can thrive. This goes beyond the air, land, and sea links that we have invested and will continue to invest in,” the minister said.

To achieve this, Singapore uses education to transform its workforce and industries.

“We have to reimagine a new way of learning and delivering knowledge to our people. Speed of delivery and relevance to industry are some things to bear in mind. Other countries may be talking about the same things, so how do we distinguish ourselves?” Chan said.

Execution has always been Singapore’s strength.

“We have always had a true tripartite system. Government, labor and businesses execute strategies as a closely-knit unit. That is what will put us in good standing,” the minister said.

“This new wave of technological changes actually favors city-states like ours. If we get those basics, policies, focus, and training right, then there’s absolutely no reason we can’t have another 50 or 100 years of good progress for this nation,” he added.

Opportunities In and Out of Singapore

With just over five million people, Singaporean companies are in a constant search for overseas markets.

But thanks to state-run International Enterprise (IE) Singapore, companies get support in terms of due diligence, market intelligence, and lead generation.

“IE Singapore helped identify what was noise and what were real opportunities. If not for them, we would have kept banging on doors that would not open,” recalled Melvin Tan,

Managing Director of Cyclect Group, an integrated construction, engineering, construction and project management company present in eight countries.

Like Cyclect, specialist medical services provider Singapore O&G (SOG) is looking into regional expansion following its IPO in 2015.

CEO Victor Ng said: “We are the first company focusing on women’s health that was publicly listed on the Singapore Exchange. We did that to grow strategically.”

SOG subsequently acquired a well-known aesthetic medical group to add to its mainstream obstetrics and gynecology pillar. With women’s cancer and paediatrics as its newest specialities, SOG plans to expand overseas through partnerships with doctors and clinics abroad.

As Asia eclipses other parts of the world in terms of growth, investor interest in the region has increased, with Singapore seeing a steady stream of capital coming in from global companies, many of them from the United States.

“We represent roughly 700 companies - both U.S. and non-U.S. - at AmCham Singapore. And the presence of U.S. companies continues to grow,” said Ashley McInerney, Head of Business Development and Operations of the American Chamber of Commerce in Singapore. 

“The government’s transparency and agility are phenomenal. It is what is most attractive about doing business here. Our members regularly have opportunities to engage with top government officials and discuss areas either the government or the private sector needs assistance with.

The dialogue allows us to bridge the gap and facilitate swift solutions to challenges as they arise,” McInerney added.

“AmCham Singapore is on the cusp of its 45th anniversary. Throughout, we’ve cultivated close working relationships with business and government leaders. It’s built around a mutual commitment to growing the economy and enhancing business relationships in Singapore and the region. As we look ahead, we are going to continue doing exactly that,” she also said.

Singapore 2017 was prepared for and originally printed in Foreign Affairs magazine.

PDF of the printed report

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