Speech by Mr Alvin Tan, Minister of State for Culture, Community and Youth & Trade and Industry, at Common Purpose: SG100 Young Leaders Programme
17 December 2020
First of all, I would like to thank our Common Purpose team and also James who has been together with the Common Purpose team putting this together.
Many of you might know that this is the fifth run of the programme, since we launched it in 2015, the year which Singapore turned 50 and it was a very eventful year. The whole purpose then was that since we have already reached the 50th milestone, what was it like to go to the next 50th milestone, and to challenge our youth to imagine:
a.What Singapore would be like when Singapore turns 100;
b.It is also to think about what kind of nation we would want Singapore to be and raise our families and have our loved ones be in; and
c.The kind of legacy we want to leave behind for the future generations, the young people and others that come after us.
By the time Singapore turns 100 in 2065, which if you think about it is not so long away but it is also not so close. Already COVID-19 has showed us that it is going to very different over just a span of 10 to 12 months. So 2065 I think, there are a few things we are quite sure will be different.
a.One is that I will be really old; some of us will be very very old.
b.Most of us here, the young leaders here, I think will be in your 50s or so, it will still be prime because our life expectancy is one of the highest in the world, and you will all be working in your domains, working to fulfil your different aspirations.
c.And if you think about it also, the world around us would change. I don’t think we will do a lot of Zoom if Zoom is still around, but you will have many different platforms that we will see emerging and in different ways, it could be holograms, it could be AR, VR and different forms of interactions.
But with all of these changes, there are a few things that will remain evergreen or will remain constant.
a.Even at 100 years old, Singapore will be relatively young. If you think of the US since its independence in 1776, and even now the US is still considered a young nation. So Singapore at 100 will still be in national and global terms, maybe an adolescent, maybe a young kid in those terms. And you can also think about it in the context of China having more than thousands of years of history.
b.I think Singapore and Singaporeans will still constantly be striving to do better, and try to build our future together better and we continue to try to make our mark, punch above our weights, before we pass the baton to the next generation.
This is precisely why we have programmes like this, the SG100 Young Leaders Programme, to bring young leaders like yourselves together to start to imagine our future and take steps to realise our dreams, and what we want Singapore to be like.
a.We really want to ensure that when the time is up for you to step up, and we are counting on you to step up, that all of you are in certain sense ready, as ready as you can be.
b.And, how we respond to each challenge really will define Singapore for many years to come.
It is a daunting task and a heavy burden, as you can see with a crisis like COVID-19 that we have experienced like no other. But, I think that there are three distinct instincts that might help us and help you, and serve you well. Let me go through them:
a.First, about our resilience and our relentless pursuit to safeguard our survival and adapt to changes effectively;
b.Second, our commitment to stay true to what values are important to Singapore, and to build upon the strong foundations of those that came before us, our forefathers and our foremothers as it were; and
c.Third, is our courage to evolve and constantly to shift and adjust our approaches and methods as new challenges and new opportunities come to the fore and come up with the kinds of solutions that work for us, unique to Singapore, instead of just copying other people. This is something that is very unique to our context.
Let me go through each one of them as it is quite important.
(I)Safeguarding our survival and adapting to changes
If you think about it, our past has been fraught with its share of challenges – separation from the Malayan Federation, the withdrawal of the British, many financial crises, health pandemics like SARS in 2003, and of course now with COVID-19.
a.But if we step back again and think, with every challenge that had threatened to overwhelm and overcome Singapore, we have always, always managed to bounce back stronger, with each crisis that we have encountered.
b.And with each crisis has been an opportunity for us to strengthen our fortitude, resilience and also our unity as a country.
c.And every time we have faced a challenge, we have risen to it, and emerged stronger.
This never-say-die spirit, where did we get this from, it is from our keen sense of vulnerability, that we are a small nation, that we do not have resources and yet, we can punch above our weight and adapt to change as required.
a.As a small city-state like ours, we make a living by being connected to the world, and we are subjected to the unpredictability of the environment as we can see now with the COVID-19 pandemic and the disruption of supply chains, and whether people want to trade with us or not.
b.So, we must always reinvent ourselves, and find new ways to be relevant to the world, so that we can survive and thrive.
(II)Lasting commitment to our values
The second thing is the lasting commitment to our values, what remains the same is our core values.
How do we, with all these changes, remain true to our core values? If we look deeply into the values that make Singapore, it includes things like fairness, inclusivity, harmony and sustainability. These values have been central to how we have built our nation over the years, and how we will want to continue to build our nation over the years.
James told me that the themes of this particular conference include many of these values that we hold dear to, as a people as well as a nation.
a.This includes building a society where everyone works hard, is diligent, has equal opportunities to succeed regardless of where we start off in life. Also, to ensure that that we will have help for those who need it most.
b.Something that is also very important to me is to safeguard our multi-cultural and multi-ethnic community. That we respect one another, care for one another and love one another. That we celebrate one another’s beliefs and faiths regardless of our faith and ethnicity.
c.And finally, to also do our part to protect the environment, particularly currently as you know that we are more aware of the impact of climate change.
(III)Doing things the Singapore way
Finally, it is doing things our way, the Singaporean Way; we are not Ireland, we are not the US, we are not China, and we are not Indonesia.
And so really our way is how we roll up our sleeves to do the hard work to address all of these challenges to find fresh solutions.
a.There are no magic bullets, there is no panacea, there is no one way to solve problems that will always be right.
b.So we must be prepared to continue to question some of the assumptions and then think about what other people are doing. Things that have worked for others, may not necessarily work for us, because of our different context and operating model.
c.And to do this, we need to constantly be out there, expand our horizons, listen to different viewpoints, such as the ones I am looking forward to hear today, but also from our friends from overseas to get an understanding of the different possibilities and what we might need to do to trade-off with the different ways or approaches.
I am very much looking forward to conversations and platforms such as today’s, because there are many different things that I would love to learn from all of you as we have this exchange, but I thought this particular setting and particular context might be helpful to provide as we have this discussion.
To wrap up, we can think about it this way – many different things have changed with COVID-19, with technology and with society evolving so rapidly, but then with so many things that have changed, there are many things that have also remained the same and ought to remain the same to help us to anchor in very tumultuous and sometimes very unpredictable storms.
Thank you James and the Common Purpose team. I am very much looking forward to the dialogue and conversation.