Speeches/Interviews

May 09, 2018

Speech by Mr Ong Ye Kung, Minister for Education, at 2018 Singapore International Chamber of Commerce Awards

Mr Jonathan Asherson, Chairman, Singapore International Chamber of Commerce,

Mr Victor Mills, Chief Executive

Distinguished Guests,

Ladies and Gentlemen.

1. I am happy to join you today at this SICC Awards Dinner, to celebrate the spirit and strength of collaboration.

2. We all know the realities of being small and having no natural resources in Singapore. To overcome this, for a few decades, our economic strategy centred around attracting foreign direct investments to create jobs.

3. Over time, our system is very much configured towards this strategy. We allocate land and resources to investors. We adapt our regulations and rules so that it would work for multi-national companies, and we educate and train our people to be good employees, operators, supervisors, managers and executives to staff the investments. It is a win-win strategy, uplifting many others.

4. At the same time, we also keep our economy open, and introduced competition in our small domestic market wherever practical, so that we have an efficient economy. For highly regulated sectors, this often involves issuing more operating licences, or vertically distintegrating the industry, like what we did for the energy sector.

5. Our strategy has been successful. Over time, this also inculcates a certain mind-set – to be diligent and responsible like good employees should, and to compete so as to push ourselves to do better. These are good attributes. But now, a new economic environment has emerged, and other instincts are required.

6.Beyond being diligent and responsible, we need to be entrepreneurial, to be able to undertake risks, and accept setbacks and failures as part of our career and life journeys. Doing things right and consistently all the time is important, but should not be the only attribute we have.

7. And beyond competing with each other, we need to collaborate across companies and organisations, and learn to hunt in a pack when we venture overseas. Companies which venture overseas alone may find it daunting, but with collaboration, they moderate the steep learning curve, gain a better understanding of the local landscape, and improve access to help and resources. We should be able to count on our fellow Singapore companies for help and support, especially when in unknown territories.

8. In today’s fast-changing economy, we also need collaboration in innovation. A company can develop and possess a core technology, but for the product or services to appeal to customers, it needs to be integrated with the capabilities of other companies.

9. I visited a start-up called Zhuiyi Technology in Shenzhen recently. It operates the artificial-intelligence system to handle orders and customer queries for ride-share company, Didi Chuxing. I asked the CEO of Zhuiyi: Why did Didi outsource such a critical function to Zhuiyi? They told me because Didi has defined its core technology to be in autonomous vehicles, while Zhuiyi’s core technology is in AI.

10. Over time, our economic strategy will weigh more towards innovation and enterprise. We want to support more Singapore companies to venture abroad to tap on the vast opportunities around us. That will require a stronger spirit of innovation and enterprise in every individual and company. We also need a stronger desire for collaboration between individuals and companies.

11. Collaboration will happen in all forms - between big and small companies, across industries, and also between private and public sectors. I should emphasise the critical role of the public sector. Because it possesses regulatory authority, it is often in a position to decide whether a business idea or new product gets hatched or not. More than ever, we need to compensate the disadvantage of smallness with our ability to be more nimble, flexible, and adaptable to change. There is no fixed formula for building an innovative economy, but we have to live by our motto: “Think Big, Start Small, and Act Fast”.

12. Tonight, we recognise a wide range of inspiring collaborative innovation stories, some of which have improved the way industries work, or went beyond their own industry to impact other communities. I would like to share three stories today.

13. First, Mitsuboshi Overseas Headquarters managed to fix a 30-year problem through collaboration – they eliminated human errors that disrupt early stages of the production process. The company shared critical information with a few interns from Temasek Polytechnic (TP), and entrusted them with the responsibility to fix the problem. By working together, Mitsuboshi and student interns from TP were able to create a new smart lighting system and an effective remedy.

14. This collaboration worked well because Mitsuboshi was prepared to open up to the interns, who had barely any working experience, but were trained in the latest computer engineering technologies. To be innovative, we must be flexible, keep an open mind, be ready to tap on talent, and never look down on students.

15. Second, P&G and a logistics company, Skylift, collaborated to improve business processes and help communities in different parts of the world. It started with the objective to improve handling and packaging operations, and increase the shipping capacity of perfume materials.

16.But the success of the project prompted P&G to also apply this capability to its corporate social responsibility initiative, by bringing clean water to communities worldwide under their P&G Children’s Safe Drinking Water programme. With the enhanced logistics capacity, P&G was able to achieve its milestone of delivering the 12 billionth litre of clean water.

17. The third collaboration story is about the Singapore subsidiary of the technology group Wärtsilä. The company worked with Bangladesh-based Summit Power International, to scale up the generation capacity of power plants in Bangladesh.

18. Summit Power International provided the local development knowledge. Wärtsilä supplied the expertise, capital, and technology. By harnessing each other’s capabilities, they collaborated on multiple power projects across the country. What they are doing is a first in Bangladesh.

19. These are some examples of the positive impact of collaboration. All of you in this room today are testament to the value of moving towards a new landscape that encourages both competition and collaboration, across different industries and value chains. You have demonstrated how our attributes can go beyond being diligent and consistent, to also being enterprising and innovative; how our mind-set can evolve from being competitive, to also being collaborative.

20. I congratulate all our finalists tonight. Your stories will encourage other companies to follow in your footsteps. I hope that you will continue to nurture this mind-set of collaboration and innovation, let it flourish and grow. Singapore’s future economic growth will depend on it.

21. Thank you.