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Does Singapore need Global Citizens?

30 Sep Does Singapore need Global Citizens?

In 1972, Singapore’s then-Minister of Foreign Affairs S.Rajaratnam argued that Singapore should become a Global City. In the years since, Singapore has arguably achieved this vision. But if Singapore is a Global City, are its people now Global Citizens?

We held an evening dialogue on the topic “Does Singapore need Global Citizens”? on Friday 30 September, under our Global Citizens Singapore (GCS) programme. The Fullerton Hotel Singapore was the event’s venue sponsor, and Standard Chartered Bank the key benefactor for the GCS series.


Date/Time: Friday, 30 September 2016 / 5.30 – 7.15 pm

Venue: The Fullerton Hotel Singapore

In 1972, Singapore’s then-Minister of Foreign Affairs S.Rajaratnam argued that Singapore should become a Global City, with greater links to the rest of the world. In the years since, Singapore has achieved this vision in many ways. But if Singapore is a Global City, are its people now Global Citizens? The city-state has worked to equip Singapore’s residents with professional skills and technical knowledge, but do we also need to ensure that the people of Singapore are cosmopolitan, dynamic and outward-looking?

In-conversation with:

Ms. Kuik Shiao-Yin, Nominated Member of Parliament and Co-Founder and Director, The Thought Collective

Mr. Martin Tan, Executive Director Institute for Societal Leadership, Singapore Management University

Moderator: Mr. Nicholas Fang, Executive Director, Singapore Institute of International Affairs

Africa is not a country

Our first panellist, Ms. Kuik Shiao-Yin, Nominated Member of Parliament, warned that despite living in a small country, Singaporeans can be surprisingly uninformed about the world.

Ms. Kuik is Co-Founder of The Thought Collective, which includes a tuition centre – the School of Thought. “Out of the many consistent mistakes our students make, they constantly refer to Africa, the continent, as a country. And not just a country, but a country in which all of the worst things in the world happen,” she said.

Even when students can name African nations, their understanding may be drastically out of date. “They love bringing up Rwanda in essays. But the Rwanda they bring up is the Rwanda of 1994 – so it’s always Rwanda and genocide, oh dear. They don’t have it in their heads that the current Rwanda has 7% growth, the most female parliamentarians, that’s just not in their worldview.”

Ms. Kuik said this tendency cannot simply be dismissed as kids being kids. There are also adults who are similarly stuck in the past. It is critical that people in Singapore have up-to-date knowledge of the world.

“If you think about what happened with Brexit – it’s affected us in small, limited ways, but it does still affect us. Just imagine that on November 8th Trump becomes President…the reality is we are really interconnected with the world that is around us,” said Mr. Martin Tan, Executive Director of the Institute for Societal Leadership at the Singapore Management University, who spoke alongside Ms. Kuik on a panel moderated by SIIA Executive Director Nicholas Fang.


Can we afford not to have Global Citizens?

“The question that was posed to us was ‘Does Singapore need Global Citizens?’, I actually think the answer should be ‘can we afford not to have global citizens?’ – I don’t think we can,” Mr. Tan concluded.

Singapore has established a positive reputation on the global stage, but it is up to Singapore’s people to continue that legacy.

“Essentially when you boil it down, Singapore’s greatest shared resource is our name. If we lose that name, we lose everything. It’s the only thing that sets us truly apart from every other country that can do things far better, far faster or far cheaper,” said Ms. Kuik. “We are a small but highly trusted country who is not scared to connect and not scared to collaborate.”

Everything starts from a person

During the discussion session, several participants agreed that although Singapore has become well known internationally, many Singaporeans are very inward looking. One participant pointed out that many people do not even take action on local issues, much less global ones.

Others at the dialogue argued that people in Singapore are indeed aware of local and international issues, but may feel that these issues are beyond their own ability to influence. Many may think it is the government’s job to address all problems.

But even individuals can make a difference, said Mr. Tan. “There’s only really two options in life – it’s either you care, or you don’t care…if we care enough about something, we’ll make it happen.”

“Sometimes I think we put too much attention on what is the next new solution, what is the next big insight, what’s the next big technology. And I think we forget that the greatest disruption that you can bring into any room, into any industry, is a human being. Everything starts from a person,” said Ms. Kuik.

Global Citizens Singapore

The Singapore Institute of International Affairs started our Global Citizens Singapore programme to go beyond our typical remit of foreign policy and international affairs to engage with people on concepts of citizenship and community.

“The word citizenship implies not just rights of the citizen, but also responsibilities. There is a responsibility to self, this community, here, but also the communities we engage with,” said SIIA Chairman Simon Tay.

The SIIA is organising another Global Citizens Singapore dialogue on 25 October on “What good can money do?” – addressing questions of philantrophy, impact investment, and social enterprise, both in Singapore and in the region.

We hope to hold further discussions in 2017, and we welcome your feedback to shape future conversations in the months ahead.