“Singaporeans abroad can and should participate in our growth and nation building,’ said Mr Philip Yeo-- Chairman of SPRING Singapore and Economics Development Innovations -- with a wistful smile.
Mr Yeo took centre stage in the Big Apple at the inaugural Singapore Speakers Series. His zest and energy made it hard to believe that he is 66 this year.
The 220-strong crowd was charmed by Mr Yeo’s witty jokes, personal anecdotes and unconventional way of thinking.
During the session, his fervour for economic development was evident. He emphasised the need to create better jobs for Singaporeans to ensure that qualified Singaporeans are gainfully employed. He hardly minced his words and said that we should not solve the problem by simply importing foreign workers.
He reminded the crowd that by 2030, two-thirds of working Singaporeans will be qualified Professionals, Managers, Executives and Technicians (PMETs)and SME will become increasingly important in providing quality professional jobs for the PMETs.
Sharing his philosophy that education should continue to be the main social equaliser, he said that there have been more investments in education institutions. To illustrate that, he cited that MOE is launching 15 pilot kindergartens to ensure quality and affordable education for one and all.
Mr Yeo recounted his days in EDB where he took it upon himself to re-design and create jobs that brought in high value industries. He believed that Singapore cannot remain stagnant and insightfully pointed out that we need to grow our knowledge-intensive industry.
An interesting question-and-answer session ensued when an overseas Singaporean asked what Mr Yeo thought about Singaporean youths in Singapore vis-a-vis those in New York. Mr Yeo felt that Singaporean youths face tremendous pressure from parents on having to succeed academically and that they are being overloaded. He stressed that local youths should be educated abroad for a while to let them step out of their comfort zone and let them fend for themselves. He candidly said, “You need to be cruel to be kind.” He shared that both his kids were educated abroad since they were 17.
Mr Yeo was also asked if there was a way to create a happier and more harmonious society. Mr Yeo cheekily retorted that happiness is not free. He strongly advocated that if we were to improve our economy and create better jobs for people, that would lead to happier families.
The last piece of advice Mr Yeo imparted to the overseas Singaporeans is that everyone has a part to play in creating a better Singapore for future generations. Indeed, these are wise words from a wise man who is experienced in nurturing and developing human capital.
The Singapore Speakers Series in New York ended off with Singaporeans taking the opportunity to network with newfound friends and to catch up with old ones.
By Yang Sue Ann