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Connecting with Singapore – Reflecting on IPS Singapore Perspectives

By Linh and Meira, East Campus and Valeria, Dover Campus
17 August 2021

IPS 2021

*Reproduced with permission from IPS

The annual flagship Singapore Perspectives conference by the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) was held from 12 to 25 January 2021. Underpinned by the current COVID-19 crisis, the conference explored decision making for the future—in line with the overarching theme of the conference, “Reset”.

Split over the course of three days, most sessions were held over interactive zoom calls, with the focus for each day framed around the key values articulated in the Singapore Pledge: progress and prosperity; happiness, justice and equality; and a democratic society. The final conference day featured in-person plenary sessions, which we had the privilege of attending.

Valeria describes the final hybrid conference day featuring in-person plenary sessions:

Arriving at the venue we initially felt out of place. Three in 250, around us a socially distanced sea of blazers and pencil skirts. Once we found our name cards, we had our rapid COVID-19 test. Expecting a painful experience, we were pleasantly surprised when it felt more like a tickle. 20 minutes later we got a text message declaring us healthy! May the conference begin.

Finding our seat we entered an enormous conference hall. The first panel began shortly after, all about the future of business in Singapore. Conversations talking about the potential of Singapore taking a more active role as an entrepreneurship hub (rather than remaining as a travel/connection hub) were most intriguing. We then had lunch, which was followed by a session about politics in Singapore. With representatives from different political parties answering contentious questions. The day concluded with a statement by the Minister of Education.

Linh shares her thoughts on the forums related to ‘Politics and Governance: To Build a Democratic Society’:

The last three virtual forums on 19 January were the ones that I enjoyed the most, perhaps because the topics were more relatable to a global politics student like me. The COVID-19 pandemic put a pause to almost everything and brought about challenges that we had and still have to face in the most unexpected and unprepared way. I liked how in the last forum of ‘Global Trends, Social Movement and Democracy,’ the guest speakers provided a lot of interesting data on how democratic trends or populism were changing in a more drastic and evident way due to the COVID-19 situation.

Overall, even though the approaches to the topics varied among guest speakers, I can still see a shared optimistic view on the political trends in Singapore 2030 and the potential signs, particularly an ever-increasing amount of civic participation among younger generations of the country. All the knowledge and opinions were valuable to me, especially because I came to Singapore only four months before the conference, and it was a great opportunity to learn more about the country in terms of its politics and governance.

Meira describes the forums related to ‘Society: To Bring Happiness; Based on Justice and Equality’:

I thoroughly enjoyed all the days of the conference and found that I learnt most about Singapore’s inclusive approach to jobs and employment during this time of economic recession—as demonstrated through initiatives such as fiscal support to low-income workers, subsidies for local employment and a progressive wage model.

However, forum 4: identities and cohesion, struck me as the most interesting, particularly because of the social issues discussed related to a multicultural and racially diverse place like Singapore. Some of the most intriguing discussions were around rising social movements of exclusivism and intolerance (things like ‘cancel culture’ and the politicisation of religion) as well as the role of the state in matters such as religion (digital literacy, censorship, policies). A point was mentioned about the importation of new ideas by the youth, and how there was a rise of more heated exchanges of ideas. In particular, I recall a question being proposed to the panellists about Chinese privilege in Singapore, and there was a consensus that it was a Western concept not relevant to Singapore’s history and context. While I do understand the opposition to the label, I hoped for more discussion around how Singapore has specifically addressed inequalities between the races, and the pros and cons of Singapore’s system of meritocracy in these issues.

All in all, this conference has been greatly beneficial in allowing me to listen to all kinds of professionals from different sectors, exposing me to a variety of views on current contentious topics and plans for the future. I also learnt from the audience who posed well-thought-out questions to the panellists.

Click here to view the conference website.