Reading time: 5 minutes

In the first part, students got acquainted with how Singapore, through innovation, reached its current position using various methods and strategies.

In order to understand the country's history and past, students had the opportunity to meet with Professor Bernard Yeung, former Dean of the Business School at the National University of Singapore. Professor Yeung welcomed the students at the Hungarian Embassy in Singapore, where he initially provided a comprehensive overview of Singapore's history and its socio-economic transformation. He explained how fiscal discipline was crucial for the country's economic growth and why Singapore constitutionally prohibits a government from having a negative budget.

Students also learned about the development and current status of the Singaporean educational system. The professor shared his experiences from his study and teaching years in the United States, and how he attempted to introduce alternative approaches to grading in Singapore. He detailed how he changed the evaluation of university professors for teaching awards to not only encourage teachers to enhance students' performance but also to guide students towards independent thinking and values beyond the classroom. Furthermore, he emphasized that a professor cannot be a great teacher without being a great researcher, as university research is essential for development.

Further, the students met with Chris Leck, who leads the department responsible for science, technology, and research at the Prime Minister's Office and also serves as a senior advisor to A*STAR, an organization focused on technology and innovation. Through him, the students gained insight into the government's involvement in innovation. Singapore has reached its current status as the 8th-best startup ecosystem globally through well-planned strategies. The key to this development lies in consecutive five-year strategies, with RIE (research, innovation, and enterprise) being the central theme throughout.

In the 1960s, Singapore's economy relied on unskilled labor. It was then decided to allocate 1% of GDP to technological advancement, yielding two significant results: enhancing the competitiveness of Singaporean companies and increasing the state's resilience to external influences after gaining independence. The innovation strategy covers four sectors—industry, trade, and networks; human health preservation; urban development and sustainability; and the digital economy—supported by three horizontal factors: academic research, workforce, and innovation and entrepreneurial capability. Successful programs in recent decades have supported each of these areas, leading to tangible positive outcomes.

During a working lunch, the workshop students had the honor of meeting Varun Mittal, the author of "The FinTech Nation," which provided the basis and research topic for their journey. Mr. Mittal is also a co-founder of the Singapore Fintech Association, the leading Fintech platform in the country. The conversation covered a wide range of interesting topics, highlighting the most important societal, political, and economic characteristics of Singapore's development. According to Mr. Mittal, four things are necessary to accelerate the development of economies and innovation ecosystems: intellectual capital (talent), investment capital (capital), a supportive regulatory environment (policy), and an inclusive market (market). He also emphasized that companies need the market more than the market needs companies because new, innovative solutions can always emerge on the market instead of relying on existing corporations. Therefore, it is crucial not to allow large companies to abuse their position and exploit the market but rather to actively involve them in the development of the local economy.

During the study trip, the students participated in further exciting meetings, including one with Tyler Lim, the Director of GovInsider. GovInsider is a private, independent organization whose mission is to assist government agencies in accelerating public sector innovation. They pursue this goal through two main focuses: organizing events for public servants, such as the Innovation Festival held at the end of March, and providing a digital publication platform where they publish articles on currently trending topics such as artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, and smart cities. Mr. Lim explained that GovInsider is exceptionally effective because they partner directly with Southeast Asian Prime Ministers' offices. Additionally, the students learned about the types of government innovation: internal within the government, which occurs between ministries and agencies, and external between countries and governments. His conclusion was that government innovation can bring about much larger-scale and faster changes than private sector innovations, but it requires strong commitment from the country's side to be successful.

Next, the students had the opportunity to meet Magnus Ekbom, co-founder of the Lazada Group and current consultant at BCG. Lazada is an e-commerce platform that entered the Southeast Asian market in 2012 and was later acquired by Alibaba. Mr. Ekbom elaborated on the reasons behind the company's success, including logistical advantages due to proximity to China, the young population, and the absence of an e-commerce market in the region at the time. He also honestly discussed the challenges they faced as they built their operations in a region where stable mobile internet connections were lacking in many places.

During the study trip, the students listened to a brief presentation by Professor Sarah Leah. According to her, the startup ecosystem relies on six pillars: regulations, funding, culture, support, human resources, and markets. If all of these are in place, the development of the startup ecosystem is inevitable. Singapore, of course, doesn't leave this to chance; they compensate for their shortcomings, such as market size, by investing in education. They establish facilities for students to conduct research and apply regulatory sandboxes to determine optimal regulations. The result of their work is Singapore's significant position on international rankings (and, of course, the intangible yet evident quality of the entrepreneurial atmosphere).

The students also had the opportunity to converse with Liana Tang, the second director of Singapore's Ministry of Communications and Information. In the ministry's Department of Digital Strategy and Futures, she and her team research how the latest technologies affect Singaporeans and strive to develop policies that minimize risks. They engage with experts and unconventional thinkers to gather as much knowledge and out-of-the-box ideas as possible to make the best decisions to catch up with competitors. They have a vision called the Smart Nation, which represents the desired digital future for Singapore.

Click here to read the second part of the tour.