Singapore 'leaders of tomorrow' head to symposium in Switzerland

Ms Grace Sai, CEO and Co-Founder of The Hub Singapore, one of seven Singapore-based participants of the upcoming St. Gallen Symposium.
Ms Grace Sai, CEO and Co-Founder of The Hub Singapore, one of seven Singapore-based participants of the upcoming St. Gallen Symposium. PHOTO: GRACE SAI
Ms Yvonne Guo (in white jacket), with fellow participants, at the St. Gallen Symposium in Switzerland last year.
Ms Yvonne Guo (in white jacket), with fellow participants, at the St. Gallen Symposium in Switzerland last year.PHOTO: YVONNE GUO

SINGAPORE - Seven Singapore-based participants have clinched the coveted spots to be among the 200 "Leaders of Tomorrow" who will be attending the upcoming 46th St. Gallen Symposium in Switzerland from May 11 to 13.

The annual event draws young talent from around the world - from entrepreneurs to academics and politicians - under the age of 30 to meet top decision makers to discuss wide-ranging topics including politics, management and civil society.

Some notable speakers at the symposium next month include Minister, Prime Minister's Office Mr Chan Chun Sing, Prime Minister of Luxembourg Xavier Bettel, Rothschild executive chairman Baron David de Rothschild, Credit Suisse Group chief executive Tidjane Thiam and GlaxoSmithKline chief executive Sir Andrew Witty.

The theme for this year's event is: "Growth - the good, the bad and the ugly".

Among the participants from Singapore are Ms Grace Sai, chief executive and co-founder of The Hub Singapore, the largest co-working community of entrepreneurs here, and Ms Yvonne Guo, who is pursuing her doctorate at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.

Ms Sai, 32, and a Singapore permanent resident, got interested in the symposium after she watched a clip of an "impressive talk" by the then Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam last year.

She was referring to the interview by BBC HARDtalk host Stephen Sackur where the current DPM Tharman and Coordinating Minister for Economic and Social Policies famously said: "I believe in the notion of a trampoline."

This was in response to Mr Sackur's question on whether Singapore believes in the notion of a safety net for people who fall between the cracks of a successful economy.

"(DPM Tharman) broke the record on YouTube, for a Singapore politician at the St. Gallen event, the video attracted so many clicks", Mr Alexander Melchers, general manager at C. Melchers GmbH & Co and University of St. Gallen alumnus told The Straits Times.

Mr Melchers was a student at the university from 1991 to 1993 and was part of the student team who helped to organise the 21st to 23rd St. Gallen Symposium. He is a Special Advisor to the St. Gallen Foundation for International Studies. In that role, Mr Melchers mentors and guides the members of the International Students' Committee (ISC) who travel to Asia every year to promote the St. Gallen Symposium to the business community here.

Ms Guo, 29, was in the audience when the interview took place. She had also attended the symposium last year.

"The people around me were totally captivated by DPM Tharman. A Dutch couple next to me actually turned to me after the debate and said 'You got a great Minister there'. He got a standing ovation", Ms Guo said.

She earned her place to attend this year's event - and the previous year, as well - via an essay competition called St. Gallen Wings of Excellence Award.

Each year 100 winners are chosen to attend the symposium from the essay contest. Since its launch in 1989, tens of thousands of young talent have competed for this award from more than 1,000 universities in over 100 countries.

Ms Guo's winning essay this year is titled "Making Growth Meaningful: The Pursuit of Personal Growth".

"Having attended last year, I found the experience to be very inspiring. The people at the symposium, they want to make an impact, they are driven by a conviction and want to contribute to the world. It makes me question what I have done and also challenges my ideas and assumptions", she added.

Ms Sai, meanwhile, was selected based on referrals from members of the symposium's global network. She has an MBA from University of Oxford where she graduated with distinction. Ms Sai was also nominated as a Young Global Leader, World Economic

Forum (2013) and is a UN Women Entrepreneurship Day Ambassador.

"I am interested in how to use business for society, redesign how society and communities function, and the symposium will allow me to get different views from speakers and other young leaders. Listening to what my peers are doing around the world and comparing notes", Ms Sai told The Straits Times.

Both of them have been invited to attend the symposium on a fully paid trip, which would have cost about 6,000 Swiss Francs.

The event is organised by students of the St. Gallen University.

Mr Melchers said over 275 Singapore-based participants were invited to the symposium in the past 12 years.

wongsy@sph.com.sg