PALO ALTO, CALIFORNIA - For Singapore's entrepreneurship landscape to reflect the diversity of its society, business owners and youths from minority groups must have equal access to funding and opportunities, a United States official said.
This is important because entrepreneurship can act as a powerful counter to violent extremism, while also exposing young people to new ideas and opportunities, noted Mr Shaarik Zafar, the US Department of State's Special Representative to Muslim Communities.
Mr Shaarik was speaking to journalists on the sidelines of the Global Entrepreneurship Summit, which is being held over three days on the Stanford University campus in California.
More than 700 entrepreneurs and 300 investors from around the world are taking part in the summit, including at least seven representatives from Singapore.
Mr Shaarik has made three visits to Singapore, most recently in May this year when he met with Singapore's Minister for Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli.
"Singapore's diversity, just like diversity in other countries, is its strength," he said in response to questions from The Straits Times at the Summit.
"Singapore has strong rule of law, and access to capital. But the challenge is, as in many parts of the world, sometimes minority youth don't have access to this," he noted.
"I think the key is mentorship, and often that means people mentoring young people outside their community."
Mr Shaarik added that Singapore can be an "important role model" when it comes to helping minorities access entrepreneurship opportunities.
"The next step is engaging Muslim youth, and other minority youth, and making sure they have access to the same training, the same mentorship, and the same capital…It's important that all aspects of Singaporean society are able to access (these)."
Mr Shaarik also said promoting entrepreneurship is a "fundamental part"of US President Barack Obama's foreign policy, "because we recognise entrepreneurship is directly linked to stability, economic growth and connectivity with the world".
His comments echoed remarks made by US Secretary of State John Kerry earlier the same day, during the official opening of the Summit.
Entrepreneurship can create jobs and opportunities for young people all over the world who might otherwise be vulnerable to violent extremist ideas, Mr Kerry told the audience.
"Think of the peril if we leave those minds, which have the same desires that many of you do here, if we leave them to the pickings of extremists and exploiters and demagogues," he added.
"(Entrepreneurs) provide a highly visible and very effective rebuttal to the propaganda of violent extremist groups. Because your optimism provides an alternative to their nihilism. Because you're trying to build the brighter future that in fact these folks are determined to prevent."