Regain sense of venture to propel us forward

Officer workers at Raffles Quay.
Officer workers at Raffles Quay.PHOTO: ST FILE

Most of us are of immigrant stock. Many of our forefathers came to Singapore in search of a better life. They settled here as life got better for them and their posterity.

Apparently, they had moved out of their uncomfortable zones where they were born. Circumstances made them venturous.

But now, we bemoan the lack of venture among our people. Perhaps, we have grown too comfortable for our own good.

In big countries, many people live away from home to work or study. Some do so in their high-school years.

They fend for themselves early in life and work hard to prevail against millions of university graduates. Hence, they have a gung-ho and fearless spirit.

We should stop to ponder if our economy will continue to grow and if we will be gainfully employed with wages rising year after year.

Given our limited domestic market, our economy would mature relatively quickly.

The favourable conditions we offer to attract multinational corporations will surely be eroded as more countries in the region open up.

Some of us may think that we have a superior system whose qualities- rule of law, transparency, use of the English language and an educated workforce - are hard to replicate; that it will be a long time before our competitors surpass us.

This is a delusion.

Whatever other countries lack, they have more than compensated for with a large domestic market, plentiful supply of land and labour, and a relatively young population that is hungry to learn and improve their lives.

They are still at the infancy of growth, offering huge potential for foreign investors to reap high returns from their investments.

In the long run, our country cannot compete on the same turf as them. We need to set ourselves apart.

We should leverage our strengths for now. We have a reputation that we can build on. We could ride on the diaspora we have in the new markets by learning their languages to help us open doors.

We should make things, not just trade them. We should replicate and adapt our ventures to meet local needs. Our expertise on the region could be a differentiator for MNCs looking to invest. We should see that our future is entwined with regional prosperity.

The greatest incentive for going out does not come from without but from within us, to take the less trodden path.

Lee Teck Chuan

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 22, 2016, with the headline 'Regain sense of venture to propel us forward'. Subscribe