Singaporeans in Bay Area urged to consider opportunities back home

Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat at a reception with Singaporeans living in the San Francisco Bay Area, which includes Silicon Valley, on Friday. PHOTO: MINISTRY OF FINANCE
Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat at a reception with Singaporeans living in the San Francisco Bay Area, which includes Silicon Valley, on Friday. PHOTO: MINISTRY OF FINANCE

Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat and Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan have urged Singaporean professionals in the San Francisco Bay Area, which includes Silicon Valley, to keep in mind opportunities back home as the Republic develops and restructures its economy.

Close to 300 Bay Area residents, almost all of them Singaporeans, gathered at a reception in San Francisco on Friday to meet the ministers. The Bay Area has the largest community of Singaporeans of any region in the United States.

Singapore Connect, a social group for Singaporeans in the Bay Area, has around 1,000 members, its president Mark Sin said.

The reception was hosted by the Overseas Singaporean Unit and Singapore consulate in San Francisco.

Dr Balakrishnan is visiting California in his capacity as Minister-in-charge of the Smart Nation Initiative. Mr Heng is on a trip that began in Washington DC with meetings with finance chiefs of G-20 countries, and with International Monetary Fund and World Bank officials, as well as US Treasury officials, senators and members of Congress.

In San Francisco, Mr Heng addressed the Bridge Forum CEO Summit last Wednesday. Both he and Dr Balakrishnan were due to address more than 800 tech professionals at a tech forum yesterday.

Dr Balakrishnan told the gathering, which included families, that he and Mr Heng held a series of meetings, including with professors at Stanford University and venture capitalists, business people, and active and former politicians.

He said he felt "incredibly humbled by the fact that a country so small, just 700 sq km, a population of only 51/2 million of which we have about 3.4 million citizens, a city state that is 8,000 miles away from here, is so over-represented in Silicon Valley".

"We have at least 1,200 Singaporeans working in Silicon Valley. And that is amazing when you consider that this place... is the capital of the digital revolution," he said.

At the tech forum, themed "Singapore: The Digital Capital of Southeast Asia", the ministers were scheduled to talk about "opportunities back home in the digital space which I hope at appropriate junctures in your life journey some of you will see opportunities to play a major part (in)", Dr Balakrishnan said.

Mr Heng highlighted the advantages Singaporeans have in growing up in a multiracial, multi-cultural society, which gave them cross-cultural understanding, confidence and the ability to adapt.

The all-day tech forum is being organised by the Singapore Economic Development Board, Infocomm Media Development Authority, Overseas Singaporean Unit, SGInnovate and the Smart Nation and Digital Government Group.

Mr Sin, 42, engineering manager at Mac System Engineering at Apple, said the call to come back to Singapore has been heard before, and generally the urge to return was not strong, unless there was a pull being felt from parents and relatives.

But for younger, more entrepreneurial Singaporeans in the Valley, Singapore does provide opportunities in terms of start-ups, he said. "There is a difference in the sub-30 and older past-35 generation, in their willingness to go back and the reasons to go back," he added.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 21, 2019, with the headline 'S'poreans in Bay Area urged to consider opportunities back home'. Print Edition | Subscribe