Emerging Stronger Taskforce: S'pore should set up industry-led partnerships that are not afraid to 'fail fast and fail forward'

Institutionalising the AfA model could help Singapore's business culture become less risk-averse.
Institutionalising the AfA model could help Singapore's business culture become less risk-averse.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - A common mantra in the start-up scene is that failure is not to be dreaded - as long as one fails fast and fails forward.

This is a mindset the Emerging Stronger Taskforce hopes to cultivate by institutionalising the Alliances for Action (AfAs) model, which was mooted last year to rapidly prototype solutions for the country's economic recovery.

"When entrepreneurs succeed in commercialising new innovations, they revolutionise markets or create entirely new value chains," the task force noted in a new report setting out recommendations on economic strategies for Singapore.

"But even when entrepreneurs fail, they still challenge the status quo and may provide the spark for industries to evolve."

Institutionalising the AfAs model could help Singapore's business culture become less risk-averse and transform the country's attitude towards failure, it added in the report released on Monday (May 17).

The report's authors suggested that upcoming AfAs be primarily set up under the Future Economy Council (FEC). The council's seven clusters, representing various industries, will be best placed to identify areas that could benefit from a fresh approach, they said.

National Development Minister Desmond Lee, who co-chairs the task force along with PSA International group chief executive Tan Chong Meng, said his hope is that this public-private-people partnership can be "part of Singapore's forward gear, our modus operandi, to have a competitive advantage over other competitors".

Unlike other partnerships between the public and private sectors, AfAs are designed to be agile and focus on delivering concrete initiatives within short timelines.

They are best suited to tackling “complex, ecosystem-type situations” where there is value in bringing together a multitude of different players, Mr Tan said.

“It is not for all situations, but where there are suitable and apt situations, it’s been a very effective mechanism to bring together collaboration, as well as good alignment on executive outcomes.”

Key to their success was how industry leaders acted with the greater good in mind, applying their operational know-how to identify issues faced by the whole sector, the report said.

At the same time, the Government played a more active role than that of a hands-off regulator, working with the private sector on common goals.

The report identified three factors that contributed to the success of AfAs.

First, the private and public sectors were aligned on goals that could be achieved within three to six months.

Next, private sector leaders were committed to steering the AfAs and devoting resources to pilot programmes.

Lastly, senior representatives from government agencies provided policy and regulatory support.

These formed the backbone of its suggestions for the criteria that future AfAs should fulfil before they are set up.

They should have clearly defined goals that transform the economy and jobs. Senior leaders from the public and private sectors should be willing to participate actively - with their commitment to providing resources serving as a litmus test for whether an AfA should go ahead.

In addition, the metrics determining whether or not an AfA should close or continue should be drawn up from the start.

Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies Heng Swee Keat said at a virtual press conference that the FEC will not be "too restrictive" about what constitutes an AfA.

"If there is strong interest among a group of people to come together, we're quite happy to facilitate that and to see how we can take it further," said Mr Heng, who chairs the FEC.

The report's authors noted that Singapore must be open to the expectation that AfAs will "graduate" in different ways.

Some will not work out and must be shut down. Others will provide lessons that can be applied to different initiatives, and yet others will be scaled up.

"Can Singapore increasingly evolve its business culture into one that is less risk-averse, more resilient, and able to constantly bring failed entrepreneurs back into the fold, for them to bounce back and constructively apply their experience to try again?" they asked.

The FEC's role will be to continue to refine the AfA model "by distilling the ingredients for success, and the insights from challenges and failures", they added.