SINGAPORE - A group of university students from Mexico and the United States asked Ambassador-at-Large Tommy Koh early last year what Singapore's secret was in its successful evolution, in just a few decades, from a developing to developed country.
Professor Koh's reply was that there was not one secret but many - enough to write a book.
That gave him an idea - one that took form after he received a book from the former Finnish Ambassador to Singapore, titled 100 Social Innovations From Finland.
Prof Koh took a leaf from that book to initiate Singapore's own.
Fifty Secrets Of Singapore's Success was launched on Wednesday (Jan 29) at the National Museum of Singapore. Published by Straits Times Press, it was launched by Mr Eddie Teo, chairman of the Council of Presidential Advisers.
Curated by Prof Koh, the 340-page book consists of 50 essays written by leaders and experts from various fields in Singapore about how our small city state has succeeded not just in economics but also eight other key areas.
It contains essays such as "World-class Universities" by National University of Singapore President Tan Eng Chye, "National Service: A People's Army" by Singapore's first chief of defence force, Mr Winston Choo, and "Singapore and the Major Powers: The Possible Balance" by Ambassador-at-Large Chan Heng Chee, who is a former Singapore ambassador to the US.
ST senior education correspondent Sandra Davie penned an essay on how Singapore's students outshone the rest of the world in mathematics, which she called one of the most memorable stories she has covered in her over two decades on the education beat.
"Singapore Math, as our approach to teaching mathematics is popularly called, has travelled the world. It is available in print and digital forms and in many languages. It is cited, researched and used in many schools around the world and has lifted the performance of their students. Singapore Math is methodical and works, just like the nation, really," she said.
Mr Christopher Tan, the national broadsheet's senior transport correspondent, contributed an essay on the Republic's Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) system.
"ERP has served us well since it was launched in 1998, but I think it is high time we moved to a more sophisticated iteration which charges according to time, place, as well as distance clocked," said Mr Tan.
He added that this would create a far sharper tool, and also a more equitable system.
ST associate editor Vikram Khanna wrote a piece on Singapore's carefully thought-out fiscal policies, which he called one of the country's greatest economic strengths.
Having observed its development for over 25 years, he said: "But there's more to it than just prudent budgeting. The fiscal soundness for which Singapore is renowned also derives from its astute design of policies around public enterprises, pensions and healthcare, which have produced good outcomes without straining public finances."
In a preface to the book, Prof Koh said: "My hope is that the 50 success stories in this book will be of interest to people around the world. I hope that this book will inspire other countries to achieve their own dreams."
Notably, Singapore is one of the world's least corrupt countries, has one of the highest home ownership rates globally at over 90 per cent, and also boasts world-class schools and healthcare facilities, and the essays talk about how these were achieved.
The country has also contributed significantly to the development of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
Singapore has played a leading role in the United Nations, such as in negotiations for the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, and the UN Convention on International Settlement Agreements Resulting from Mediation - also known as the Singapore Convention on Mediation, which was signed here last year.
The Republic also contributes to the international community. For instance, it helped create the 2010 Singapore Index on Cities' Biodiversity, a UN-endorsed tool for assessing biodiversity conservation efforts.
It was also involved in the 2008 creation of the Santiago Principles, a set of International Monetary Fund-endorsed guidelines for sovereign wealth funds.
In a foreword for the book, President Halimah Yacob said: "Our journey has not been easy in the face of global challenges, but we have always pulled through because we were determined to make something for ourselves."
She said she hoped the 50 essays in the book would let Singaporeans better appreciate the nation's shared journey, and also serve as "useful case studies" for other countries.
Mr Tan Ooi Boon, supervising editor for Straits Times Press, said the book helps to showcase the literary works of Singaporeans to the world, and will benefit both local and overseas readers.
Fifty Secrets Of Singapore's Success is available at $37.45 at all major bookshops and on shop.sph.com.sg.