Emerging Stronger Taskforce proposes how S'pore can emerge stronger in a post-Covid-19 world

The task force acknowledged the need to do things differently from previous review committees on the economy, and "pivot towards action". ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - A post-Covid-19 Singapore is one that breaks new ground in the digital space to offer unlimited opportunities for its businesses and people, and collaborates closely with them to be sustainable and stronger together.

This is the vision put forward by the Emerging Stronger Taskforce, a year after it was launched last May to chart Singapore's post-pandemic economy.

In a 118-page report released on Monday (May 17), the task force makes five recommendations to drive the Republic's transformation as a node for technology, innovation, and enterprise.

They are:

- creating new virtual frontiers

- seizing growth opportunities from sustainability

- enabling global champions and growing an agile and strong Singapore core

- institutionalising private-public partnerships through Alliances for Action (AfAs), and

- strengthening international partnerships, especially in South-east Asia.

At a media conference on Monday, Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies Heng Swee Keat, who is chairman of the Future Economy Council (FEC), said that Covid-19 has created the "burning platform" for change.

The Emerging Stronger Taskforce's (EST) recommendations were made in the collaborative spirit of the Singapore Together movement launched two years ago, where Singaporeans partner with the Government to shape their shared future, he said.

"The AfAs conceived by the EST are a testament to the power of private-public collaboration, both within Singapore, and with our partners in Asia and around the world."

Mr Heng noted that while Singapore will still be battling the pandemic in the immediate future, all the nine AfAs in the economic field "address directly or indirectly the challenges of Covid-19".

The 23-member task force was set up under the FEC in May last year to identify systemic shifts arising from Covid-19; and provide recommendations to the council on how Singapore could refresh, reimagine, or reset its economic strategies.

Drivers for change

The task force's recommendations are spurred by six key shifts.

They are: a changing global order amid growing geopolitical and economic tensions; accelerating industry consolidation and churn; a rebalance between efficiency and resilience in supply chains and production; accelerating digital transformation and innovation; changes in consumer preferences; and an increased focus on sustainability.

"Businesses are likely to consolidate in response to Covid-19's economic and financial implications. Covid-19 could reinforce the market dominance of large private companies in certain sectors, especially those that have done well to capture opportunities during the pandemic, and those with available capital to acquire distressed assets," the report explained.

"While new players could face difficulty growing in the current climate, this will test the transformative and innovative capabilities of our companies who aspire to become global champions."

Addressing changes in consumer behaviour, it said that in the near term, dampened travel demand will spur alternatives such as hybrid business conferencing formats, or staycations for leisure.

"Consumers will demand higher standards of safety, health and hygiene. They may also be more conscious about environmentally friendly products and business practices."

DPM Heng Swee Keat (centre), chairman of the Future Economy Council, with the EST co-chairs Mr Desmond Lee (left) and Mr Tan Chong Meng. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

Doing things differently under Alliances for Action

The task force acknowledged the need to do things differently from previous review committees on the economy, and "pivot towards action".

This meant identifying areas of opportunity for Singapore to invest in, and setting off pathfinders to pilot and test-bed new, creative ideas. Views were sought from around 2,000 individuals across 900 organisations.

Some of the ideas were explored under nine Alliances for Action (AfAs), involving task force members, business leaders, industry stakeholders, institutes of higher learning, the labour movement, non-government organisations, and government agencies.

Seven AfAs were formed in June last year, with another two launched last November. They cover supply chain digitalisation, sustainability, digitalising the built environment, smart commerce, robotics, safe and innovative visitor experiences, edutech, medtech and agritech.

The AfAs quickly developed, prototyped and executed minimum viable products or pilots which can be subsequently scaled up if successful.

They also worked with government agencies and stakeholders to stretch the medium- to long-term ambition for Singapore in each opportunity area identified.

National Development Minister Desmond Lee, who co-chairs the task force with PSA International group chief executive Tan Chong Meng, said that given the unprecedented challenge brought about by Covid-19, the task force decided right from the start that it could not stop at just setting out recommendations, but should also establish a tangible agenda for Singapore to emerge stronger together.

"The AfAs have been a hallmark of this orientation towards action. The spirit of partnership that has allowed the private and public sectors to pilot new concepts and ideas within a short span of time can potentially be a critical differentiating factor for Singapore in the years ahead," said Mr Lee.

They serve as "proof points" for longer-term ambitions, with some at a more mature stage of development than others, he added.

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The task force has recommended that this approach be institutionalised under the FEC, and that future economic AfAs be established primarily under the council.

Said Mr Lee: "The AfA approach is valuable in tackling challenges across not just the economic realm, but also in the social space... this collaborative approach also makes for more sustainable and more impactful actions and outcomes."

Mr Heng also said the FEC will incorporate the recommendations of the Emerging Stronger Taskforce into its current update of the Industry Transformation Maps, or ITM 2025.

It will scale up the AfAs as a more agile and nimble way to undertake industry transformation.

Nine areas for action

The report outlines nine areas that Singapore can invest in, as part of an agenda for action for a more connected and sustainable future.

For example, the alliance on robotics developed solutions to address manpower issues and boost productivity in the transport and cleaning sectors.

It conducted commercial trials of on-demand private bus services at Singapore Science Park 2 and Jurong Island, to test the commercial viability and public acceptance of autonomous vehicle solutions.

These were done with a view for companies here to export solutions and eventually become global champions, said PSA's Mr Tan. "The use of autonomous solutions in robotics is not foreign in the industrial environment, but in urban spaces and social contexts, many of them are still in the development phases."

The sustainability AfA identified the voluntary carbon market as an opportunity that Singapore is well placed to pursue, and aims to build a marketplace to trade high-quality carbon credits.

The report said this is due to Singapore's position in Asia which is a key source of nature-based solutions offsets, Singapore's reputation for trust and integrity, and its strengths in professional and financial services and commodity trading.

"This growing demand for a green economy presents the chance for Singapore to capture first-mover advantage," said Mr Lee.

Another AfA on enabling safe and innovative visitor experiences piloted prototypes at TravelRevive in November last year, the first regional hybrid travel trade show during Covid-19.

The lessons learnt were incorporated into an updated hybrid event prototype for Geo Connect Asia in March, which hosted over 1,000 participants from 55 countries.

The report noted that scaling up these prototypes, and developing solutions to address broader opportunity areas identified by the AfAs, will require continued collaboration and sustained effort by industry stakeholders and the Government.

It also acknowledged the possibility of failure, and said that key criteria should be set for commissioning and closing AfAs.

"In the spirit of entrepreneurship, and in line with the AfAs' 'start-up' approach, we should be prepared that not every AfA will succeed in the traditional sense of delivering the outcomes it had set out to achieve at the start," it said, adding that AfAs could "graduate" in different ways.

It added that the FEC, as the proposed custodian of the AfAs in the economic domain, should continue to refine the AfA model by learning from its successes and failures.

"The trust built by the partners in the process remains," said Mr Tan. "The EST wants to call upon all Singaporeans to band together and strive towards establishing a Singapore with limitless opportunities for all to live, to grow and to prosper, and we believe that we can do so even as we deal with this ongoing Covid-19."

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