Designing solutions focused on people will help Singapore emerge stronger from Covid-19: Iswaran

(From left) Executive director of DesignSingapore Council Mark Wee, entrepreneur James Dyson, Minister S. Iswaran, partner at Bjarke Ingels Group Brian Yang and SUTD president Chong Tow Chong. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

SINGAPORE - Designing solutions focused on people's needs can help Singapore overcome the Covid-19 pandemic and acquire a competitive edge, said Communications and Information Minister S. Iswaran on Friday (March 19).

He said that this valuable and pragmatic process, called design thinking, "can convert uncertainty into new possibilities".

"They can uplift our people's aspirations and help us move towards a more inclusive and progressive society," added Mr Iswaran, who is also Minister-in-charge of Trade Relations.

He was speaking at the virtual Design Innovation Forum organised by the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) in partnership with The Straits Times. The forum was streamed live to about 920 people.

The emphasis on consultation and partnerships in design thinking will be key in helping Singapore emerge from the pandemic, said Mr Iswaran.

As the Government cannot deal with complex challenges alone, it will need to work with people with diverse interests, networks and capabilities across society, he said.

This includes the public sector's longstanding partnership with institutes of higher learning. The minister said that these institutes "play important roles in nurturing creativity, critical thinking and inter-disciplinary problem-solving".

The Government also wants to work with people to create solutions together, such as the Digital for Life Movement launched last month. The national movement provides resources for grassroots projects to equip Singaporeans with digital skills and help bridge the digital divide.

Such partnerships allow the Government to "examine problems through the lens of different ecosystems, and deliver definitive outcomes within defined timelines", said Mr Iswaran.

"This approach will be central to our efforts to emerge stronger together from the Covid-19 crisis," he said.

Turbulence in the world, like the pandemic, and unprecedented advances in technology can also have unanticipated consequences for economies and societies, creating challenges that cannot be solved traditionally.

"The solutions lie in creative and inter-disciplinary responses. We must bring together diverse capabilities and insights, to unlock value and opportunities," he said, adding that using design thinking was one such way.

The fast pace of digitalisation, triggered by Covid-19, also means that companies must adapt to new ways of doing business, compete with disruptors and meet the rising expectations of consumers.

Amid all this, though, new possibilities could be unlocked for businesses, people and the Government through design thinking. Those that use design thinking effectively "can re-invent themselves and gain a competitive advantage", said Mr Iswaran.

Design thinking's focus on people also allows the Government to craft more effective policies and programmes that improve the welfare of people, said the minister.

He cited the Ministry of Communications and Information's work on helping people get access to infocomm tech and to use it.

While 98 per cent of households here have broadband access and their own devices to surf the Internet, segments of the population, such as some senior citizens, find it difficult to adapt and are anxious about being left behind.

Determined to bridge such gaps, the Government sought feedback from those concerned. This led policymakers to appoint digital ambassadors well versed in different languages and dialects to help the elderly go digital. Digital community hubs were also set up in the heartland for the same purpose.

Design thinking "helps us serve our people better and build a more inclusive and progressive society", said Mr Iswaran.

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