Speech by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance Lawrence Wong at the Singapore-India Hackathon Awards Ceremony on 16 July 2023 in Gandhinagar, Gujarat.
Minister of Education, Skill Development and Entrepreneurship, Shri Dharmendra Pradhan,
Director of IIT Gandhinagar Professor Rajat Moona,
Excellencies and Distinguished Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I last visited Gujarat in September last year,and I am happy to back again this time for the G20 Finance Ministers’ meeting, and of course to join you for this Singapore-India Hackathon finale event.
At some level, Singapore and India could not be more different.
India is a land of continental proportions, with a population of 1.4 billion people.
Singapore, on the other hand, is just a tiny little red dot, with a land size just over 700 square kilometres, and a population of over 5 million people.
So when you look at land size and population size, the two countries are certainly very, very different.
Yet the remarkable thing is we share many similarities, rooted in close ties and cultural connections nurtured over decades, even centuries. We are both maritime nations which sit astride key trade routes that link Europe to Asia. We share similarities in culture, due to the influence of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam which spread to Southeast Asia through our early trade routes with India. Later, from the 19th century onwards, Singapore was a key hub for India’s trade with East and Southeast Asia. Indian traders and entrepreneurs came to Singapore to seek their fortunes, and they played an important role in Singapore’s growth and development. Many eventually sank roots in Singapore, and they helped to build strong cultural and family ties between our two countries.
These close ties continue today. Take the business community for example. There are many Indian businesses in Singapore – about 11,000 of them – serving not just the Singapore market itself, but the fast-growing markets of Southeast Asia. Likewise, there are many Singaporean companies investing in and based here in India too. Last year, Singapore accounted for nearly one quarter, nearly 25% of India’s foreign direct investments. That makes Singapore one of the top sources of foreign investments here in India – which again is quite remarkable, when you consider how small Singapore is, and yet capital from Singapore accounts for about one quarter of the foreign direct investments here in India.
Overall, our bilateral relations are in excellent shape. Yet there is much more we can do together, especially in new areas of growth. That is why, in my last visit to India last year, my colleagues and I, together with our Indian counterparts, launched the inaugural India-Singapore Ministerial Roundtable – a new platform to deepen existing cooperation and identify opportunities in new and emerging areas between our two countries.
In our first meeting, we discussed cooperation in several new areas like digitalisation, green technology, food and energy security, as well as skills development – these are all shared priorities between Singapore and India.
Since then, our officials have been working hard to advance these ideas and we have made progress.
For example, as Minister Pradhan said just now, in February this year, we successfully linked up the two countries’ real-time payment systems – Singapore’s PayNow and India’s UPI. So now we have enabled real-time, cheaper and faster cross-border payments between our two countries.
There are many more possibilities being worked on, and I look forward to seeing further progress when the Ministerial Roundtable meets in October or later this year to advance our mutual collaboration.
To do more together, we also need to build stronger links between our people and our businesses. We need people who can understand the rich cultural diversity of our respective countries, build on our close ties to navigate our respective markets, and capitalise on the many cross-border opportunities that are opening up.
We have many platforms for such people-to-people exchanges. One of them is indeed this Singapore-India Hackathon. The last Hackathon took place in 2019, in Chennai. Unfortunately, we had to put subsequent ones on hold because of the Covid-19 pandemic. In fact, when I met Prime Minister Modi last year, he spoke fondly of the hackathon. He brought it up – because, remember, Prime Minister Modi was the brainchild behind this hackathon; he was the one who mooted it originally, and that was why we got the hackathon started way back in 2018. He was also very keen to restart the Hackathon, and I fully agreed with him. So I am glad we are now able to complete this first post-pandemic Hackathon today, and I am sure there will be many more to follow in the years to come.
This year’s Hackathon is also special for a different reason – because it is the first time we have included not just our tertiary students, but start-ups from both countries.
So despite the challenges of the last three years of the pandemic, the Singapore-India Hackathon has continued to grow and expand. It has brought together young talents from both sides to collaborate, to learn from each other, and to find innovative solutions to our common challenges.
To our start-ups and students who have participated in this hackathon, I know it has been a very intense 36 hours. Many of you have not had sleep, I do not know how you keep awake now. You have faced a very gruelling and tough session, but I am glad, from the sharing just now, many of you also said that it was fun and enjoyable. So I think we should give them all a big round of applause for their efforts and hard work.
The hackathon may have come to an end, but I hope to all participants, you will see this just as the beginning of a long and exciting journey. Because all of you have shown that you have tremendous energy, a great capacity for imagination, innovation, and positive impact. Where others may only see constraints and challenges, you see possibilities and opportunities. I want to encourage all of you to move forward with confidence and optimism for the future, and to know that you are fully empowered to be able to be effective agents for change in the future.
For the students here today, your teams consisted of both Singaporeans and Indian nationals, and I hope this has been a useful experience for you to draw upon your team’s diverse cultural and social experiences to come up with ideas and proposals. I hope you would have learnt the benefits of diversity, of collaboration, of teamwork, and these lessons will certainly put you in a very good position for the future. I hope you would cherish all that you have learnt here, including keeping up the friendships that you have forged during this period.
For the start-ups, you would have had a chance to network with one another, exchange ideas, and learn about the market dynamics in Singapore and India. I am sure these too, would have added to the range of experiences necessary to run a successful enterprise in the future.
We have just given out the awards to the winning teams, so once again, my heartiest congratulations to all of them. But regardless of the outcomes, I hope all our participants will come away from this Hackathon learning something, benefitting from it, and importantly, excited about the future possibilities in both India and Singapore.
Finally, let me also take this opportunity to express my appreciation for the strong support of many parties, without whom today’s event would not have been possible. A big shout-out goes to the Nanyang Technological University and the All India Council for Technical Education, thank you very much. We have many industry partners from both countries, India and Singapore, who have generously contributed their time and expertise as mentors and judges. Thank you to all of you. And of course, a big thanks to our gracious host today, IIT Gandhinagar, as well.
Beyond the Singapore-India Hackathon, we will do more to strengthen our people-to-people ties. We want to encourage more student exchanges – Singaporean students spending time here in India and likewise, Indian students studying in Singapore. We also want to have more industry attachments, more knowledge sharing, and more collaboration between our educational institutes, our research institutes, and our companies. I am glad that the Singapore Ministry of Education and the Indian Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship are in fact working on many of these ideas as part of their ongoing discussions on education cooperation and skills development.
Let’s continue to strengthen the partnership between our two countries and between our two peoples – to nurture greater friendships, new perspectives, and new collaborations. Together, we can forge closer and stronger Singapore-India relations for many more years to come. Thank you very much.
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