Opening Speech by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance Lawrence Wong at the Launch of the Lee Kuan Yew Centennial Fund and Singapore Young Leaders' Programme on 30 May.
Senior Leaders of our Institutes of Higher Learning,
Distinguished Guests, Student Leaders
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Good afternoon. It is very good to be here. We are all gathered here this afternoon to launch two initiatives to develop our next generation of Singaporeans, all our students here, and help all of you grow as our future leaders.
My team and I in the PAP are commonly referred to as the 4th generation of political leaders. But this “4th generation” of leadership actually can be seen across all spheres, all the different fields in Singapore, in the civil service as well as in the private sector. I suppose we are commonly referred to as the generation that came after the baby boomers – we are collectively people who are aged 40s and 50s. Those in their 60s and 70s came before us; we have learnt from them; they were and are still our mentors and we are preparing to take over from them. You see us around, people in their 40s and 50s in the Government, the civil service, business and in the private sector.
At the same time, we have to start now to prepare the next generation of leaders – those who are in their 20s and 30s, as well as our students, all of you here, in our Institutions of Higher Learning. In this way, we can eventually pass the torch of leadership to all of you, our future leaders. That is how we ensure effective leadership renewal and succession in Singapore, not just in politics, but in business, the civil service and across all fields. Generation after generation, we want to ensure effective leadership and effective leadership renewal.
Lee Kuan Yew Centennial Fund
Fortunately, in the short history of our nation, we have had several outstanding leaders and role models. Foremost amongst them was our founding Prime Minister Mr Lee Kuan Yew. In our early and tumultuous years of nation building, Mr Lee did not waver in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds – instead, he stood tall and worked resolutely to ensure our survival as a nation.
He was not alone because he was supported by other founding leaders, as well as an entire generation of Singaporeans. We call them the Pioneer Generation. All of them were determined to succeed despite the many challenges and setbacks they faced. Together, they personified the Singapore spirit which helped us chart our way forward to a modern, thriving Singapore, and the nation that we enjoy today.
This year is special because it is the 100th anniversary of Mr Lee’s birth. We have several initiatives to mark this occasion. For example, there is now an exhibition at the National Museum called the Semangat yang Baru [‘Semangat yang Baru: Forging a New Singapore Spirit’] based on the lyrics of our National Anthem, and it explores the life and values of Mr Lee and our pioneer generation. Last month, NParks commemorated the 60th year since Mr Lee launched the first nationwide tree planting campaign, and that set in motion the plans to make Singapore a Garden City. MAS has also recently launched a $10 commemorative coin to pay tribute to Mr Lee’s strategic vision and boldness to transform Singapore from a regional port to a global hub.
Through all of these activities, we hope to reflect on the values and principles of Mr Lee and our founding generation of leaders.
One enduring lesson is the importance of developing our young people, and helping them to realise their full potential – to be the best versions of yourselves. At the end of the day, our people are the only resource that Singapore has. So to survive and thrive as a nation, to make a living for ourselves, we have to count on our own wits and ingenuity. That is why even in our early years, when we struggled to make ends meet, Mr Lee made investing in our people a top priority. He would regularly engage young people, encourage them to get involved in society and contribute to nation-building.
Today, I am glad to be able to launch two initiatives, in honour of Mr Lee’s firm belief in the potential of our youth.
The first is the Lee Kuan Yew Centennial Fund. The Fund is a ground-up initiative by several business and community leaders who came together to support the development of our youth. It will help to fund more scholarships, development programmes, as well as provide support for students from disadvantaged backgrounds at our Institutes of Higher Learning. This is a commendable initiative, and the Government will support it by providing a dollar-for-dollar matching of donations to the Fund for up to $50 million. I understand that support for this LKY Centennial Fund has been very strong – it has already received donations of more than $80 million so far. We have most of the donors here today, they are seated right at the front, all distinguished members of the business community in Singapore, captains of industry, and they have all come together to initiate this programme. I think we should acknowledge their presence and give them a round of applause. They here for all of you in this room. They are here providing funds and support, matched by the Government, to support all of you, our young leaders.
Singapore Young Leaders’ Programme
One development programme that the Centennial Fund will support is the inaugural Singapore Young Leaders Programme (or SYLP), which we will be launching today. This is the second initiative – the SYLP.
This is a new programme which brings together student leaders from across our IHLs. We have about 600 students today from ITE, polytechnics and autonomous universities. All of you will form the first batch of the SYLP. All of you come from different institutions and backgrounds. But each one of you has something in common. You have demonstrated leadership qualities in your own ways, for example, by providing peer mentorship and student support, volunteering your time to care for the vulnerable, or leading your respective student groups. So to all our students, welcome to the programme and make full use of this opportunity to develop and hone your leadership skills.
As you embark on the SYLP, I invite you to reflect and consider: what does leadership mean? What does it take to be an effective leader?
That is something that I am sure all of you over the course of the programme, and in fact, over the rest of your lives, will be continuing to discover and learn. At its core, leadership is about setting direction – you need to know where to go, and you have to convince others to go along with you. There are two parts to this. First, you need to know where to go, because if you do not know where to go, then you cannot help people. But the second part is equally if not more important – you have to convince others to join you. If you know where to go, but others do not want to follow, then you cannot really be a good leader. So you need to know where to go and be able to persuade others to come alongside you. This sounds quite simple and straightforward. But it can be very hard to do in practice. I am sure all of you already have had leadership experiences in different ways, leading student groups; you already know what it means to lead others and to get them to follow. But let me also share with you some of my own reflections on leadership.
First, leadership is about character and courage. This to me is the first pre-requisite of leadership. You can be very smart, persuasive and an effective communicator, but if you do not have character, courage, the basic qualities, I do not think you can be an effective leader. Leaders must be clear about what their core values are. Values like honesty, integrity and meritocracy – these are values that form your north star. They provide guidance to you and define who you are. These are values that must never be compromised. Without such a moral compass, it is easy for leaders to veer off course. There will always be temptations to take the more expedient path – to shade the truth, to distort the facts, to cut corners, or to deflect responsibility. The temptation will always be there, but if you have courage and character, you will resist those temptations and do the right thing.
So leaders must always have the courage to do what is right. What is right is not always what is popular all the time. Not every decision a leader makes will please everyone all the time. From time to time, leaders will be required to make tough calls – calls that are unpopular but necessary, for the good of the team, organisation, or perhaps the country. That is why the practice of leadership is hard and it may sometimes be seen as thankless work. You may already have experienced this in your own leadership role, running a student organisation. You may sometimes ask yourself, why do I put myself through all of this thankless work, no one appreciates it. But the fact that leadership is hard should not make you retreat. Because at the end of the day, you will find that the harder your journey, the greater the satisfaction you will derive from it.
The second reflection I have is that leadership is about continuous learning. We sometimes assume that leaders are gifted with innate talents and they just effortlessly float to the top. But being a leader is not something you are born with, and it certainly does not happen overnight. To be an effective leader, you must have the discipline to work hard and seek improvement through experience. It is useful to solicit candid feedback, learn from your mistakes, and strive to get better at whatever you do. Remember, candid feedback and not just the usual feedback. Usually people are very polite – if you ask them if you did well, they will just say that you did a good job. But you want honest feedback, feedback that highlights areas of improvements, and you want to be open minded enough to know where you did not do so well and how you can keep on doing better. You need to have the effort to work at improving. To give you an example, someone like Winston Churchill is regarded as one of the most remarkable leaders and finest orators of our time. But not many people know that Winston Churchill is said to have rehearsed one hour for every minute of a public speech he was delivering. Imagine, I am speaking here for 10 minutes; he would have rehearsed 10 hours. For every minute of public speech he delivered, he rehearsed and practiced for an hour. So remember: no one becomes a great leader overnight. Becoming a leader is about continual effort and practice. We can all learn to become better leaders. So the mindset of lifelong learning and continuous learning is extremely important.
Thirdly, leadership is about contributing to a cause that is greater than yourself. We need a sense of commitment not just to our own ambitions and aspirations, but to the greater good – for only then can we become servant leaders. I am sure all of you have issues that you care deeply about. We want you to be changemakers in these areas that you champion. The Government will do our part to support you and expand the opportunities for all of you to make a difference. When I was in MCCY some years back, I set up the Youth Corp, which continues to provide opportunities for our youth to make a positive impact through community volunteer projects locally and abroad. The Youth Corp is still around, so if you have an interest you should certainly consider signing up for it. Now Minister Edwin Tong is in MCCY, and he had recently announced the establishment of Youth Panels: that is a platform to give young people like yourselves a greater say in policymaking. If you join one of these panels, which we will set up soon, you will be able to discuss with others, present your ideas and recommendations for policies to the Government, and possibly even present these ideas for debate in Parliament. Today, we are launching the SYLP, where we hope to better empower and equip all of our youths to contribute to society in your own ways. That is why the SYLP will conclude with a service-learning project, where you will have an opportunity to take what you have learned during the programme to positively benefit the community.
Ultimately, our hope for the SYLP is that it will help all of you start your own journey of leadership and service. This is just the first step in a lifelong journey of you discovering how you can be a more effective leader. As part of the SYLP, you will have the opportunity to interact with one another, and different stakeholders in our society. You will learn more about what Mr Lee Kuan Yew and our founding leaders had to go through to build the Singapore that we have today. You will learn more about our operating context, the present and future challenges that Singapore has to confront. So it is an opportunity for all of you to reflect, reaffirm and uphold our shared values. At the same time, to re-examine what needs to be updated and what needs to be changed. Through these experiences, we hope you will be motivated and inspired to do your part to help write the next chapter of our Singapore Story.
To conclude, I am sure all of us in this room know that we are all heading into a more dangerous and troubled world. If you look at the media reports every day, you see more and more troubling news – geopolitical tensions, rivalry between major powers, making the world a less hospitable place for small countries like Singapore. We may be a little red dot in this vast troubled world, but we do have many things going for us. To be clear, Singapore is not perfect – we have our shortcomings and flaws. But it is up to us to fix the flaws and make our country better. For if we ourselves are not prepared to step up and do something for our country, then who one else will? Surely, we cannot rely on outsiders. It is up to all of us to build our country and make Singapore better. To paraphrase what Mr Lee Kuan Yew himself said in 1967, this was soon after we became independent and it was still very turbulent – there is tranquillity, poise and confidence in Singapore, and it is a confidence that is born out of the knowledge that there are very few problems which we cannot overcome when we apply ourselves as one people. This was in 1967 when we had a lot less resources, and now we are in a much better position, but the same principle applies. If we apply ourselves as one united people, we can overcome all the challenges ahead of us. So let us apply ourselves fully, to improve on what we have today and to build the Singapore we want for tomorrow. Let us move forward and build a better Singapore together.
Thank you very much.
Explore recent content
Explore related topics