DPM Lawrence Wong at the National Mentoring Summit 2022

PM Lawrence Wong | 9 December 2022

Speech by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance Lawrence Wong at the National Mentoring Summit on 9 December 2022.

My Parliamentary Colleague MOS Alvin Tan,
Mentoring AfA Co-Chairs, Mr Kelvin Kong and Mr Hafiz Kasman,
Mentoring AfA Executive Committee Members,
Distinguished Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am very happy to join you this morning at the National Mentoring Summit.

Mentoring as many of you know, has an ancient and very long tradition.

The word ‘Mentor’ has its roots and origins in Greek mythology.

You all have read or seen the movie on the Trojan War. When Odysseus left to fight in the Trojan War, he had asked his friend Mentor to look after his son.

And so the word “mentor” became a verb in the English language over time, to mean imparting wisdom and knowledge to someone younger.

And throughout history since then, there are countless accounts from around the world of how mentors are central to the development of young leaders

You can think of Alexander the Great who studied under Aristotle and was greatly influenced by him.

Or World War II hero and subsequently US President Eisenhower. The story goes, he graduated from Military College at West Point, with a very average result and was destined apparently for a mediocre career. But he later came under the mentorship of a senior commander, someone called Fox Conner, and he later flourished as a military officer. He eventually finished top in class at the US Command and General Staff College. And, of course the rest is history, as he later went on to lead the allied forces in the war and became President of America. These are just two examples, you can find so many more around the world.

We all know that the transition from adolescence to full adulthood is an important, but it is also a very challenging, formative period for young persons. It is a time to work out their values and principles. It is a journey of self-discovery and self-mastery. And as young people embark on these journeys, they need mentors, coaches, and role models who will help to expand their horizons, and walk this journey with them.

This was my experience too.

Growing up, I had no idea what I wanted to be, I had no idea of the career I wanted to pursue. In fact, I had not started out wanting a life-long career in the public service. I was fortunate enough get a scholarship to go overseas, which I took up, only because I wanted to see the world and without the scholarship, I would not have been able to do it myself.

When I returned from my studies, I first thought about joining MFA, again to continue my explorations around the world, but I was rejected. And then I started out as an economist in MTI, thinking that maybe I should leave after a while to join the private sector. Fortunately, I had very good bosses. They engaged me, they were my happenstance, as Hafiz would put it. We did not have a structured, guided mentoring programme, but they were good bosses. And, they were there to talk to me, gave me opportunities to do more at work and encouraged me to see the purpose in public service work. So I had the privilege of working closely with some of them, including Mr. Lim Siong Guan at the Ministry of Finance and Mr. Khaw Boon Wan, initially at the Ministry of Trade and Industry and then at the Ministry of Health, all of whom I learned much from.

And it was through these exposures, and from continuing on in the job over time, that I subsequently found my calling in the public sector, and I stayed on for more than 25 years now – 15 years in the civil service and 10 years in politics.

Like me, I am sure many others who are undergoing similar experiences in their “gathering years” can relate to this.

Because most of us do not start off with a long-term plan for our careers. We do not say, I have a 10 to 15 year plan, and this is what I want to do. If you truly have that in your mind, good for you, but I think the vast majority of people do not start off like that. Instead, we mostly take it one step at a time, and hopefully along the way, we get to choose a career that is aligned with our purpose, our values and our passion. And also a career that stretches us, pushes us a little bit out of our comfort zones so that we continue to develop and grow.

And so, no doubt as we take these steps one by one, there will be challenges along the way. There will be moments when we stumble. But it is from these setbacks that we grow, and mentors play a pivotal role in guiding us through these setbacks and enabling us to develop and grow.

The value of mentoring is also something that we have heard loud and clear from many young people, through our Forward Singapore conversations these past few months. Because it gives young people access to opportunities, networks, and information, and enables them to think about what they might want to do later on in life. So young people themselves, really value mentoring opportunities.

And, that is why we can and we must, as a society, do more to mentor our youths.

Traditionally, mentoring programmes have been targeted at youths from more disadvantaged backgrounds.

But every young person, regardless of their background, can benefit from mentoring, especially those who are navigating more stressful life transitions, like the jump from being a student to a working adult. That is never easy.

So, there are many ways we can come together to offer more mentoring opportunities to young people.

For our youths in tertiary education, we can give them better access and exposure to different jobs and industries out there.

For our youths who are already in the workforce, we can devote more effort to mentoring them at the workplace, guiding them, providing them advice and wisdom, just as many have done for us.

And for some, they will benefit from deeper guidance from experienced adults, including through structured one-to-one mentoring programmes.

So these are all the different ways we can expand mentoring.

But getting enough experienced adults to contribute their time and energies as mentors is a big challenge. It’s not easy and even for those who are willing to step up as mentors, they may not always know how to find opportunities to mentor someone.

We know this is a challenge and we have been looking at ways to close this gap. We also have representatives from the private sector who have been champions for mentoring – they initiated a ground-up Alliance for Action to rally and bring together employers, youth organisations, and schools.

There have been some early successes under this Mentoring AfA work. Through their efforts, we have amassed more than 1,000 mentors from companies, and created 4,000 mentoring opportunities for young people.

So let me put on record, our thanks to the AfA co-chairs and executive members as well as representatives of schools, mentoring organisations, and youth sector organisations for your many contributions. Thank you very much everyone.

We will build on the good work done by the AfA to scale up mentoring opportunities and partnerships nationwide. So this morning, I am very happy to announce the launch of a new Mentoring SG movement. The movement aims to create a thriving mentoring culture in Singapore, so that every young person can find growth opportunities amidst life’s transitions, and be empowered to realise their fullest potential.

The Mentoring SG movement will support youths from diverse backgrounds as they undergo pivotal life transitions, by offering mentoring opportunities that build tenacity, resilience, soft skills, and knowledge, as part of their personal and career development.

To support this, we will set up a Mentoring SG Office. It will build up expertise and resources in this area, and help to scale up mentoring opportunities at the national-level. Specifically, amongst other things, the Mentoring SG office will look to:

Establish a first-stop portal to help mentors and mentees find opportunities tailored to their needs;

Build capabilities among interested mentors by providing training and resources, and sharing best practices.

And to expand structured mentoring programmes for youths, by fostering and forging more partnerships among schools, companies and mentoring organisations.

Those are some of its immediate priorities once this office is set up.

While the office will do its part, the success of this Mentoring SG movement will really require everyone’s support. Companies, in particular, play an important role in this movement. So for the corporate leaders among us, I would want to encourage you to do more, because you can create a positive impact by incorporating mentoring as a key part of your working culture in your organisations.

You can start by just encouraging your senior staff to take on informal mentoring roles, to go the extra mile to look out for your younger colleagues. And, many organisations have done this. So the happenstance mentoring can be slightly more formal, and senior colleagues can be a little bit more deliberate and conscious when you engage young people. And over time, you can create a more deliberate mentoring culture within your organisation.

Take the example of the company Dell. Many of their senior leaders have informally taken on the role of mentors, guiding their younger managers to prepare them for leadership roles. These have started from simple conversations about their career aspirations, and honest sharing about some of the work challenges that they face. And today, over the years of building up this sort of informal mentoring by senior colleagues, this culture has blossomed into a programme called MentorConnect at Dell.

For those able to contribute more resources towards structured mentorship programmes, I encourage you to support this movement in various ways:

For example, you can encourage your employees to join existing mentoring programmes as mentors.

You can partner the Mentoring SG office and other mentoring organisations to start a mentorship programme, or to offer job tasters to students through the National Youth Council.

If you already have an existing mentoring programme, you can consider how to scale up the programme to benefit many more young people.

And finally, you could pledge your corporate resources or assets for the broader mentoring community in Singapore.

And I glad that some of our corporates have already risen to the challenge.

For example, this year, professionals from LinkedIn helped to mentor youths from our Junior Colleges, giving them valuable insights on charting possible career pathways.

Credit Suisse is also running a mentoring programme with students from our Institutes of Technical Education (ITE) with the support of Bethesda Care Services.

These are just two examples, there are many more and many companies have started small, and then eventually expanded their programme. So if you do not have an existing programme, you can also take the first small step forward and over time, develop and grow the mentoring culture within your organisations.

To all of you who are seated here or are already serving as mentors, or are interested in becoming one – you are here today because you have taken an interest in a cause beyond yourselves. And, I believe that being a mentor to someone else is a cause and a responsibility that will be worth your while. I encourage you to connect with the Mentoring SG office to explore how you can further contribute to our mentoring system.

Ultimately, what we hope to create in Singapore is to make this a land of opportunity for all. A place with diverse and promising pathways for every Singaporean, to maximise their potential regardless of their background. A nation where our youths can chase the rainbow and truly achieve remarkable things, because they have the resources and social capital to do so.

Mentoring is one of these resources, embodying this spirit of fellowship and mutual support that is so crucial in taking Singapore forward.

Everyone has something to contribute, and we all have a responsibility to support one another for the greater good.

So I seek your support for our Mentoring SG movement.

If we come together and work together, I am confident that we can nurture a generation of future-ready and resilient youths, who are empowered by mentors to fulfil their potential, and build a better Singapore for all. Thank you very much.