10 years ago, I had a face-to-face meeting with the legendary Mr. Philip Yeo on the top floor of Fusionopolis.
He offered me a scholarship, but with two conditions.
- Learn Bahasa Indonesia
- Promise to be a good officer when I return.
For the first condition, all I have to say is , “walaupun saya sudah belajar bahasa indonesia, saya masih kurang lancar”
And for the second, only God and my bosses know if I lived up to my promise.
Close to two years ago, I returned to Enterprise Singapore as a Management Associate. Today, I help facilitate two-way flows of commerce, ideas and people between Singapore and the major innovation hubs of the world at the Global Innovation Network.
A few younger friends were curious to hear if Enterprise Singapore was a good fit for them, so I decided to share my words with them more widely.
I love Singapore. I don’t love it because I think it’s perfect. (The string of political scandals in July 2023 is one clear example.)
I love it because Singapore is (and always has been) a sampan navigating the rough and choppy seas. We are a nation crazy enough to believe we, a tiny island nation, can make a dent in the universe.
It is this belief that has driven me to study at an experimental Singaporean liberal arts college, Yale-NUS (which is, unfortunately, shuttering down), to volunteer with our youths, and to gorge my foreign friends with satay and Hainanese Chicken Rice.
As I spent the past 700 days here at Enterprise Singapore, I became increasingly convinced that our work will be foundational to Singapore’s future prosperity.
Three crucial points stood out:
- Singapore’s Future is At Stake. The era of global economic integration and free trade was a definitive tailwind enabling Singapore to jump from ‘third world to first’. However, wars, pandemics, and great power competition have made the world more uncertain. This means we need both foreign direct investments and strong Singapore companies. Look at the best companies in the world- Apple, Alibaba, Alphabet, and American Express. These companies are highly productive, innovative and international. Their dynamism has become growth engines for their respective countries. Wherever they go, good jobs are created. At Enterprise Singapore, the people are committed to working with businesses to support their growth so that one day, Singapore can build on a global class of Singaporean enterprises.
- It’s Not About The Grants. It’s easy to assume that Enterprise Singapore officers spend most days administering grants. A cursory scan of our website will show you the whole suite of financial support Enterprise Singapore provides to our enterprises. However, I believe Enterprise Singapore should be known as a ‘catalysing agency’. At the end of the day, while grants can incentivise beneficial corporate behaviours, companies still bear the bulk of a project’s operational and financial risk. This means that beyond grants, EnterpriseSG must actively encourage companies to take on projects that will propel their growth trajectory. We already help businesses gain traction by creating platforms to showcase their value proposition. I think there are still plenty of opportunities for greater cross-border innovation and collaboration for us to work on.
- Pragmatic Idealism. Tommy Koh brands the Singapore School of Diplomacy as a fusion of hard-headed realpolitik and pragmatic idealism. He says that Singapore's leaders and diplomats are ‘known and respected for their unsentimental and logical analysis of international situations and regional trends. However, this does not mean they are cynical, unprincipled or without value.’ It is perhaps not wrong that the civil servants here at EnterpriseSG share the same spirit. For the past two years, I have observed a consistent combination of traits in the officers: an idealistic drive to help our enterprises grow and a pragmatic attitude that industry transformations do not take place overnight. There is this organisational focus on gathering and understanding data in its various forms so that any initiatives we implement are grounded in economic reality. Crucially, these shared traits have created a collaborative culture where officers from different departments are empowered to work closely with one another to better serve more Singaporean enterprises with less time and effort.
Now, I want to talk about the things that add joy and enrich my working experience here at Enterprise Singapore.
- Enterprise Singapore boasts a globally-integrated organisational model. Our >35 overseas centres are fantastic resources for Singaporean companies looking to internationalise. Personally, those deployed officers also serve as valuable guides for me to understand better the business culture, trends and innovations in foreign markets.
- We work at the intersection of the Market and the Government. The privilege of working with an extensive network of local and overseas commercial partners means we get to drink from a firehose of knowledge and learn in real time how the ground beneath us is shifting. This acts as a powerful forcing function to get the right things done.
- Enterprise Singapore is extremely millennial-friendly. You will find that the officers here are generally quite young. A sizable number of us are in our late 20s and early 30s. Organizationally, it helps us better engage the startups in our ecosystem. Personally, it makes for a positive and welcoming working environment.
- A+ colleagues. On Reddit, you may hear horror stories of backstabbing or attention-hoarding co-workers that make work a living hell. But, by the grace of God, I am surrounded by a team of supportive and kind colleagues. What makes my division truly special is their genuine desire to see each other succeed. There's no cutthroat competition or rivalry here; instead, it's a culture of collaboration, where we are always looking out for each other.
- The bosses are generally approachable. My bosses have been generous with their time and advice. They often share their past mistakes, learnings and insights with me so that I can do my job better. One thing that really stands out among the members of management I have come across is that they sincerely care about us.
- We know how to have fun. From my participation in our monthly Division Games Nights and annual Dinner and Dance , I can also confirm that people here, indeed, know how to work hard and play hard. (I would argue that in modern work, fun is a powerful social lubricant that enables cross-collaboration)
- Vending machines.
You may ask, what are some areas for improvement you have observed so far?
My official holding line: "Nothing!"
Me internally: “My bosses are already going to read this unsanctioned piece of work. I don’t plan on getting into deeper trouble”
But from my vantage point, what I can share are the inevitable costs of working here.
Here are a few worth considering:
- You have to suck it up. When complaints or criticism inevitably roll in from the public, you don’t have the luxury of retorting or ignoring them. Not all of us are Philip Yeos, so we do not get the privilege of being neither civil nor servant.
- You must be prepared for odd hours. Every division has its cadence, but experiencing higher intensity of workloads in certain pockets of the year is a universal experience here. When big events like SWITCH come around, you will see the entire organisation kick into hyperdrive.
- You must get used to writing and re-writing. An officer must write memos, notes of meetings, trip reports and proposals. If you believe your ideas are strong enough to change Singapore, you must communicate your insight with clarity. This is an onerous task, but thankfully, you will have a lot of practice.
Life at Enterprise Singapore is much more than a job. It is an opportunity to learn, grow and contribute to building a Singapore that will thrive for centuries.
If you are interested in exploring a career with us, click here.