Channel NewsAsia

Leadership requires not just intellect, but also empathy: President Tan

Addressing the five recipients of this year's President's Scholarship, President Tony Tan Keng Yam urged them to help tackle the challenges facing Singapore and bring the country to greater heights. 

SINGAPORE: Public servants must keep an open mind to the diverse views that Singaporeans hold, said President Tony Tan Keng Yam on Wednesday (Aug 13), at the President's Scholarship award ceremony this evening.

As current and future leaders have to deal with increasingly complex issues, Dr Tan said that Singapore will need people of fortitude and strength to bring the country forward. "As a small, open economy, Singapore is vulnerable to external economic shocks. Even technology, which has enhanced our lives, must be handled with caution. Singapore is starting to take the lead in addressing some of these public challenges that many countries are also grappling with and there are no easy answers from copying what others do," he said.

There will also be unanticipated global and regional developments that will affect Singapore. "As recipients of the President's Scholarship, the onus is on each one of you to help tackle the challenges facing Singapore and bring our country to greater heights. Doing this will require not just intellect but empathy with those in our community," said Dr Tan. 

The President's Scholarship is given to young men and women who have a deep passion for working in the Public Service. There are five recipients this year.

Brendan Dean Zhi Min is the first President's Scholar from the NUS High School of Mathematics and Science. He will study biological sciences at Harvard University after he finishes his National Service, and believes Officer Cadet School will equip him with leadership capabilities that would come in handy in his further studies.

"I would say that the way that science looks at the world is quite similar to the way that public policy looks at the world in terms of being objective, taking a look at the broader picture, seeing how the system, whether it's a human body or a city, works together to create a success," he said. 

Another recipient, Lee Zi Xin from Raffles Institution, took part in the Education Ministry's Regional Studies Programme, where she specialised in the Malay language for six years and joined regional trips to further her understanding of Southeast Asian relations. She will read economics at the University of Pennsylvania.

"Economics applies not only to economic policy and policies on the market but also to other public policies," she said. "One new area that is coming up in economics is behavioural economics. You understand how people make choices and decisions, and you tap on the human system to make your policies more effective."

Eugene Lim Zhi Wei, who also attended the Regional Studies Programme, said the experience sparked his interest in foreign policy. He will read Global Affairs at Yale University, and serve a four-year bond at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs before serving another two years at another ministry.

Fellow recipient Tommy Koh Kit Shaun, also from Raffles Institution, will major in political science or psychology at Johns Hopkins University, where he hopes to gain international exposure in a well-established humanities research department.

Arturo Neo Yong Yao of Hwa Chong Institution will study medicine at the National University of Singapore on a Local Merit Scholarship. A member of the St John Ambulance Brigade, he said overseas community involvement trips ignited his passion for giving back to the community. Growing up in a single-parent family also motivated him to strive for excellence without putting a financial strain on his mother, he said.