SINGAPORE: Seven industry-led alliances formed to create and execute ideas to help Singapore as it attempts to steer the economy out of the COVID-19 crisis have developed solutions that include launching autonomous shuttles on the road and creating seamless shopping experiences to help the retail sector.
The seven groups, called the Singapore Together Alliances for Action, were set up in June under the Emerging Stronger Taskforce, itself a committee announced in April with the purpose of exploring ways to help the Singapore economy bounce back from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The task force is co-chaired by Minister for National Development Desmond Lee and PSA International Group CEO Tan Chong Meng and includes the heads of several large organisations such as DBS, CapitaLand and Changi Airport Group.
"There’s no returning to the old norms that existed prior to COVID," Mr Lee said during a press conference on Thursday (Nov 19) as he gave an update about the task force’s movements.
He pointed to what the task force has identified as the six ways the virus has reshaped the world - a changing global order; rebalance between efficiency and resilience in supply chains and production; accelerating digital transformation and innovation; changes in consumer preferences; an increased focus on environmental and social sustainability, both environmental and social; and accelerating industry consolidation.
Mr Lee also noted the two key themes underpinning Singapore’s future economy - which the task force has been guided by throughout its discussions; these are, a Singapore that is connected to the rest of the world and one that is built on environmental sustainability and inclusivity.
The alliances have therefore been tasked to look at key areas of economic growth: Sustainability, enabling safe and innovative visitor experiences, facilitating smart commerce, digitalising the built environment, digitalising supply chains, robotics and educational technology.
The solutions the alliances have come up with include creating more tie-ups between companies so that shoppers are engaged both online and offline, and launching two autonomous transport shuttles by the end of this year, the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) said separately on Thursday in a press release.
This comes amid the increasing popularity of e-commerce and a greater demand for personalisation and engagement, as well as the need to address the country’s manpower crunch, the ministry said.
Other concepts in the works include a carbon market where carbon credits are exchanged and a system for companies to measure, mitigate and offset their carbon footprint.
"By building a carbon hub for Singapore, it can generate economic value, create jobs and further enhance Singapore’s role in commodities trading," Mr Lee said.
READ: Industry-led groups to develop, execute ideas for post-COVID-19 economic growth in ‘three-month sprint’
A new medical technology-focused alliance is also being developed to look into tapping on in-vitro diagnostics for disease preparedness, containment and control.
Dr Loo Choon Yong, a member of the medical technology alliance and the co-founder of Raffles Medical Group, said the industry had the potential to grow into a US$100 billion business that would create 4,000 new jobs, of which 2,000 would be at the executive level.
Another alliance on how Singapore could create “win-win partnerships” with its Southeast Asian counterparts might also be in the works, MTI added.
"The Emerging Stronger Taskforce certainly views the identification and the focus on a number of key markets within ASEAN an important task," said PSA International’s Mr Tan.
ALLIANCES TOOK "SWIFT" AND "START-UP" APPROACHES
MTI said the alliances took a “start-up” approach in their work, where they came up with prototypes while engaging more than 600 people from the likes of government agencies and trade associations at the same time.
Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat, who announced the task force in April, said during the press conference that such a “swift approach” of quickly testing out ideas was the way forward.
Typically in previous committees, they would hold discussions and publish a report before implementing any recommendations, he said.
"Now the pace of change is so rapid that in this round, what (they have) done is something I would say very creative and innovative, which is to prototype solutions … and at the same time, look at how if these prototypes are successful, this can be scaled across the economy, and even beyond the shores of Singapore," said Mr Heng.
SINGAPORE'S ABILITY TO WORK "HORIZONTALLY KEY": DBS CHIEF
DBS chief executive and a member of the task force Piyush Gupta said that Singapore’s ability to work “horizontally” would reap long-term rewards for Singapore.
"One of the big opportunities we have in Singapore which distinguishes us is to work horizontally between the public sector, the private sector, academia and civil society, in ways that large countries find difficult," he said.
"I think this (alliance) approach really allows us to bring multiple parts of the system together so we can really think horizontally instead of vertically. And if we can institutionalise this … I think it has a lot of consequences for Singapore in the long-term."
READ: New economic task force kept small ‘to move nimbly’, plans to engage more Singaporeans: Desmond Lee
MTI also announced that the initial 17-member task force group has been expanded to 23.
The task force was previously criticised for its lack of women, minorities and disadvantaged individuals among its members.
Representatives from 36 not-for-profit organisations, social enterprises and arts groups including former Nominated Members of Parliament Yip Pin Xiu, Anthea Ong and Walter Theseira, signed a letter to the task force in June calling for more diversity to ensure the needs of vulnerable groups are addressed.
Opposition Member of Parliament Sylvia Lim also noted in June that there was an insufficient number of women - just two then - on the panel in a Parliamentary speech during a time when women have had to bear the brunt of the virus, as well as the absence of Malay members and those from small- and medium-sized businesses.
In response to the open letter, Mr Lee said in June that the task force would seek views from Singaporeans and stakeholders outside the group.
Mr Lee said on Thursday that the task force has engaged more than 250 people from the likes of civil society groups and trade associations in three Emerging Stronger Conversations for the Economy and other engagements.
He dismissed claims that the additional members was in response to the flak, saying that the task force’s “specific objective” was to evaluate the crisis, its opportunities and its risks.
"While we hoist on board people’s suggestions that the Emerging Stronger Taskforce needs to be more diverse, I think we grow our diversity in order to achieve the outcomes that we seek to achieve," he said.