Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Singapore - Time for a 'Peace Corps?'

Humans have short memories.

Take Singapore's case. In one generation the city-state has gone from Third World to First World. GDP per capita increased from USD 561 in 1966 to USD 37,597 in 2008. Physical infrastructure is now world class.
Has everyone forgotten this fact?

A 1959 advertisement from Singapore's Straits Times newspaper
There seems to be a propensity to complain among some sections of the Singaporean population. The complaints vary from the increasing cost of living, the quality of public transport, to the role of immigrants ('foreign talent') in Singaporean society.
Constructive intellectual debate is healthy. However, placing issues in their historical perspective is important and, ideally, suggestions to help mitigate the issues are always welcome.
Complaining for the sake of complaining is less welcome.
More often than not, what one senses in Singapore is a plea for intervention by the government to solve a particular grievance. Like a child running to her parent.
When in doubt, ask the government for 'top down' guidance because the government is omnipotent in all things. For example, the government can control the websites our kids can access or solve problems between neighbours in a public housing (HDB) estate.
In the past, the government may have encouraged such a paternal relationship but Singapore's political culture has matured considerably during the last decade. An overly protective or patronizing relationship between ruled and ruler is no longer relevant.
Singaporeans are taking greater control of their destiny. They are speaking their mind more confidently. Even sensitive issues concerning race and religion are beginning to filter to the surface.

A Singapore scene (1978)
The more open environment encouraged by Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong during his tenure as PM is paying dividends. An education system slightly tweaked to encourage a more holistic learning experience and move away from purely rote learning is also helping.
Maybe it is time to consider a 'Peace Corps' model of overseas service for all young adults in Singapore?
Under such a system Singaporeans of a certain age (say 21- 25) will be sent to a less developed country in the region for 3-6 months to engage in some form of social work. For the men, it can form a part of the National Service (NS) requirement (which was reduced from 2.5 years to 2 years recently). For women a new program will have to be developed.
The objective is to broaden the world view of young Singaporeans by having them come into contact with other cultures and people outside of their own comfort zone, i.e. Singapore.
By experiencing the realities of an emerging nation perhaps there will be a greater appreciation of today's Singapore.
A coeducational development program will have other positive side effects. It will increase integration among the races. It may even act as a stepping stone towards making NS a compulsory requirement for women (as in Israel).
Granted, a sweeping proposal such as the creation of a 'Civil Development Corps' is an unusual idea that requires further detailed analysis to determine its feasibility in the Singapore context. It is a scheme that deserves the attention of policy makers.

Singapore's pedal cab - some things should never change!

A graduate of the Civil Development Corps will be less likely to complain and more inclined to take action. Actions are required to keep Singapore competitive and thriving in a fast changing world.


  1. I think the experience gained from serving in a Singapore 'Peace Corps' will be useful, but isn't this another top-down, govt run programme? Peace Corps in the US is a voluntary thing (as far as I know). Are you proposing to make it compulsory like conscription? That is unlikely to go down well with the people. It won't go down well with the PAP govt either, as they need women to work and grow the economy, not serve NS.

    Like I said, I like your idea to get whiny Singaporeans out to Third World nations. But we should explore other ways to achieve this.

  2. Hi Gerald,

    Thanks again for taking the time to post your comments.

    I am glad that we agree that it is better to appreciate the positives around us in Singapore, while at the same time engaging in constructive debate to continue to improve. After all, there is always room for improvement.

    I must admit your insights raise questions which warrant some serious contemplation and which I had not fully considered.

    Yes, my initial idea is that it be a compulsory thing. But, as you indicate, it is an idea that needs to be thought through as the implications are many and the 'law of unintended consequences' can be a powerful force. Frankly, I will be happy if getting people out to less developed nations can be achieved in almost any way as I believe that many are unaware of the high standard of living generally found in Singapore.

    You are right the US Peace Corps is comprised entirely of volunteers.

    I hope you will continue to provide positive critiques of my posts as they are extremely valuable. Sometimes when I write I may have a tendency not to view the matter from all angles.

    Your comments certainly help me to achieve a higher standard of intellectual integrity and I look forward to more comments from you.

    Kind regards,