The question of why Singapore has no global brand can be explained by way of Singapore’s small population, or by way of America’s domination of the global brands board. But it can also be rephrased as a question of why Singaporeans lack the creativity, innovation, passion and ambition to create, develop and market products and services to the extent of being recognised internationally.
Singaporeans’ failure to be creative and innovative is arguably rooted in the ideological dogma that a typical Singaporean is subservient, conservative and uncreative. When it comes to the political sphere, Singaporeans generally adhere to the authoritarian regime and do not partake in active citizenry. Commentators might blame the Singapore education system where rote learning is the norm, but I think that the problem is much more pervasive. It is rooted in our politics, society and culture. One should be aware of the extent to which the government invades Singaporeans’ personal lives in the name of creating a society which is harmonious and community-based. For example, there is the Singapore Kindness Movement that teaches Singaporeans how to behave, and the Social Development Unit that provides working professionals with opportunities to date. Every group of persons of more than 10 must register as a society and events are monitored. This insidiously close relationship between the government and the governed gives limited space for personal creativity and innovation. Change is very difficult to occur because the government’s rhetoric spells out numerous possibilities, talking of liberalization, say, which is not reflected at the ground level.
Singaporeans lack the passion to create and develop a global brand, not because Singaporeans lack passion per se, but because their passion has been killed and now needs to be re-ignited. Singaporean society has, since the beginning of its inception, run on a politics of fear. When Singapore separated from Malaysia back in 1965, it was with much trepidation and anxiety concerning Singapore’s survival. In recent years, the rhetoric has not changed. Discussions often revolve around Singapore’s vulnerability as being a majority Chinese nation amongst Muslim countries, and lately, the discussion has focused on the challenges that Singapore has to face, given the rise of China and India. Singapore’s government continues to portray Singapore in a state of vulnerability, which in turn causes fear and apprehension in its citizens. The idea has been, and still is, that citizens should obey the government, which is made up of the best and the brightest. As a consequence, most Singaporeans who are not civil servants may see themselves as inferior and thus unable to rise to world class standards of business. This inferiority complex pushes many Singaporeans to perceive themselves as mere working class people trying to make a decent living, Hence ambition and passion are sorely lacking.
I see these two reasons, having to do with politics and society, as coming closer to the truth of why Singapore does not have a global brand (a global bank, even), which is the outcome of creativity, innovation, passion and ambition. In order to develop a global brand, Singapore must develop creativity in its citizens in a broad and not a narrow sense (broad as in all disciplines and not just in the arts and culture sector), across the board and in reality as opposed to just in rhetoric.