Valedictory Dinner for Master in Public Policy (Class of 2006/08)
Guest of Honour: His Excellency Sajjad Ashraf, High Commissioner, High Commission for the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.
Date: Friday, 9th May 2008
Venue: Shangri-La Hotel Singapore
Valedictory Dinner Speech
by His Excellency Sajjad Ashraf, High Commissioner, High Commission for the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.
Dean Kishore Mahbubani, distinguished guests, and friends.
Some weeks back when I was asked to join the Valedictory Dinner for the Master of Public Policy class, I agreed as the honour was too big to pass. I am therefore grateful for the opportunity to be with the leaders of tomorrow and share some of my thoughts.
I feel as close to the LKY School as I do to ISAS, the two institutions that were launched in August 2004, about the same time I arrived in Singapore.
I believe there could not have been a better place to build a public policy school than Singapore, a country that has transformed its public service and, through its public service transformed a nation. And then a country that until four years back not even named a road, a statue or a building after its founding father could not have chosen a better name to guide the spirit behind the school. And having named the school after the founding father, they could not have entrusted the name LKY to a man of lesser standing than Dean Kishore Mahbubani. In this short time, ladies and gentlemen, because of his vision and leadership the school has demonstrated a clear academic mission, has provided instructional leadership, has fostered a learning environment, and has set high expectations necessary for a top school from which all of you benefited. From here on it is your own conscious effort that takes you forward.
Today, you enter a new phase of your lives. A phase that puts you on the threshold of leadership positions in your respective countries. As proud alumni of this prestigious institution, you are expected to bring new knowledge, skills and motivation levels to not only bear on the present but also in molding the future.
My friends, many of you are from developing countries where demands placed on you are higher as we represent societies where public service is still expected to provide a leadership role in social entrepreneurial sectors. And the challenges you face are greater because resources are still lacking to bring in effective change quickly. Your test lies in motivating people and bringing in workable public policies and good management.
Now, I have not had the good fortune of attending specialised courses like you have just completed. I am blessed with the urge to learn. In 1990, I had the honor of sitting alone for a meeting with Mr. Kim Woo Choong, the Daewoo founder, and I asked him, what was his secret in becoming the 33rd biggest conglomerate in the world starting with just $10,000/ 30 years back? He said, “No secret- just belief, and I realised it’s a big world and there is lots to be done. ”
On the heels of that statement, I shall make six points:
One: Belief is the beginning of all accomplishment.
If you believe then you can achieve. It actually becomes a part of who you are.
Belief in your own self is all about crossing a mental barrier. Let me tell you something to illustrate what I mean. For centuries, man had been trying to break the 4-minutes-a-mile barrier. No one could do it. The ancient Spartans and Romans let lions and tigers after their athletes to make them run faster but no, they could not and were eaten by the animals. Till in 1951, one man- Roger Bannister- broke the 4-minutes-a-mile barrier for the first time. It made world headlines. In 1952, 4 people did it. In 1953, 7 people crossed it. In 1954, 11 did it. In 1955, 27 beat it and now, if you do not break that line in less than 4 minutes, you do not qualify to participate in the Olympics.
It is all in your power. Believe and you shall achieve. Break barriers.
My second point: Create realities.
Inertia is the antithesis to development. We want to remain within our comfort zones. In the developing world, training procedures and social elitism attached to public services have kept us mired in the colonial era. You are expected to move away from this elitism and be real pubic servants. And, if you remain instruments of status quo and stagnation, historical forces will wash you away.
Life gives each one of us the opportunity and ability to create realities. Only the scale is different. Some, like Jesus, Mohammad, Gandhi, Mao and others like them created global impact that spans centuries and civilisations. Some of us create realities in our communities, in our societies or within our families. There are others who just face realities and then there are those who just give in to the realities others create for them. It is those who create new realities that drive change in their communities.
And that brings me to my third point: Change
Change, ladies and gentlemen, is essential for growth. Civilisations do not survive unless they move with the times.
I give you a historical analogy. Why do they say that the 16th century belonged to the Portuguese, the 17th to the Dutch, the 18th to the French, the 19th to the British, the 20th to the Americans? Who will the 21st century belong to? Some say the Chinese. I say, only you and brilliant minds like you to whom we pass the torch today.
Governments in the developing world to which most of us belong, have become powerless against the special interest groups. In some cases, they seem to have abandoned their responsibility to provide basic social services to the less fortunate sections of society. You, my friends, are now expected to get this balance right.
With your new education and capabilities, I am confident you will become catalysts for this new and different form of governmental responsibility leading to good management.
This brings me to my fourth point, which is: Management and Economic Development.
A look at successful models demonstrates one unmistakable trait common amongst all- that good management creates economic and social development. Conversely, underdevelopment is the direct result of under-management or bad management. If capital alone was enough, some of the resource rich countries should be amongst the richest countries in the world. Reality is different.
Germany and Japan sprung out of devastating war through good management. Look at Korea- a small bunch of Chaebols have transformed a nation devastated by wars and poverty. Dubai with very little natural resource has outstripped others with more resources in rapid economic growth.
Singapore’s per capita at the time of independence was the same as that of Sierra Leone. The rest is history. There are no secrets. In Singapore, a small group of men led by an able visionary has transformed a nation.
Top companies, ladies and gentlemen, are examples of good management. See Singapore Airlines- the success story is based on vision, correct policies and effective management. See PSA, Singapore Power, SingTel, CapitaLand, SembCorp and many more. Same story- one lesson- good management.
Development, ladies and gentlemen, in other words is a matter of human energy rather than economic wealth. And the generation and direction of human energy is the task of management. And that means that management is the prime mover and development is only a consequence. With your new wealth of knowledge, my good friends, expectations from you are higher and you have a better chance to make this difference.
And this brings me my fifth point: Levels of Expectations on Either Side of You.
In positions you are likely to hold in the near future, your superiors will justifiably have higher expectations of you. At the same time, you are a leader within your own sphere where you are now expected to build effective teams. The success of these teams depends heavily on the relationships you build with and within your team.
In your new position, you are expected to generate ideas, remembering that some of the best ones may sound crazy at first. You are now expected to lead initiatives, even if the outcome is uncertain. Your superiors now expect you to develop leaders among your people. You will be expected to stay current on world events and other professional trends and also anticipate well. More importantly, in the senior positions you are now entering, you are expected to drive your own growth by exposing yourself to new people and ideas and by accepting demanding assignments.
On the other side, now that you will, in most cases, be leading your own teams, you need to provide clarity of direction; set goals and objectives; give frequent, specific, and immediate feedback; be decisive and timely; demonstrate honesty and candor; and offer an equitable reward plan. More importantly, you need to demonstrate by example. The result, I assure you, will be to improve team performance and accelerate individual growth.
And my last point puts it all together: Don’t Despair
It is my belief that this universe works on the basis of laws of nature. Science is only the discovery of these laws. It is the unlocking of nature’s secrets. Knowledge is only providing empirical evidence to discovering what would otherwise remain a mystery. More often than not, we get discouraged at the lack of returns or lack of progress. You go angling; you do not catch a fish every minute. You go bird shooting; you do not get a bird with every bullet you fire. The success rate of oil wells drilled in many cases is just 2 per cent. But that is how life is meant to be.
Look at something very basic. Every morning when I get up, I see a picture of a farmer in our part of the world. He is still tilling his fields as he did in the days of Jesus Christ. In his loose-fitting, dirty clothes he walks barefoot, on that hot earth under the blazing sun, in his field with a bag of seeds hanging around his shoulder. As he walks from one side to the other, he throws fistfuls of seeds in the fields. By the time he completes his rounds, he has thrown in millions of seeds. He knows only a few thousand of those will sprout. And yet he must throw those millions of seeds to have a good chance of a full harvest. This is the law of nature.
All that I have said today is connected- beginning with the belief in you and ending with action. It is all about hope, realisation and accomplishment. It is all about heroes and followers. It cannot be summarised better, my friends, than what one of my heroes, General Douglas MacArthur, said:
“People grow old by deserting their ideals. Years may wrinkle away the skin, but to give up interest wrinkles the soul.
You are young as your faith, as old as your doubt; as young as your self-confidence, as old as your fear; as young as your hope, as old as your despair. ”
It is all in your power, my friends. Just do it.