What do you think is the most pressing political challenge facing your generation?
The decline of trust. The average level of trust in government, business, media and NGOs have declined. Without trust, governments cannot govern effectively, businesses face new challenges to innovate, media’s credibility is undermined, and NGOs struggle to fulfill their mandate.
These institutions have to earn public trust in an era of shorter electoral cycles, quarterly pressures on businesses, unrestrained dissemination of fake news and greater accountability for NGOs. The stakes are higher, faster and less forgiving.
Do you feel optimistic about the future of your country?
Yes. Given the strong foundation of the first fifty four years, and the principles that continue to drive decision making here. Within one generation, we managed to achieve an exceptional quality of life ensuring efficient healthcare, strong education system, robust infrastructure, stable socio-political environment, and milieu that supports innovation and entrepreneurship.
But we can’t take any of this for granted. We need to continue to be hungry and nimble, to adapt to a dynamic global environment and changing nature of jobs and skills. And given our multi-racial and religious context, we also need to continue to build social cohesion. If we fail in doing this, we will fail as a country.
What is your perception of government as an institution?
Government remains one of the most important institutions in society. It is responsible for protecting its people (security), creating jobs (economic) and bringing society together (social). Good governments understand the trade-offs and know how to manage multiple interests and agenda, uniting the country together towards long term progress.
Bad governments give in to divisive populist sentiments, pander to select interests and make decisions primarily based on electoral cycles and have little to no consideration for the long term interests of their country.
Which other countries inspire you and why?
Rwanda. For the way in which it managed to recover from genocide, build trust and bring its people together. I have good friends from Rwanda and visited Kigali in 2011. Their recovery astounded me.
Indonesia. I spent a lot of time working in Indonesia over the past 5 years, and I’ve witnessed how innovative, vibrant and hungry the Indonesians are, and the massive opportunities they have to transform their country. They have rallied well around President Jokowi and if they can continue to pull in one direction, Indonesia will fulfill its full potential.
Who do you admire? Who is your hero?
My late grandmother. She survived the Japanese occupation of Singapore and fostered children in her village (kampong), including my father. She did not have much, but she was the biggest hearted person I knew. She taught me to be kind, giving and to build a community regardless of faith, race and socio-economic background. She was known throughout her community as “Mama Dear” for her compassion.
What is one thing that you would like to preserve for the next generation?
Singapore’s precious racial and religious harmony. My generation must continue to build upon what our forefathers have built. We need to spend time on the ground learning about, eating with and celebrating alongside our friends from different faiths, creeds and persuasion.
Alvin Tan is a community builder in Singapore. He currently works in tech.