Speech by Dr Tony Tan Keng Yam, President of Singapore, at the Singapore International Foundation 25th Anniversary Dinner, at One Farrer Hotel, Singapore
Dr Janil Puthucheary, Minister of State for Communications and Information and Education,
Mr Ong Keng Yong, Chairman, Singapore International Foundation,
I am delighted to join you this evening to celebrate the Singapore International Foundation’s silver jubilee.
Last year, Singapore marked an important milestone when we celebrated our 50th year of independence. Indeed, we have come a long way since 1965 when independence was thrust upon us. The odds were stacked against us.
As a small nation state with limited natural resources, we learned very early on that our journey in self-reliance depended not only on our wits, but also on forging strong friendships and partnerships with other nations.
Our first generation leaders led by founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew made it a priority to pursue friendly relations with all our neighbouring countries, as well as those further afield. We needed help - and many developed countries responded to our call. They were generous with their assistance and goodwill, and were forth coming with funding, technical and skills training.
In Singapore’s crucial formative years, we were fortunate to have friends from the global community who supported and stood by us. We will always remember and treasure the enduring relationships Singapore has forged with other nations over the decades.
Singapore continues to advocate the importance of global citizenry and the impact of a connected and collaborative world. Today, Singapore is doing our part to support the development of other countries and maintain international peace and security. For instance, we have been sharing Singapore’s development experience through government initiatives like the Singapore Cooperation Programme (SCP) and the Initiative for ASEAN Integration. Within our means, we have provided technical assistance bilaterally or in collaboration with other countries and international organisations to help train officials from over 170 countries in diverse fields including education, environment, healthcare, and economic development.
Complementing the work of government in bridging development gaps and peace-building efforts are non-government organisations like the Red Cross Singapore, Temasek Foundation, Singapore Institute of International Affairs and, our host this evening, the Singapore International Foundation (SIF). Global in their outlook, these agencies facilitate deep and active involvement of Singaporeans and others in addressing global challenges through dialogue, capacity building programmes and humanitarian activities, contributing to greater international understanding and development.
Founded in August 1991, SIF’s work has evolved over the last 25 years but core to the Foundation is its role in developing friendly relations among nations. SIF actively encourages social and cultural cooperation at the people-to-people level. When people of diverse cultures come together to dialogue and work on programmes that benefit communities, it gives rise to meaningful collaborations which build mutual understanding and strengthen ties and trust between peoples. Today, the Foundation runs a suite of international exchange and development-oriented programmes to connect Singaporeans and global communities, harnessing the power of the collective to enable greater good. The work that SIF does has strengthened bonds across borders and contributed to Singapore being known as a reliable friend and responsible global citizen.
To celebrate its 25th anniversary this year, SIF has put together a commemorative book “Building a Better World” showcasing 25 stories of Singaporeans as Citizen Ambassadors manifesting the spirit of Singapore abroad, and stepping outside of their comfort zones to connect, collaborate and effect positive change in global communities.
As the Patron of the SIF, I have fond memories of a particular SIF project that is featured in the book. In November 2012 while on an official visit to Indonesia, I met Dr. Ramaswarmy Akhileswaran and his team of Singapore doctors and nurses in Jakarta. They were there as volunteers for three years working on a Palliative Care for Children project which had successfully raised standards of palliative care services for terminally ill children. I am heartened to learn that SIF and its specialist volunteers were invited to embark on another three-year project which will see Indonesian medical professionals from ten public hospitals in Jakarta trained to work with patients who suffer from end-stage illnesses. This is testament to the spirit of enduring relationships between the peoples of two countries and how friendships can be harnessed for greater good.
Another story from the book is that of a young Singaporean. Jamon Mok started a social enterprise called Backstreet Academy to connect skilled craftsmen living in poverty with travelers. His idea is simple but impactful. He works with local NGOs and disadvantaged communities in 13 countries – linking local experts and craftsmen with tourists keen to have an authentic experience of the local art and traditions. The local hosts gain extra income and move out of poverty while the visitors enhance their exchange with local culture. This innovative social enterprise by Jamon is an excellent illustration of reaching out for a common good which has benefited the less advantaged.
In closing, I congratulate SIF on a successful journey and wish the Foundation many more good years ahead. Your mission is both important and meaningful and I encourage you to continue to grow in reach and impact as you bring people together to share ideas, skills and resources to enrich lives and effect positive change. Many individuals and institutions have played a part in SIF’s success - I hope that all of you here and afar will continue to contribute as Singapore Citizen Ambassadors, Friends of Singapore, programme partners or donors - to advance a common goal, one of building a better world for ourselves and our future generations.
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