Excuse me, are you innovative?

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Bloomberg published its 2015 Bloomberg Innovation Index recently, ranking countries in six core areas: research & development, manufacturing, high-tech companies, post secondary education, research personnel, and patents. Guess what? Singapore emerged 8th, behind South Korea, Japan, Germany, Finland, Israel, US, and Sweden. The other two to round up the top 10 are France and UK. That Singapore is behind the top 7 is not surprising, but to be leading France and UK makes for a very interesting discussion. It makes me want to ask my fellow Singaporean, “Excuse me, are you innovative?” In this article, we look at a few of these core areas and assess how these translate to normal life…


Without a doubt, Singapore runs a tight R&D program. The government has poured a lot of money to remain in the forefront of biomedical sciences, electronics, food sciences, precision & transport engineering, and chemicals. (See http://www.nrf.gov.sg/research/r-d-ecosystem/r-d-investments). As a percentage of GDP, Singapore’s commitment to R&D has been on the increase, with $16.1 billion committed for the next 5 years (2016 – 2010)


Contributing 19% to Singapore’s GDP, manufacturing is still a major contributor even if we have seen the exodus of lower value-added processes. Of this sector, chemicals accounts for 33.9%, 27.5% by electronics, 21.3% by precision and transport engineering, and 9.8% by biomedical science. This is fully correlated by R&D spending.

High-Tech Companies

Partly due to Singapore’s tax rates, its strategic location and its sociopolitical stability, Singapore has attracted many high-tech companies to set up its operational HQ (OHQ) in Singapore, giving support to the total innovation value chain.

Post-Secondary education

This is perhaps Singapore’s greatest strength, where is pours in significant resources in education, particularly post-secondary. The SkillsFuture initiative is the most recent major initiative by the government in leveling up the skills of the nation. It is without doubt that Singapore is ranked so highly in the innovation index because of this.

What has that done for you?

Yet every Singaporean needs to ask what this has done for oneself. Have we seen the impact of innovation on our way of life? With labour productivity slipping each year, the cost of living (excluding transportation which is skewed disproportionately by COE prices) on the rise, and a Gini coefficient that is among the widest among developed countries (0.478), how has being the top 8 innovative country helped us? Actually, not very much. The average household is still mired in the same issues that have plagued them for the past years. There seems to be a disconnect between world innovation indices and life on the ground. It seems that there is one set of rules and playground for the elite few, and another set for the common man. We still have transport woes where trains still breakdown frequently, despite R&D in transport engineering. 20% of our households live on a monthly average of $2,022 (Source: http://www.singstat.gov.sg/docs/default-source/default-document-library/statistics/browse_by_theme/population/statistical_tables/hes-keyind.pdf ) while the 3-day premium grandstand ticket price for F1 in Singapore is $2,128 per person.

What do we need to do?

This looks like a gripe post, but it is not. It seems like we have been insulated by the effects of innovation, but we are not. Instead of going about our lives separate from the government’s efforts, we should embrace the innovative culture. We have to go out there and create something new. We have to take advantage of the various schemes the government has for all businesses, for all citizens. We do not feel that any innovation has helped us because we chose for that to happen. We don’t get interested in these matters because we have lived a very safe, and sheltered life. If we want to see the fruits of Singapore’s innovation, we need to take that by the horns. Grasp all that we can do to make innovation our way of life. The government can only go so far to making our life better, and, by the looks of it, it has. It is now up to us to do our part to make our life better through innovation.

So, excuse me, are you innovative?

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