By Bob Pearson

Reflections from GlobalThink Singapore at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy

By Bob Pearson

It was a fitting scenario to discuss what matters in our world at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore this past Friday, as part of GlobalThink Singapore. 

Lee Kuan Yew, often referred to as LKY, was the first and longest serving prime minister of Singapore.  His unique ability to transform Singapore from a British Colony into a high-income economy remains a model to this day. It’s his mix of entrepreneurism, public policy instincts and a knowledge of the global economy that are reflected both at this school and with the 20 leaders who spoke at GlobalThink Singapore.  

The event was led by Robert Grupp, director of GlobalThink Singapore and StratComm World and co-chairs Dr. Roger Hayes, adjunct professor at LKY School of Public Policy and Haruhiko Hirate, Corporate Officer, Takeda Executive Team.  We were joined by leaders ranging from Dr. Jay Wang, Director of the USC Center on Public Diplomacy to Brigadier General Dinesh Vasu Dash, Singapore Ministry of Defence to Eva Sogbanmu, Executive Director, Communications, Asia Pacific for JLL to Simon Milner, Vice President, Public Policy, APAC for Facebook to Professor Francesco Mancini, Associate Dean and Co-Director, Executive Education at LKY School of Public Policy.  

Our discussions were robust.  The audience was open-minded. We walked away with a better understanding of the importance of how we can improve that tantalizing mix of public policy, corporate governance, societal need and our own imperative to evolve our views and techniques. 

Bob Pearson speaks at GlobalThink Singapore

Here is what resonated for ME.

We are all lifelong learners (or should be) Roger Hayes discussed what Tom Friedman said earlier that same day at LKY, which was “when the pace of change gets this fast, the only way to retain a lifelong working capacity is to engage in lifelong learning”. 

Living and working abroad shapes a true global mindset Haruhiko Hirate talked about his career and how living in different parts of the world has been powerful in how he manages globally.  This is especially compelling when we look at Takeda’s executive team and see that it is a team reflecting the world Takeda serves vs. having all or most of its leaders from the same country.  

Our expectations of companies are evolving (with a twist) there is a growing expectation that companies need to increase their awareness and actions related to how they impact stakeholders.  The twist here is we don’t want to punish companies for success. Rather, if capitalism succeeds, the rising tide can lead more boats to rise if we focus on better public/private partnerships.  

Let’s build bridges (not walls) between the public and private sector it is too easy, even lazy, to demonize companies for their actions.  Think of social media as a prime example. Rather than expect social media companies to have all of the answers, a spirit of partnership between companies and government can find better solutions.  However, a spirit of trying to “catch a company” or to chastise a company or overtax a company is not likely to ever work. We need solutions, not just venting or short-term posturing.  

Digital media is changing communications techniques, which changes how policy is conducted ideas can become global instantly.  Thoughts are shaped via social media and often hardened over time.  Governments are actively using social media as a bully pulpit. This changes or should change how public policy is crafted and communicated, if we want to shape behavior of our audience.  What worked yesterday won’t be as successful tomorrow.  

What are the “next generation” skills for diplomats related to the last point, we must teach our current and future diplomats how to use digital media with as much ease as they engage with a Think Tank or discuss ideas in a conference room.  

Technology is changing what “accountable” means in the past, a new product took years to gain its footing in new countries.  Now, new technologies are nearly instantly global. This is wonderful, overall, but also leads to new obligations for companies to factor in cultural and societal impact of their inventions.  Will companies do this on their own? Will a public/private partnership sort through what matters together? Leading companies and countries will figure this out.  

Regulation can be the nudge we need few companies want to be the first to change, but if they are nudged towards change via “light regulations”, we could move an entire category to a better place.  For example, if we believe certain rules/regulations should be outlined related to autonomous travel, is it likely to occur due to a single company’s actions or via government’s desire to protect the safety of its citizens?  Think of the government regulation of healthcare, as an example. Not perfect, but it does ensure the healthcare industry can prosper and impact our world. “Light regulations” accelerate change while protecting our citizens. 

Where will trust and technology lead us? as an example, some countries control the data on social media of its citizens.  Some countries allow companies to control personal data. Some countries advocate for citizens to have control over their personal data.  Three competing approaches are occurring right now. Think of China, the U.S. and the European Union. What is the answer, within here, that will lead us to trust technology and is it a trust that is deserved?  It is a solution ahead of us, not in front of us today. 

Which CEOs will improve our world? a robust discussion led to a simple conclusion.  Entrepreneurial CEOs make bold moves and create companies that can impact society, while management CEOs get good returns, keep a lower profile and then disappear into the sunset.  We need more of the former. We need more Marc Benioff’s and less of the toxic CEOs that shall remain nameless.  

Overall, we walked away from the day with new ideas and a belief that the issues we face worldwide are issues that can be addressed.  It will just take our resolve to work together and, in this case, do the best job possible of combining the expertise of the public and private sectors along with our talents in public policy, governance, communications and more.  


GlobalThink Singapore was an Exclusive Executive Roundtable Event hosted by the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore on November 22, 2019. This event is part of the StratCommWorld events family. Visit for details about the upcoming unique global event that identifies strategies to enhance engagement and share methods to improve communications in corporations, the military, government agencies and nonprofits.


Bob Pearson

Bob Pearson is globally recognized as a marketing visionary who is driving “pragmatic disruption” in the new world of what is now called Social Commerce. He is an author and Strategic Advisor of W20 Group.

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