Foreword: Developing People Strategies for Asia

Date Posted

31 Oct 2008


Issue 5, 14 Nov 2008

The rise of a new Asia, led by the growth of China, India and other emerging economies in the region, should endure the current global financial turmoil and economic downturn.

The scale and depth of Asia’s economic transformation is presenting many new human capital challenges. An unprecedented number of new workers—several hundred million of them—have flooded the global labour force since China, India and Vietnam opened up their economies. Ironically, Asia’s rapid economic growth has widened the gap between strong demand for skilled professionals and business leaders, and the available supply of suitable talent. Competition for talent has become more intense. So has the challenge of leadership development to meet the corporate needs of Asia. More Asian companies are operating across the region, and going global. Managing across cultures and continents has become imperative to their business success. At the same time, Asian demographic trends, especially an ageing population, will become more pronounced over the next few decades.

These human capital challenges are unique in time and space, and will therefore require Asian solutions. They are key strategic issues pivotal to sustaining Asian growth and competitiveness at both country and company levels. It is therefore quite critical to build up thought and practice leadership in human capital management that is Asian in focus.

This is why Singapore initiated the Human Capital Summit: it is a platform to discuss, at the strategic level, Asian thinking and practices in response to these challenges. Singapore’s geographical and business connectivity enables it to play a role to bring together global thought and practice leaders, regional business and human resource (HR) leaders, as well as the latest HR research and practices.


Singapore itself has built up a store of experience in human capital development and management over the years. Developing its human capital as its sustainable competitive advantage is a key national priority. Singapore’s experience in educating its young people, upgrading the skills of its workers and keeping the workforce highly competitive is relevant to the regional discussion on human capital challenges. Its approaches to leadership development in the public and corporate sectors, as well as in managing the challenges and opportunities of an ageing workforce, might also be useful.

Singapore has also built up a good understanding of both Asian and Western business and people practices and thinking. Being in the heart of Asia, Singapore understands Asia and the business and people challenges of the region. Doing business in Asia is integral to the business models of most Singapore companies. Singapore’s use of English as the language of business and medium of instruction in schools has also allowed it ready access to Western thought and practice. This enables Singapore to marry the strengths of both Asian and Western approaches into human capital practices.

Another factor is its global business location, with a diverse and cosmopolitan workforce comprising nationalities from around the world. There are over 33,000 international companies operating in Singapore, originating from countries in Asia as well as Europe and the US. About 7,000 multi-national corporations operate out of Singapore, with over 60% of them using Singapore as their regional or global headquarters.

These attributes enable Singapore the opportunity to share its perspectives and experience in tackling some of the broader Asian human capital challenges.


The staging of the Human Capital Summit helps Singapore to deepen its HR practice within the public and private sectors. The sharing of cutting-edge thought and best practices, by academic leaders and prominent companies with a global footprint as well as Asian and Singaporean firms, helps to define higher benchmarks for Singapore organisations and professionals to aspire to.

Becoming a centre for leading human capital practice strengthens Singapore's position as an attractive investment and business location. It also broadens the growth potential of human capital businesses, such as HR consultancy services and executive leadership development. These in turn enhance Singapore's own talent infrastructure, which is imperative to retaining and developing its own talent, as well as attracting talent from elsewhere.

It is also important for new knowledge on human capital strategies to be generated and shared. Two research projects on Talent Challenges in Asia and Asian Leadership, commissioned by Singapore, were presented at the inaugural Singapore Human Capital Summit. Singapore's Ministry of Manpower is also working with Professor Lynda Gratton from the London Business School on a research programme to develop innovation Hot Spots for Singapore-based companies. The findings will be shared at the next Summit in 2009.

In the development of new thinking on Asian human capital strategies, more research needs to be done to generate new knowledge on what works, and how effective approaches can be contextualised for application by companies operating in Asia. This is an area to which Singapore is keen to contribute.

Leo Yip

Permanent Secretary,
Ministry of Manpower

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