14 November 2017: In Conversation: Students engage in conversation with prominent thought leaders in Singapore

By Daryl Yang | Images provided by Ilya Katrinnada Binte Zubaidi and Saksham Mehrotra

Over the past semester, Yale-NUS hosted two prominent thought leaders for a new dialogue series titled “In Conversation”.

On 23 August 2017, former Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP) Mr Viswa Sadasivan (pictured above) inaugurated the first dialogue of the series.

Mr Sadasivan is currently Chief Executive Officer of Strategic Moves, a strategic and crisis communications consulting practice with a special interest in policy issues. He had worked previously in the media industry as an anchor of various television current affairs programmes.

The second dialogue, which took place on 26 October 2017, featured Senior Minister of State of the Ministry of Communications and Information & Ministry of Education Dr Janil Puthucheary.

Dr Puthucheary currently chairs OnePeople.sg, an initiative that was established in 1997 to promote racial harmony and spearhead programmes to bring the different ethnic communities in Singapore together. He also chairs the Young PAP, which is the youth wing of the government’s ruling party, the People’s Action Party (PAP).

At the dialogues, both speakers fielded difficult questions from the students, ranging from issues of multiracialism and socioeconomic inequality to education and foreign policies.

Mr Sadasivan focused on the issue of managing success in Singapore, particularly over the past 50 years of tremendous progress and development. He discussed how inequality and diversity should be dealt with through policy changes and grassroots initiatives, and urged students to play active roles in civil society and policymaking.

According to Yale-NUS College President Tan Tai Yong who had initiated the dialogue series, it was a way of getting serious thought leaders to come and share their passions and views with the College community.

“I wanted our students to hear from people who have interesting ideas and want to change Singapore for the better. These are not just armchair critics, but people who have tried, with ideas and actions, to effect positive changes in society,” he explained.

Harini Vee (Class of 2018), who attended the dialogue with Mr Sadasivan, was interested to hear about how he had navigated his careers as a journalist, NMP and someone who is leading a company that provides consultancy to government bodies and corporate companies. Particularly, she was keen to find out how he had engendered social change in the different roles he played.

“I have always wondered what an individual could do to bring about social change and to put the theories we have learnt in the classroom into action within the Singaporean context. As such, it is inspiring to see how these intellectuals have created their own road map to put great ideas into action,” she shared.

A unique aspect of the series is the introduction of student moderators. This means that conversations in the dialogues are completely directed by students.

President Tan shared that this was a conscious decision. “I wanted students to moderate the dialogues simply because I thought this should be student-led discussions. Students should decide what lines of enquiry that they would like to pursue, and also take responsibility for managing differences of opinions,” he explained.

Seow Yongzhi (Class of 2018) facilitated the dialogue with Dr Puthucheary (pictured above) as the student moderator. A scholar with the Ministry of Education, Yongzhi shared that he was interested in learning more about education policy from him.

Yongzhi also said that students were very proactive in asking questions. “Dr Puthucheary was very energetic and involved, and eventually decided to stay overtime to answer more questions,” he added.

Yip Jia Qi (Class of 2020), who was one of many who attended the dialogue with Dr Puthucheary, noted that it was a very frank conversation. “We were very direct in questioning the minister about his stance on some of the most polarising issues facing Singapore society. I felt that he took those questions head on and provided a very clear explanation of the government’s thoughts on these issues. These included some things that I had never thought of before and I felt that I left the talk with a greater understanding of these issues”, he shared.