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January 2011 Archives

Brothers from Different Parents

Sometimes while looking for what you want, you find what you need.

2 days ago I turned to my little slice of the Twitterverse to help out a colleague who needed contacts in public relations or marketing agencies who were able to do some user research. I tweeted:

Hey Singapore PR folks, I might like to get some user demographic research done, who would I contact? Can DM me pls? Thanks!

I added “Singapore” because quite a number of my followers live abroad, and I didn’t want them to respond because my friend wouldn’t be able to use them anyway.

I started getting messages from quite a number of people, most of them going along the lines of “I’m PR, sure, count me in”.

Now I was confused. The folks who responded weren’t from the same sphere I was expecting replies from. And they didn’t leave me an email or phone number of a relevant contact.

Then it hit me.

They were all permanent residents. I had, after all, hollered “hey Singapore PR folks” and they were Singapore PRs. I looked at the ones who responded. Then I skimmed through the list of local people I follow on Twitter, making mental notes of places they called home.

Malaysia, Indonesia, England, the US, India, China, the list goes on and on. People who lived in Singapore but weren’t from Singapore. They were friends whom I’ve come to know through tech meetups like WebSG - people whose work I really admired. People like Jussi, Andy, Arun, Herry, Singeo, Shah; newcomers like Navjot and people we were privileged to have had reside in Singapore, even for a while, like Divya and Deepak. And the list goes on and on.

They have added so much to Singapore simply by living here, and there is no doubt that we are better off having worked with them, known them and shared our lives with them. Looking at the few I’ve listed above, there are people who have, in their own spare time: redesigned our bus stops, created Google maps that help us track dengue hotspots, online applications that help us borrow books from our libraries, contributed code to our projects and so much more. They have augmented our knowledge. But more importantly, they have enriched our lives, often providing new perspectives to old problems.

A month ago I took up the job at the National Population and Talent Division in the Prime Minister’s Office. Among the issues we handle, probably the most contentious of which is the integration of immigrants into Singapore society. I’ll be totally honest and say that I wasn’t totally comfortable with the government’s stance that we needed to “import foreign talent”. It smacked with the implicit flipside that we local-born were lacking in talent, and that bruised many of our egos. Maybe the wording could have been made more neutral, but the epiphany that accompanied my misread tweet taught me that it matters less where we are born than the type of people we are.

I want so much for Singapore to be remembered in history as a people who strive tenaciously to make their surroundings better while possessing a generous and compassionate heart, sharing what we have to lift others in need; a brotherhood forged from a common destination, not a common origin.

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