Speech by Ms Indranee Rajah, Minister in The Prime Minister's Office, Second Minister for Finance and National Development, at the Singapore Women Entrepreneurs Network (SG-WEN) 1st Anniversary Event, 2 December 202202 Dec 2022
Mr Lam Yi Young, Chief Executive Officer, Singapore Business Federation (SBF),
Ms Rachel Eng, Chairperson, Singapore Women Entrepreneurs Network (SG-WEN),
Ladies and Gentlemen,
2. It is a great pleasure to be here with you today. I also want to thank SBF for inviting me to be part of this.
3. I would like to begin by sharing the results from the Mastercard Index of Women Entrepreneur1 which measures indicators such as women advancement outcomes and conditions supporting entrepreneurship across different economies.
a. Overall, I would say Singapore did reasonably well, coming in 18th, out of 65 economies. Can do better, but it is still pretty good.
b. In the component that measures women advancement outcomes, the percentage of women business leaders in Singapore increased slightly from 31% in 2020, to 31.3% in 2021.
c. It is an encouraging progress, but there is definitely room to do more.
d. So, look forward to be able to do that and I am sure that SG-WEN is going to play an important role in this.
Celebrating the Role and Achievements of SG-WEN
4. Your role is pivotal as a platform to bring women entrepreneurs together to collaborate for business growth, influence culture and policy, and to drive industry changes. And that is achieved through the efforts by SG-WEN to drive its four focus areas.
a. First, championing women entrepreneurs;
b. Second, knowledge sharing through networking events;
c. Third, collaboration with other Groups and Networks, both locally and regionally; and
d. Recognising women entrepreneurs for their achievements. And that is very important because after all they have done and been through the conditions, is key.
Increasing local outreach
5. I am happy to hear that SG-WEN has grown its membership to almost 400-strong within the span of one year. This creates an important network for our women entrepreneurs to learn, collaborate and grow through the knowledge and experience of each other.
Providing international exposure
6. In fact, SG-WEN’s outreach is not limited to Singapore, it is also Singapore’s official representative at the ASEAN Women Entrepreneurs Network (AWEN).
7. I am heartened to hear that five women entrepreneurs across different sectors from Singapore were awarded the AWEN Awards in 2022, earlier in September, in recognition of their contributions to their industries and advancing the participation of women in the economy. My hearty congratulations to the five awardees and I do look forward to seeing more women entrepreneurs from Singapore being recognised in future.
Changing Operating Landscape
8. As we celebrate success, we also need to be cognisant of what lies ahead for Singapore, because this means that this is the operating environment in which all of you as entrepreneurs are going to be working in. We are facing new challenges.
a. The Russia-Ukraine war has impacted global food and energy supplies, and consequently, exacerbating inflationary pressures, which will have an impact on businesses.
b. Many countries are also increasing interest rates to combat inflation.
c. And the heightened geopolitical tension between US and China has adversely impacted investments, trade, and finances globally.
d. Under these conditions, households face higher cost of living and businesses face higher costs.
9. Despite the global headwind though, there remains many opportunities for growth. But in order to take advantage of this, Singapore has to stay ahead of the challenges by riding the winds of change, seizing economic opportunities, keeping our people safe, strengthening our social compact, and above all, ensuring that we move together as a society.
10. To achieve these aspirations, we need a plan that involve not only the government alone, but all Singaporeans. And that is why the 4G team has embarked on the Forward Singapore (SG) exercise. This is an exercise to refresh our social compact and chart our common vision and turn it into reality. We want to create opportunities for all, provide better assurance and care for the people, steward our shared resources, and foster a shared identity and responsibility across our society.
11. Let me touch on two of the Forward SG pillars and your role in this endeavour.
12. The first is the Care Pillar. Here, we focus on enabling every Singaporean to lead a dignified and fulfilling life, better care for themselves and those around them, as well as supporting families.
13. This conversation is important as we deal with an aging population and a low total fertility rate. Through our conversations with young couples and parents, one of the reasons cited for not having more children is the lack of work-life balance and stresses of balancing work with family commitments.
14. One of the important ways of supporting families which the Government is encouraging, is through flexible work arrangements (FWAs).
a. FWAs gives employees the flexibility in terms of time and location to carry out their work duties, which is helpful to employees with caregiving responsibilities.
b. Businesses that provide flexible and hybrid work arrangements would benefit with talent attraction and retention too, as more employees seeks a better balance to their work and family life.
c. That said, I understand quite fully that businesses also need to rationalise the functions that can be carried out remotely to maintain productivity.
d. Because if you, an entrepreneur and as a business, you also want to make sure your business does well. The key is how to balance. If you are doing flexible work arrangements, it will become a question of how you redesign your work or how do you calibrate your HR processes, so that you can still have flexible work arrangements and at the same time, maintain higher, if not better, productivity. That will be the future of work going forward.
e. And I think that if it is anyone that can do this, it would be women entrepreneurs. Because you understand quite intimately, how important it is to do this. And therefore, the need to do it well.
f. It is critical for businesses to strike that balance because we know that you cannot have one without the other. Economic growth is important, but at the same time, it is how to do it. And if you could all lead the way and show others, that will be great.
15. The second pillar is the Empower Pillar, which is really about jobs and the economy. Businesses must be ready to adapt to the changing operating landscape in order to seize business opportunities. One key area is through innovation and digitalisation.
16. Singapore’s economy remained resilient during the COVID-19 pandemic partly because of the efforts by businesses to transform their business processes and embrace change through digitalisation. All of you went through the circuit breaker. Those of you, either if your business had already adopted digitalisation or your clients had adopted it, will know that the transition through circuit breaker and coming out of COVID was much easier. But for those who had to go back to office, just to get hard paper copies and so on – circuit breaker was a bit of a nightmare. But digitalisation made all the difference.
a. Research2 has shown that digitalisation can help SMEs reduce transaction costs by improving communications between stakeholders in the value chain, and open up international opportunities as well.
b. Digitalisation can enable businesses to better manage costs and generate new revenue streams.
17. For those of you who have yet to embark on your digitalisation and innovation journeys or are unsure about how to start, you will be pleased to know that there are many Government schemes available to support you in doing so.
a. For a start, the GoBusiness Government portal provides useful resources on the schemes available to support your business.
18. Even as businesses digitalise, employees will continue to play an integral role to support the transformation processes and outcomes.
19. We had a discussion recently with an AI specialist and she said, many times employees will ask her, “With AI and digitalisation, does this mean I will lose my job?” But the truth and the reality are that technology, digitisation and AI will create jobs. May not be the same jobs, which means that they have to acquire new skill sets. But all of these things, will create jobs. It will mean new opportunities, new employment, and an opportunity for you to harness that growth, which these can generate.
20. So do always consider:
a. How you can support your employees to uplift their capabilities and acquire the right skills to augment your fast changing business needs; and
b. How you can foster career development by providing fair and competitive remuneration packages, and a steady career progression structure for your employees - things that matter to them. And I think if you do it well, you will have employee loyalty as well as motivation. Motivation is the key. You will find that it is those employees, who are really motivated, they go and do over and above the call of duty. They are the ones who inspire others, they push ahead, they get things done. But all of this is only possible if they feel that the firms that they work for care about them and ensure that they can progress.
Partnering the Government
21. The next thing to look at is partnering the Government. The Government works closely with our partners in supporting companies to grow their businesses. For instance, Enterprise Singapore partnered SG-WEN to showcase the different Government initiatives and schemes available to women-led businesses as they seek to scale their businesses in Singapore and overseas. This includes schemes like:
a. Global Innovation Alliance – to connect local companies with overseas partners in major innovation hubs and key demand markets to drive innovation; as well as
b. Market Readiness Assistance Grant – to help companies take their first steps into new markets.
22. I thank SG-WEN for their ongoing efforts and look forward to a closer collaboration between the Government and SG-WEN to strengthen the support and outreach to more women entrepreneurs.
23. In conclusion, the road ahead will not be easy, but there will be plenty of opportunities. As our experience in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic has shown, many of you have the tenacity to overcome adversity. So, do embrace change and navigate the situations in the future.
24. Take the opportunity today to connect, share your knowledge and experience, and explore new opportunities. And I wish you a fruitful time ahead.
25. Thank you very much.
1 Source: Article by Mastercard titled ‘The Mastercard Index of Women Entrepreneurs’, dated Mar 2022. Accessed at https://www.mastercard.com/news/media/phwevxcc/the-mastercard-index-of-women-entrepreneurs.pdf
2 Source: Article by OECD titled ‘The Digital Transformation of SMEs’, dated 03 Feb 2021. Accessed at https://www.oecd.org/industry/smes/PH-SME-Digitalisation-final.pdf