Wanted: A new Pioneer Generation

Wanted: A new Pioneer Generation
Peter Ho was head of the Civil Service, and is now senior adviser to the Centre for Strategic Futures, set up by the Public Service Division to develop public sector capabilities for future strategic.

The passing of Mr Lee Kuan Yew in March has generated a tremendous amount of reflection on how he transformed Singapore from a Third World backwater into a First World city-state within less than two generations.

But as Mr Lee himself said: "The past was not pre-ordained. Nor is the future. There are as many unexpected problems ahead, as there were in the past."

We cannot predict the future. Anyone would be hard-pressed to know how things will turn out in 10 to 20 years' time. What more to forecast the world 50 years into the future?

The best we can do is to identify the key trends that could have significant impact on the world and on society. By being aware of trends, including emerging ones, we can position ourselves to take advantage of the opportunities as they arise and to confront challenges when they occur.

There are three big trends that I feel will have a decisive impact on Singapore, and the world, in the next 50 years. Their long-term trajectories cannot be forecast with any certainty, but they are beginning to trace paths that suggest their impact will be significant and game-changing.

Demographics

THE first trend is demographics. There are many angles, but one of the most critical is ageing. Singapore is one of the fastest-ageing societies in the world, with nearly 100,000 people turning 65 in the past four years alone. Over the next 15 years, the number of elderly people will double to almost a million.

But we will not be alone. Within that same timeframe, one in four people above age 65 will be living in China, compared with one in five today. The World Health Organisation expects the above-65 share of the global population to double from 11 per cent to 22 per cent by 2050.

As populations around the world age, and falling fertility rates shrink the youth bulge, governments face the dilemma of looking after a greying population on the one hand, and securing the talent and manpower to generate economic growth on the other.

In 50 years' time, the issue, if it ever was, will neither be about foreign talent displacing the local workforce, nor about how large a population Singapore can accommodate. Instead, the real challenge will be how to offset the impact of a greying population.

Bold thinking will be required.

One possibility is to rethink how we can encourage more people to contribute to Singapore.

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