BRATISLAVA, Slovakia - Singapore and Slovakia are both small countries but they can punch above their weight, President Tony Tan Keng Yam said on Friday.
They can stay relevant to the world economy and create a better future for citizens through knowledge and innovation, and nurturing talent, he told some 50 Slovak officials of the Comenius University here.
"For Singapore, this is a matter of national survival because people are our only resource," he said after being conferred the college's Great Gold Medal for contributing to the development of bilateral relations.
The medal is usually awarded to important foreign personalities such as visiting heads of state. Since 1990, there have been 46 recipients, including Turkish President Abdullah Gul and Spain's King Juan Carlos I.
In his speech, Dr Tan, who is on a seven-day state visit to Hungary and the Slovak Republic, gave a broad overview of Singapore's development since independence.
After decades of labour-intensive and then capital-intensive growth, Singapore stands "at the cusp of a new phase of development that is based on knowledge and innovation", he said.
To keep growing, it must develop solutions for the rest of the world, with one niche being urban sustainability.
He shared Singapore's success in water as an example of how investments in research and innovation "transformed a national vulnerability into a competitive advantage and strategic asset".
By investing in the sector and taking an integrated approach, Singapore has what Dr Tan termed "four national taps" - rainwater from local catchment areas, imported water, Newater and desalinated water.
He recalled how the environment and water industry was marked as a key growth sector in 2006, and the National Research Foundation committed $470 million over a decade to promote research and development and capability-building.
An office to transform Singapore into a global "hydrohub" was set up, and the country attracted international water companies to anchor their research and business there.
Singapore is now a laboratory for water technologies, said Dr Tan. Since 2002, there have been more than 140 test-bedding projects to find ways to address global water challenges.
From 50 water companies in 2006, there are now also over 130 such firms and 26 research centres in Singapore, providing water solutions to the world. These are based on innovations such as reverse osmosis and chemical treatment for ultra-pure water.
Dr Tan said: "Our water journey is one success story that we hope to emulate across other sectors to remain relevant to the world economy and create a better future for our people."
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