Gearing up for meeting of S.Asian diaspora

At Mr Gopinath Pillai's office on the National University of Singapore's Bukit Timah campus, phones are ringing, e-mail being sent and meetings being held in preparation for the second edition of what the Ambassador- at-Large at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs says is one of the largest diaspora meets in the world.

The Institute of South Asian Studies, of which Mr Pillai is the chairman, will hold the second South Asian Diaspora Convention in Singapore from Nov 21 to 22. The inaugural event in 2011 had about 1,000 participants, mainly South Asian expatriates in Singapore.

This time, he is hoping for at least 1,500 South Asians, the majority of whom would be from the United States, Britain and the Middle East. The convention aims to provide a platform for South Asians living abroad to meet, network and interact.

Mr Pillai hopes the meet can help businessmen and leaders from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Nepal to build contacts. "I have been receiving calls from Dubai, from Malaysia. The other day, someone sent me a cutting of the press release on the event from The Express Tribune in Pakistan. The awareness is growing," Mr Pillai told The Straits Times in an interview.

This year's meet will feature more than 40 leaders from the political, media, arts, civil society and business sectors.

It will be inaugurated by Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, who is also Coordinating Minister for National Security and Minister for Home Affairs, while President Tony Tan Keng Yam will be the guest of honour at a gala dinner. Interactive dialogue sessions will involve leaders such as Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam and India's Finance Minister P. Chidambaram.

An award will be presented to the most outstanding Singaporean diaspora member who has contributed towards the growth of the South Asian community. Almost a whole day has been set aside for business issues, which take on added interest at a time of slowing economic growth.

"At the 2011 convention, Nepalese billionaire Binod Chaudhary made an interesting statement. He said, 'Let's make Singapore the Davos of South Asia', and the audience cheered and clapped," said Mr Pillai. "Singapore provides a neutral venue for South Asians to gather and interact. Having an event like this here allows the individual to emerge above nation and politics," he said.

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