Davos of the East?

PHOTO: Davos of the East?

Davos, in the mountains of Switzerland, is best known to play host to the World Economic Forum and its annual meeting every year.

It's a meeting where some of the world's best economic and political minds convene to shape global and regional agendas.

Ambassador Gopinath Pillai, the chairman of the Institute of South Asian Studies (ISAS), wants Singapore to play a similar role in bringing together the best minds from the South Asian region at the South Asian Diaspora Convention (SADC) which was launched here in 2011.

Mr Pillai told tabla! that the idea was suggested to him by a delegate from Nepal, Binod K. Chaudhary, who is a speaker at the SADC 2013.

This year's SADC will be held at Suntec Singapore Convention & Exhibition Centre on Nov 21 and 22.

Mr Pillai said: "It is an attractive idea and a realistic goal for Singapore to be the Davos of South Asia.

I think it is a worthwhile aim for us as there is no other country in the region that can offer this facility."

Mr Pillai said the idea to have a convention like the SADC was first suggested to him by former president of Singapore S.R. Nathan.

"He told me Singapore is the best place for the diaspora of this region to meet. They cannot meet in each other's countries, as is the case with India and Pakistan. So nothing like a neutral territory which Singapore provides.

He asked to initiate measures to try and gather the diaspora of South Asia by bringing them here," Mr Pillai said.

True to Mr Nathan's suggestion, SADC has become a meeting place for the diaspora and the best minds in the fields of business, politics and the arts.

This year the convention is bringing together names like India's finance minister P. Chidambaram, who will deliver a keynote address on Opportunities And Challenges For Diaspora Investments In India. This session will be chaired by Singapore's Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance Tharman Shanmugaratnam.

Mr Shanmugaratnam will also be part of one of the ministerial dialogues of the convention, titled Global Connections And An Economic Vision For A Region.

The other ministerial dialogue on Building A Connected Asia will feature Singapore's Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister for Law K. Shanmugam.

Mr Pillai said, unlike the last convention where the thrust was more political and lots of discussions centred around policy-related issues, this time there is larger emphasis on business, currency flows, currency regulations, movement of capital and how to make use of economic opportunities.

There will be two book launches at the event - The Encyclopedia Of The Sri Lankan Diaspora which will be launched by Singapore's President Tony Tan Keng Yam and Reimagining India by McKinsey.

The Confederation of Indian Industries (CII) will host an India Symposium at the event where India's growth prospects in 2014 will be discussed by some of the top CEOs and heads of business from the country.

One of the key speakers at this discussion will be Mr Kris Gopalakrishnan, president of CII and co-founder and executive vice-chairman of Infosys, one of India's leading IT companies.

Mr Gopalakrishnan told tabla! the economy would continue to be high on the industry agenda.

He said: "The Indian diaspora has been a key source of stability for the economy due to its continued remittances, which have crossed $70 billion. This is the highest remittances received by any country in the world. The South Asian nations as a whole receive very high remittances, and this is a great source of strength for our economies.

"Additionally, the knowledge resources of the diaspora can further add to our economic potential if synced to local development needs. We need to leverage these linkages to spill over into economic cooperation, and this would be my key takeaway for the South Asian diaspora conference."

SADC 2013 also features a whole section on media and the arts, which wasn't a part of the first convention. ISAS director Professor Tan Tai Yong said the institute wanted this year's engagement to be multi-faceted. "We thought of doing this engagement on a more deeper level. To not just have panels on hard-core business, commerce and politics but to also focus on the cultural aspects," Prof Tan said.

He added that this year's SADC is more focused than the last one as three discussions are high on the agenda. "One is to ensure that the participants come thinking of South Asia not as eight separate countries but as one region.

"Two, we wanted to see the diaspora as a cogent group of people who still want to engage the homeland in various ways through business, social engagements, through remittances, and so on.

"And three, to see how Singapore can project itself as a neutral platform for such activities to happen," he said.

In the arts and literature section, a dialogue titled Shared Narratives: The Cultural Underpinnings Of A Region, will be chaired by Singapore novelist Meira Chand. She will lead the discussion between Bangladeshi novelist Tahmima Anam, UK author Romesh Gunesekera, Nanyang Technological University visiting professor Shirley Chew and Hong Kong journalist and author Nury Vittachi.

Ms Chand said that today's diasporic writers examine the migrant's experience, and the effect dislocation has on the individual. Their writing gives people insight and understanding of their history, the problems and dilemmas faced in the diasporic space, and the weaknesses and special strengths of its people.

She added: "We live in a transnational moment of time, in which an ever-growing, global population have shared the experience of migration, relocation and displacement.

"From being a marginal literature, today's diasporic literature has moved to a central position. Often, in a sense, it is the diaspora that is now writing about the homeland, expanding perceptions of values and roots. It is this move in diasporic literature from its marginal place to one of centre stage that has created a whole new stream of literary energy in the region, as the past is recast anew through literature."

The second media session will discuss the role of South Asian media and the arts in being a mirror of society while also being a critical guardian of peace and stability in a region rife with tension.

The discussion will be chaired by Singapore Press Holdings' editor-in-chief, English and Malay Newspapers Division Patrick Daniel and will feature speakers like India Today Group's Aroon Purie, Mint and MintAsia editor Sukumar Ranganathan, Strategic Moves, Singapore's Viswa Sadasivan and famous Indian dancer Mallika Sarabhai. Ms Sarabhai will also be giving a dance performance at the event.

Mr Sadasivan told tabla! that there is still much to be understood and demystified about South Asia - especially the underpinnings of what is manifest in the socio-political and economic dimensions.

"This is why the South Asian Diaspora Convention is both timely and relevant. Singapore, located at the crossroads of South and East Asia, with real experience of South Asian culture through a diaspora that's had a significant presence here for over two centuries, is a credible host," he said. å ankitav@sph.com.sg


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