Forging a Nation 4: Entrepreneurship at the State Level


This is a short article on entrepreneurship. In nation building, when the nation is impoverished, the major concern of the leader should be to meet the basic needs of the public. The concern should be how to feed, clothe and house them.

Lee Kuan Yew said:

“What are our priorities? First, the welfare, the survival of the people. Then the democratic norm and processes, which from time to time we have to suspend”

“This is not administration doing a job. This is entrepreneurship on a political stage on a national scale. We change the complexion of Singapore.”

Don’t Stand in Awe

When we looked at Singapore today, we may be overwhelmed by the infrastructure. A nation needs entrepreneurship to survive. It is no different from running a business or feeding our families. It is build up through hard work over time.It is about taking calculated chances on ideas.

Ingredients for Success

In a speech delivered in 1997, Lee Kuan Yew spoke of the “ingredients of success” in nation-building:

  • A stable political situation
  • A well trained and educated population
  • Ability to attract higher-level technology industries.
  • Better standards of life
  • The competence of the nation’s defence forces to ensure that no one believes that he can just walk in and take over what we have created and built.

It Is about One Heart and Teamwork: Singapore First Cabinet Ministers

A leader needs a good team. In the case of Singapore, it was a good team of leaders.Lee Kuan Yew said: “To get good government, you must get good men in charge of government. What I have observed in the last 40 years is that even the weak and poor system of government, but with good strong men in charge, you get possible government with decent progress”

Singapore has 4 founding fathers. All played a vital role in contributing to nation building. It was their abilities to work together, to support one another, to take roles based on their own strengths, to subjugate themselves to the best decision; and committing to a common mission that resulted in the team synergy required to propel the task of nation building.

Cluster of Character Traits

The appropriate cluster of character traits have to go hand in hand with the thinking skills behind entrepreneurship.

  • Strong sense of humanity and service
  • Selflessness (Their priority is for the country and family)
  • Strong ethics – prudence and frugality (important management skills for budget discipline and fiscal prudence) clean (honesty free from corruption)
  • Committed to betterment of the public’s lives (a Patriot)
  • Pragmatism (This comes from being a realist)

They Made Singaporeans Proud of Them

As Singaporeans, it is our founding father’s dedication not only to our welfare but also the welfare of future generations that made us felt proud to have them as our leaders. It was our good fortune.Lee Kuan Yew said:

“We would not be here and we would not have made the economic progress if we had not intervened on very personal matters. Who your neighbor is? How you live? Noise you made? How and where you spit? What language you use? Have we not done that effectively we would not be here today.”

“They know that what we say we mean, that this is an equal society.”

“To give every family a stake in the country…find a way to give them ownership of their own home. Then, if their sons have to go to war and fight, they are fighting for themselves.”

Dr Goh Keng Swee

This article is about Dr Goh Keng Swee (1918 to 2010). S. Dhanabalan, Cabinet Minister (1980 to 1994) said this: “Modern Singapore, in economic terms, is almost entirely Dr Goh’s work. Mr Lee Kuan Yew, the Prime Minister, set the political framework. He fought the political battle. He won the people over to take the disciplined approach. That is absolutely important because without that Dr Goh’s policies would not have succeeded, but it was Dr. Goh who thought of the various economic policies. He is very creative. We talk nowadays about our lack of entrepreneurship. I think the greatest entrepreneur in Singapore is Dr Goh.”

Part 6 of A Tribute to Goh Keng Swee

It was said that Dr Goh had great curiousity (great capacity for learning) and humanity. He was a strategist, planner, problem solver, visionary and entrepreneur.

The book mentioned in the Part 6 video is Challenge and response: Thirty years of the Economic Development Board (1993) by by Linda Low (Author), Toh Mun Heng (Author), Soon Teck Wong (Author) Tan Kong Yam (Author),Helen Hughes (Author), Goh Keng Swee (Foreword)

Character of Dr Goh Keng Swee

The National Archives of Singapore carried a publication on its website entitled “In Memory of Dr Goh Keng Swee: Architect of Singapore’s Economic, Defence and Education Policies.”

The following is an excerpt:
“Dr Goh was not only an exceptional Minister. He was a humble and humane person, compassionate for the needs of the less fortunate and deeply interested in social issues. He had in fact started his career as a social researcher at the Social Welfare Department (SWD)

Despite the high office to which he rose and his exceptional talents, Dr Goh always remained a man of simple needs, lived a simple and frugal existence, and was ever ready to humble himself to relate with and aid his fellow men.

His second wife, Dr Phua Swee Liang, recalled, “In his dealings with people, Keng Swee makes no distinction between race, religion, gender, wealth, or power provided they are genuine and decent. Regardless of how simple a view or need might be, he would lend a ear if it is expressed honestly and truthfully. His compassion and thoughtfulness for the common man have always moved and touched me… He has always led a simple and frugal life whether in his official capacity or in private life… Whenever he was warded in hospital, he would tear each tissue paper he wanted to use carefully into halves. He would then put one half back into the box for future use and use the other half. He would often chide me for being a wastrel when he saw that I used the whole sheet and added, ‘its taxpayer’s money’…[but] when the Dover Road Hospice asked for a donation of S$5,000 to purchase an electronic wheelchair for a patient, he wrote the cheque without a second thought.”

Part 1 of A Tribute to Goh Keng Swee

Part 2 of A Tribute to Goh Keng Swee

Dr. Goh Keng Swee’s Contributions

DSO National Laboratories penned a tribute to Dr Goh Keng Swee. The tribute can be found in DSO’s website The following is an excerpt from this tribute.

“Dr Goh” – as he is affectionately known – is the architect, engineer and hand-craftsman of modern Singapore. With an iron hand and stern gaze, an impish humour and a deep concern for his fellow men, he transformed the ageing, abandoned island-fortress which was Singapore of the 1960s, into a gleaming, ultra-modern capital of finance, commerce and communications.

The aching, third-world poverty which was Singapore three decades ago, is now a steel-sheathed, sky-rocketed, technology-driven metropolis. The schemes and plans which made this transformation possible – the Economic Development Board, Port of Singapore Authority, Jurong Town Corporation, Housing and Development Board, Ministry of Education, and Central Provident Fund – were inventions cast in Dr Goh’s extraordinary mind.

If you add more of Dr Goh’s tinkering – the Singapore Symphony Orchestra, the Jurong Bird Park, the Zoological Gardens and Sentosa – you can appreciate the diversity of his interests. For he delved not only in the high world of economics and finance, but in art, culture and the appreciation of nature.

Dr Goh had a deep commitment to improving the welfare and lives of all Singaporeans. Every man and woman, he felt, needed to earn well, be educated, sleep soundly under a solid roof, listen to music and enjoy the greenery of nature. He took each of these concerns to heart, reading voraciously, pondering over solutions and summoning experts.

Solutions would take shape, crafted in the bold, broad strokes of a master. Satisfied, he would place a phone call. For he had a special skill; his ability to single out the individual men and women who could translate his vision from his mental workshop bench, into realisation in the Singapore landscape. Each young officer who received his phone call, was baptised into a unique school for leaders and nation-builders. They emerged inspired, determined and truly touched by his blend of wisdom, commitment and pluck. To this day, they regard him with a mixture of awe and fondness, remembering each encounter with “Dr Goh” in an archive of anecdotes, both playful and profound.

Part 3 of A Tribute to Goh Keng Swee

Part 4 of A Tribute to Goh Keng Swee

Part 5 of A Tribute to Goh Keng Swee

Letter of Appreciation from Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew

The following is an excerpt taken from “Letter of Appreciation from Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew to Dr Goh Keng Swee on 28 Dec 1984”.You can find a copy in Singapore’s online national archives. Dr Goh Keng Swee’s response to this letter can also be found in Singapore’s online national archives.

“Dear Keng Swee, This is a most difficult letter of appreciation to write. To call it a letter of appreciation is to belittle the contribution you have made since June 1959. It was your stupendous exertions from 1959 to 1965 that kept Singapore’s economy from faltering and floundering through those difficult years. Few remember that we were overwhelmed by widespread unemployment of over 12 per cent. Those were dreary and grim years.

It was my good fortune to have strong men around me in Cabinet, right from the start. My debt to you is immeasurable. Your analysis of acute problems with academic detachment and objectivity in the middle of a major crisis was invaluable. Looming threats shrink into less fearsome proportions when seen in perspective. Your robust attitude encouraged me to press on against seemingly unwinnable odds. This was especially so when we suddenly become independent in 1965 and we had to provide for a new way of making a living. Together with Raja and Chin Chye all of you stiffened my morale at times of crisis, which is when the mettle of a government is put to the test.

Your biggest contribution to me personally was that you stood up to me whenever you held the contrary view. You challenged my decisions and forced me to re-examine the premises on which they were made. Thus we reached better decisions. This benign tension made our relationship healthy and fruitful.

No panegyric can do justice to you. A whole generation of Singaporeans take their present standard of living for granted because you had laid the foundations of the economy of modern Singapore. And you catered for more than bare living. Singaporeans who bring their children to the Bird Park, Chinese Garden, Japanese Garden, Jurong Golf Club, or Sentosa, or who listen to the Singapore Symphony Orchestra, owe their pleasures to you. Year after year you strenuously pressed me to support these loss-making companies. You convinced me that if we are to achieve our long term aspirations for Singaporeans then, as a people we must being to have some feeling for the aesthetic in life.”

Goh Keng Swee 1

Dr Goh’s Thinking Skills and Personality

When one write about Dr Goh, what is foremost in one’s mind is the thinking process that he had used to tackle the challenges that Singapore had faced.

If we can understand his mental framework for risk-taking, we can learn something ourselves on how to become bold with our own ideas.

Lee Hsien Loong said that “Dr Goh’s writings and speeches reflected his depth of thinking and broad range of reference. He published 3 volumes – The Practice of Economic Growth, The Economics of Modernization, and The Wealth of East Asian Nations. Many of the pieces are gems that remain well worth reading today, decades later. Those wishing to learn about economic management and governance in modern Singapore will gain from studying them.”


Letter of Appreciation from Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew to Dr Goh Keng Swee

Speech by Dr Goh Keng Swee at Annual Dinner of Singapore Manufacturers’ Association 1970.

Prime Minister’s Tribute to the Late Mr Hon Sui Sen

The Search for Talent

10 Lessons from Dr Goh’s Life

From Confucius to Kennedy: Principles of East Asian Governance

Implementation of the “Thinking Schools and Learning Nation” Initiative in Singapore

Leaders in Wealth Creation

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s Eulogy for Dr Goh Keng Swee

Goh Keng Swee, the Practicising Economist

Tribute to Dr Goh Keng Swee, the “Father of Jurong”

From the archives: His fingerprint on every important policy; Chance to grow, opportunity to excel

Singapore’s Productivity Challenge: Part I

Educational development in Singapore: Connecting the national, regional and the global

A Powerful Charismatic Leader

The Passing of A Titan

Investing for the Future

Financing A City: Developing Foundations for Sustainable Growth

Speech by Mr Leo Yip, Chairman, Singapore Economic Development Board,%20Chairman,%20Singapore%20Economic%20Development%20Board.pdf

Jurong Heritage Trail

National Library Records


Singapore: The Unexpected Nation By Edwin Lee

Economic Planning and Industrial Policy in the Globalizing Economy: Concepts, Experience and Prospects By Murat Yülek

A Mandarin and the Making of Public Policy: Reflections By Ngiam Tong Dow

Working For Dr Goh Keng Swee: Collection Of Anecdotes by Dhoraisingam, S Samuel

In Lieu Of Ideology: An Intellectual Biography Of Goh Keng Swee by Ooi Kee Beng

Goh Keng Swee – A Portrait by Tan Siok Sun

Goh Keng Swee and Southeast Asian Governance by Ian Patrick Austin

Goh Keng Swee: A Public Career Remembered by Desker, Barry; Chong Guan Kwa (Eds.)

Goh Keng Swee: A Legacy of Public Service by Emrys Chew and Kwa Chong Guan