Letter from Singapore | YP Loke, GMBA Singapore

As I write this, Chinese New Year is upon us. It is a big occasion (more so than Christmas or Thanksgiving) not just in China but with the Chinese diaspora around the world. In the Chinese zodiac, it is the Year of the Ox. The fengshui experts will have you believe it is a favourable year for economic recovery and consolidation – a year to review our finances, and take a longer term view with regard to investments. They may not be wrong. The impact of the Covid-19 vaccine rollout is still far from certain, and predictions of a recovery of the global economy vary widely.

Singapore is well into Phase Three of the re-opening measures introduced since our enforced lockdown, although there is some pre-emptive tightening up ahead of the Chinese New Year, to prevent large groups from gathering in public or in homes. Covid-19 cases have been zero or remained in single digits for some weeks. Given that most of the world is combating a rising Covid-19 caseload, this is a remarkable outcome. It has prompted the World Economic Forum, which usually hosts a glitzy annual meeting for political and business leaders in the Swiss ski resort of Davos, to move this year’s event to Singapore in August. It will be only the second time the event has been held outside Davos in its history. In 2002, the Forum was organised in New York to show solidarity with the US after the 9/11 terror attacks.

There are two main reasons Singapore has been comparatively successful in containing Covid-19. Firstly, the Government has been able to control the narrative here, with less distraction and dis-information than many other countries. Yes, Singapore style democracy is less liberal and falls short of the western-style democratic model that conventional wisdom holds up to be the best form of government. But when one studies the numbers, or asks its citizens, there is no doubt that Singapore’s government is delivering the results the people want.

Secondly, the concept of nation over self, a cultural value posited by Confucian ideology is generally in consonant with the predominantly Chinese majority. Ceding some individual autonomy to the state in return for the greater good, has resulted in growing prosperity since independence some five decades ago. It has served to strengthen the social compact in Singapore and the Government has called on the social capital built up over the this period to respond effectively to the health crisis.

History has shown that a major crisis can be a catalyst for crucial change. Some might say that the crisis presents us the opportunity to re-think society and make changes that would not have been politically feasible without an existential threat hanging over us.

Could we, perhaps, strengthen global partnerships, accelerate the shift to sustainable energy, re-evaluate the effort in tackling climate change, or forge a new sense of community that mends the fault lines in society that divides societies? While it is too much to conclude that free market liberal democracy has failed, it is clear the fruits of globalisation hasn’t been distributed as evenly as it could have been, resulting in a widening income gap and the ascent of the anti-trade movement.

How will all this impact boating the other side of Covid-19? By now, it has been drilled into us to expect a new post-pandemic normal. Covid-19 has affected every strata of society, re-focusing emphasis on personal health, resilience and well-being. There are many on-going conversations and predictions as the strategists (including us here at GMBA) among us glaze into our crystal balls.

The impetus for change – be it a return or a conversion to boating – might be more intrinsic than one might think. Research has shown that many health benefits are derived from being near the water, and being out with nature. Many countries have reported that boat owners have returned to the water with a vengeance after being closeted at home. The claustrophobic effects of a forced lockdown has led to a yearning for wide open spaces and a human reconnection with nature. Boating and watersports certainly deliver on both these fronts.

Many boating associations and communities around the world are initiating campaigns to capitalize on this trend and promote the safe return to boating. They are introducing measures not just to sustain but accelerate the growth of boating post-pandemic, given its new role as elixir for personal well-being and good health. The pandemic has brought out the best and the worst in local communities around the world. As has often been declared, we are in this together, and in playing our part, we the boaters, our families and friends can confidently return to the water, assured in the knowledge that we do so in health and in safety.

YP Loke | GMBA- Singapore
+65 9736 1819

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