Our Global Centre may be new, but UNDP’s ties with our host country Singapore began six decades ago—even before UNDP was officially formed. Singapore was a beneficiary of economic expertise provided by the United Nations Expanded Programme of Technical Assistance (EPTA), which eventually became the UNDP in 1965.
After 1959 Singapore sought advice from UN-EPTA to develop an economic plan for the nation. A team of advisers led by Dr Albert Winsemius visited Singapore in October 1960 and subsequently delivered a report with their recommendations.
Before UNDP became UNDP… The UNDP was officially established
in 1965 with the merging of two UN agencies.
United Nations Expanded Programme of Technical Assistance (EPTA)
United Nations Special Fund
Many of these recommendations, including the focus on labour-intensive manufacturing to reduce unemployment, directly informed Singapore’s economic policies in the crucial years after independence. Dr Winsemius also continued advising the Singapore government for over two decades, and played a major role in shaping economic and wage policies.
Since then, Singapore has enjoyed staggering economic and social successes. And in 2013, the tiny city-state went from became a benefactor of UNDP when Singapore became the host country for the Global Centre for Public Service Excellence (GCPSE).
From 2013 to 2018, the GCPSE championed public service excellence and offered insights and inspiration to countries around the world through research and publications, as well as workshops, dialogues and debates.
With the founding of the Global Centre of Technology, Innovation and Sustainable Development in 2019, another chapter in the story of UNDP in Singapore has begun.
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Singapore was an easy choice for the Global Centre—but this was not because of the shared history with UNDP. It was strategic. Although small in size, Singapore is big on innovation and technology. For years now, the government has helped the way to turn Singapore into Asia’s Silicon Valley through business-friendly regulations, strong infrastructure, and heavy investment in start-ups., Singapore has close links with developed nations and an equally strong presence in emerging markets, which makes the city-state the ideal place to bridge the two.
These efforts have paid off tremendously. Many global giants have chosen to set up their regional headquarters in Singapore. And Singapore’s start-up scene has grown rapidly—the country has consistently topped regional rankings in the Global Innovation Index.
Crucially, Singapore combines these achievements with an acute appreciation of the challenges that plague our world today and the urgent response that is necessary. In Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s 2019 National Day speech, he highlighted that, “Climate change may seem abstract and distant for many of us, but it is one of the gravest challenges facing humankind.”
While Singapore is a prime location for us, the work of the new Centre will also strengthen Singapore’s standing as Asia’s technology and knowledge capital. So much of Singapore’s incredible achievements in technology and innovation are very relevant to our partners in the developing world. And with this in mind, the Centre’s initial focus is on:
- Cities and digitalisation: There is an ongoing digital revolution and advancements in digital technologies are transforming the way we live, work, and govern ourselves. Smart cities use data and technology to create efficiencies, improve sustainability, create economic development, and enhance quality of life factors for people living and working in the city – and fundamentally, empower citizens. It also means that the city has a smarter energy infrastructure. Given the acceleration of urbanisation in the developing world, creating smart city/smart nation solutions for the new mega cities will be crucial for ‘leapfrogging’ development. Singapore has consistently ranked near or at the the top of the world’s smartest cities.
- Sustainable investing and financial inclusion: Singapore is already a global financial hub. And now Singapore is poised to become a world-leading hub for sustainable investment, with Temasek – Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund – signaling its support for sustainable investment, and many of the funds and commercial banks based in Singapore eager to move into this space. Temasek is on the Steering Group of UNDP’s SDG Impact Initiative, which provides tools to help measure and manage impact and sustainability in investments. The Monetary Authority of Singapore also supports the UN’s work on digital finance, and financial inclusion.
- Sustainable agriculture: The Future of Food and sustainable agriculture are top priorities for Singapore. In early 2019 Singapore unveiled its bold ‘30 by 30’ vision, a target for local producers to meet 30% of the nation’s nutritional needs by 2030. To achieve this ambitious goal, land-scarce Singapore will greatly accelerate research and development as well as investments into agritech, ranging from digital agriculture to plant proteins and cell-based meats. Already many of the world’s leading food and nutrition companies have their Asia-Pacific HQs in Singapore. The Government has made it clear it plans for Singapore to be a sustainable food hub.