Introduction: Why Tech and Public Good?

Hello, thanks for stopping by! I set this blog up as a space to explore a topic I’ve been thinking about: the intersection between technology and public good.

I didn’t start off my career in technology. Since I was little, my passion has been in building more inclusive, compassionate societies. As I volunteered at special needs schools and shelters for the homeless, and spent time in rural Laos, Peru and China, it struck me that opportunity gaps are aggressively widening. It can’t be good for society – what we saw in Occupy Wall Street, the Egyptian Revolution, and some would say the recent U.S. Presidential Election, is evidence.

The first five years…

I dedicated the first few years of my career to championing policies to make our society more inclusive. Together with a fantastic team, I worked on pre-school reforms that expanded affordable pre-school- we tripled the number of households receiving subsidies and expanded partnerships with childcare operators to rapidly address the supply crunch. I advocated for the expansion of education subsidies to children in Special Needs schools, which for a long time were considered out of the mainstream education system. I ran analyses on the financial vulnerability of households with elderly and disabled members, which resulted in a stronger social safety nets. Tharman Shanmugaratnam, the Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for Social and Economic Affairs, was one of the best bosses and key sources of inspiration for my colleagues and I, as we worked passionately in this area.

I also ventured into communications and engagement because I saw that an inclusive society requires trust-building. Good policies cannot be the only solution – because of distrust, many policy changes that I had dreamt about implementing for years (even before I joined the public service) were perceived negatively; as attempts to buy favour from disgruntled people. I set up a Strategic Communications and Engagement team in the Ministry of Education, which aimed to meaningfully engage people in policymaking, and communicate like humans (not like a 40,000-member bureaucracy). I also gave talks and facilitated discussions among students and public servants on divisive topics in society, such as elitism and inequality.

Venturing into Technology 

Then my husband decided to go to Stanford for his PhD in statistics, and I needed a plan. What should I do there, I thought? Technology? One problem: technology to me was a scary, impenetrable world of jargon. To be honest, when my teams grappled with issues of inequality and distrust in society, our lack of understanding about technology made it easy to write it off as a “good to have”, but non-essential in tackling big societal problems. Thankfully, I had bosses at the Prime Minister’s Office who took a chance on me, giving me the opportunity to jump into the world of technology.

Fast-forward, I now work for Singapore’s Smart Nation Office in the Bay Area. I love the vision of the Smart Nation Office – it is not about getting our hands on the coolest new technology, but how we can use technology to improve the lives of citizens, such as creating an inclusive transportation experience for everyone, regardless of age, physical condition, or income.

The more I learn, the more I see technology and business as a game-changing necessity in tackling the most stubborn societal problems that Governments wrestle with. I will write more examples in posts to come. I hope that as we build relationships between the technology and public/non-profit sectors, and articulate our common interests, we can maximise for both business interests and the good of society.

Urgency 

I think this conversation needs to happen more than ever. We live in an increasingly divided world, where the benefits of technology and progress accrue disproportionately to those who have capital (both financial and educational). There are structural forces at work here. If we chug along on our own tracks, these divides will only widen. 

An experiment 

This blog is an experiment. I would love to use it as a platform for conversations that bridge the worlds of tech, business and Government, that explore new partnership models and our common interests. Let’s actively do this because the forces of nature are pulling us in the opposite direction!

**the views in this blog are my own, not the organisation I work for.

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2 thoughts on “Introduction: Why Tech and Public Good?

  1. RAI

    Hello from another Singaporean (albeit penultimate-year NTU undergraduate currently on exchange) from Atlanta!

    Dropping by to read your thought-pieces! Not often do I find pieces written in an informal manner – most rational public policy thought-commentaries are “published” instead of “blogged” about, so this channel of communication is absolutely refreshing!

    Here’s a jiayou (and a comment) to let you know that your articles are being read, the issues are being pondered-upon and, of course, thoroughly enjoyed! =)

    Like

    1. Thanks Rai for stopping by! I would be interested to hear about what you are doing in Atlanta, and your experiences so far. Let me know if you make a trip out to the Bay Area.

      Like

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