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Singaporeans’ “kiasu” culture hampers innovation: NMP Kuik Shiao-Yin

On 5 April, Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP) Kuik Shiao-Yin called for a Singaporeans to stop out “kiasu” attitude. During the Budget debates in Parliament, she delivered a speech in criticism of our “kiasu” culture, citing it as a reason behind Singaporeans’ lack of innovation in business ventures.

Ms Kuik, 39, identifies as an entrepreneur herself. However, she states that in recent times, Singaporean entrepreneurs have become “grantrepreneurs, people who call themselves entrepreneurs but are actually grant chasers who seize upon any amount of public money.” She cites the Productivity and Innovation Credit (PIC) grant by the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore (IRAS) as one such grant that is highly sought after.

Additionally, the “kiasu” mentality gives rise to anxiety for entrepreneurs, who then end up simply focusing on short term gains instead of looking towards winning the game in the long haul. The risks such “kiasu” entrepreneurs take are this risks that everyone else is already taking. It makes one then question whether these risks are really risks at all. Ms Kuik states that innovation in Singapore has also stalled, as people simply innovate what others already have done.

“Entrepreneurship here tends to lack originality and is just copy and paste work of little worth," she stated.

She brings up her observations of the recent springing up of countless hipster coffee joints and cat cafes. Entrepreneurs in Singapore today are clustered in the Food and Beverage (F&B) industry, with few venturing out into industries like marine and construction. Ms Kuik states that those are the sectors “which have far more opportunity, profit and need for new blood willing to go where nobody else dares to go.”

In order to better the entrepreneurship scene in Singapore, NMPs Azmoon Ahmad and Mahdev Mohan suggested in Parliament that the spirit of entrepreneurship should be instilled in young Singaporeans in schools, from primary to tertiary levels. Incorporating innovation and entrepreneurship into schools’ curriculum as a subject was also proposed.

The “kiasu” mentality has been strongly ingrained into generations of Singaporeans, and even stands as one of our defining features. Ms Kuik further expressed her concern over the human potential and opportunities that have been lost throughout the years due to Singaporeans’ long-standing fear of failure.

“I don’t think kiasu culture should be celebrated. In fact, I think we should kill it,” she said.