Singapore can play a lead role in innovation for sustainable development: SFF x SWITCH panel discussion

by Amit Roy Choudhury, IPI Singapore

A key theme that came out of the discussions during TechInnovation at SFF x SWITCH (Singapore Fintech Festival x Singapore Week of Innovation and Technology) was that Singapore can play a leadership role in the field of innovation and sustainable development which looks at developing technology solutions to tackle the environmental challenges that the world faces.

Moderating a panel on Singapore’s role in this rapidly emerging field, Stefanie Beitien, Director, Partnerships, Eco-Business, a media platform for clean-tech and sustainable business, observed that there is an increased awareness and alignment for the need for joint corporate responsibility to achieve a sustainable future, and that “sustainability is a good catalyst for collaboration and creates business opportunities across sectors”.

Referring to the United Nations 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), signed by 193 countries in 2015, she noted that there were only 10 years left to fulfil these SDGs and a lot of work remained to be done.

Robert Opp, Chief Digital Officer, United Nations Development Programme added that the SDGs are becoming important focus areas for companies, organisations and governments around the world. “We are not progressing fast enough on a number of the sustainable development goals. Technology and innovation have the potential to accelerate progress.”

UNDP made a conscious choice to locate its Global Centre for Technology, Innovation and Sustainable Development in Singapore. Opp said UNDP believes that the eco-system available in Singapore, in partnership with the government, industries and research institutions, “has a lot to offer to the world in terms of technology expertise and resources which can be used to solve global challenges including climate change and other SDGs.”

Edwin Chow, Enterprise Singapore’s Assistant CEO for Innovation & Enterprise, noted that demand-led open innovation and sustainability are closely interlinked. Noting that innovation is about creating a product or solution that people are prepared to pay for, he added that there was no bigger problem than climate change and sustainability.

Enterprise Singapore channels efforts of entrepreneurs, investors, researchers and students to develop solutions that can make a positive impact in the world,” Chow added.

Talking about the approach to sustainability and innovation taken by Temasek, Neo Gim Huay, the company’s Managing Director for Sustainability, shared that the investment company has integrated ESG (environment, social, and government) considerations into the investment process. “ESG issues have always been considered as part and parcel of the investment process, however, this was not well codified. Over the past few years we have integrated the considerations, in a systematic and comprehensive way, into the investment process so that investment professionals are well guided,” she noted.

Matteo Chiampo, Technical Director, SecondMuse, asserted that it is imperative to embed sustainability in every organisation’s long-term strategy. SecondMuse helps organisations to introduce innovation through collaboration with stakeholders from the public and private sectors. This helps to find solutions to the most critical challenges in the world, Chiampo added.

Beitien observed that Singapore understands its role as a regional hub for sustainability and the need to build an ecosystem for sustainability here. At the panel discussion, speakers shared some important sustainable innovation projects of their organisations.

Enterprise Singapore has launched a Sustainability Open Innovation Challenge with 10 corporate and government agencies. The challenge will provide opportunities for small and medium-sized enterprises (SME) and start-ups to co-innovate with the corporates and agencies in green transport, resource efficiency, sustainable built environment, and zero waste.

Temasek also launched its HyperX global sustainability-themed programme at SFFxSWITCH. The programme aims to ideate, build and scale solutions that address the UN’s SDGs. The first stage involved a 54-hour hackathon in which more than 300 people participated. Temasek will identify ideas from the hackathon and invite participants to a pre-accelerator and then an accelerator phase. Successful solutions would be given venture capital (VC) funding as well as mentoring. These solutions would then be set on a roadmap so that they can scale and become commercially viable.

The UNDP announced its global initiative, [email protected], that focuses on innovation for sustainable agriculture. Supported by the Singapore government, [email protected] will curate multi-stakeholder coalitions to tackle key challenges faced by developing countries across the globe and explore opportunities in urban agriculture, climate resilience and livestock farming. The programme offers mature growth-stage start-ups and R&D teams a unique opportunity to work in these emerging markets and co-design solutions with farmers and policy makers. [email protected] is now calling for applications from innovators; as well as interested individuals and companies to come on board as mentors and partners.

SecondMuse and The Circulate Initiative launched The Incubation Network (TIN) programme to catalyse investment and innovation in the plastic waste management and recycling sector across South and Southeast Asia in an effort to reduce ocean plastic pollution. Chiampo shared that the network will open applications on 19 December for their Plastics Data Challenge – a global innovation challenge that will source, support, and scale innovative data solutions that address the leakage of plastic waste into the environment across the region.

Chiampo added that even though his company has operations in Australia and in Indonesia, it decided to set up a specific hub for its five-year programme in Singapore as the programme would involve a lot of human resources and funding.

“Singapore provides the infrastructure and connectivity and a willingness to develop sustainability as a new leading edge capability and this is helping it become a centre of sustainability in the region,” he commented.

Enterprise Singapore’s Edwin Chow added that there are capabilities in Singapore, such as its ecosystem and resources that encourage innovation. “Some of the challenges that regional countries face can be solved by solutions made in Singapore,” he hinted.

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