‘Developmental goals’ in business has become a bit of a bad word; and it seem to imply that projects are not optimised to make commercial sense but more to ensure that people have better lives. There is this implicit zero-sum game mentality here that thinks that wealth is accumulated through diversion rather than creation. Yet the very business of development is about creation of wealth. From the economic point of view, value is unlocked through collaboration, realising of ideas, some bits of moving of factors around as well as making good use of knowledge that is already embedded within the system. Having longer time horizon and building up long-term trust (social capital) can help communities unlock the value.
I’ve seen a young farmer in Ghana going from a hired labour to owning a farm 5 times the size of his original employer. And this young farmer was investing into irrigation pumps and other productivity-improving equipment, that original employer farmer was just complaining about how the government has not done enough to improve the lives of people. Being able to take control of one’s fate and making the sacrifices for it is important; successive generations of being able to maintain that attitude helps accumulate wealth especially during times of macro-growth. Development usually takes place this way and deployment of first-world capital into third-world normally involves getting your hands dirty and being extremely operational but once you get started and figure out a model that works, you are way ahead of a lot others.
That is in part what happened to the many companies that first invested in Singapore; their investment often paid off many fold. The story of Singapore’s development, for most part was wealth creation and it has been done through agglomeration of those with knowledge and then putting our factors (geographical locations, people, proximal resources) into use through the know-how of global companies. Of course, over the years, as other locations have become more attractive in terms of cost competitiveness, quality of manpower and all, we have to re-strategize our development. But the basics have been cover already by now. For now, I believe Singapore is at the stage where we need to now think about how the fruits of development are distributed and should be distributed.