The Most TRANSFORMATIVE Lesson

Last year, I visited Singapore for the first time, and apart from admiring the beauty of the country, I sought to learn as much as I could, about how a country that became independent in 1965 (8 years after Ghana) had transformed itself within a relatively short time, into one of the most advanced countries in the world.

To help me gain a deeper insight into some of the reasons behind such an outstanding transformation, I called my good friend Mike Gabo Oquaye, Ghana's Ambassador to India and asked if he knew anyone at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy? Mike immediately sent me a few names of people I could contact.

I contacted an elderly Prof and we started a very insightful conversation. The conversation made me both sad and inspired at the same time. It felt like eating sweet and sour Chinese rice in a Chinese restaurant. The sweet aspect came when he heard I was from Ghana and remarked that Singapore drew a lot of inspiration from Ghana at the beginning. Not knowing exactly how to respond to that comment, I said Hmmm.

The Most TRANSFORMATIVE Lesson

Today, my focus is on the inspiring part of our conversation. As I spoke to the learned gentleman, he shared an experience in parliament that transformed my thinking forever and I hope it will transform yours too.

My learned friend recounted an incident in parliament during which there was a discussion regarding a new law. One of the parliamentarians eloquently justified the need for the new law and based his argument on the fact that the UK had a very similar law and hence it was a step in the right direction. After listening to the discussion for a while Lee Kuan Yew intervened and stated that the UK is/was not the standard for Singapore. He explained that the Singapore standard must be higher than that of the UK. To put this simply, THE COLONISED COUNTRY WAS AIMING AT A HIGHER STANDARD THAN THE COLONISER HAD.

Many colonised countries see their colonial masters as their standards. This is the way many African nations think. Lee Kuan Yew liberated the mind of Singapore in terms of what is possible, irrespective of its relatively low levels of resources.

It is thus not surprising that today, Singapore is ranked higher than the UK on the Human Development Index (HDI) rankings (2019). While Singapore is ranked 9th in the world, the UK is ranked 15th. The Average Life Expectancy at birth in Singapore and the UK is 83.5 years and 81.2 years respectively. Singapore is ranked above countries like Canada, US and Japan on the HDI.

My argument is not to claim that Singapore is ahead of the UK in every development indicator. No, that is not my case. The message I wish to share is that a small country without a significant level of resources aspired to be much better than its colonial master and succeeded in our lifetime. The audacity of hope is inspiring. The confidence in ability is breathtaking. The vision of leadership was critical. The removal of “mental barriers” is a catalyst for redefining possibilities.

What do our leaders believe? What do we stand for? What are we unwilling to tolerate as a people? What are the standards we aspire to? When would we be angry with the status quo? Do we believe we can be the best?

This lesson is as important at the national level as it is at an individual level. What limits do we place on ourselves? What are our boundaries? What are our mental blocks?

What Lee Kuan Yew did for Singapore, was to remove “the limit on possibilities”. May we as a people remove our “ceilings at the national and individual levels”. They say the sky is no more the limit since there are already footprints on the moon. Similarly, we can say the moon is no more our limit since there are over 100 billion alien planets in the galaxy.

We must break our “mental chains” and walk free to achieve what is beyond our wildest expectations.

The Most TRANSFORMATIVE Lesson

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