SMU Thought Leadership

SMU has a strong reputation of distinguished teaching, unique model of education, and generating leading-edge research. As part of our strategic goal of developing leadership and becoming a leader in the academic world, SMU continues to grow and project our thought leadership through rigorous, high-impact, cross-disciplinary research that addresses Asian issues of global relevance. As our research effort centres on the core interdisciplinary themes relevant to Asia, we are in the ideal position to enrich the world with ideas.


The SMU Thought Leadership Series, published in The Business Times, feature research, expertise and business insights from SMU faculty and senior staff members on a wide range of subject matters.

Partnership-Driven Innovation

Tri-Sector Forum 2018

Posted on 7 May 2018

Adopting the theme "Partnership-driven innovation", the Tri-Sector Forum 2018 celebrated the innovative spirit that pursues both more sustainable approaches to the appropriation or exploitation of limited resources, as well as the collaborative exploration of novel sources of value.

The annual Forum in its fourth iteration again provided a venue for graduating senior and mid-career participants of the SMU Master of Tri-Sector Collaboration (MTSC) and leading practitioners to share their work and latest developments in the field.

Welcome remarks by Professor Tan Yoo Guan

In his opening remarks, Professor Tan Yoo Guan, Interim Dean of the School of Social Sciences said that alumni of the MTSC programme, together with leaders of partner organizations, now constitute an international network of next-generation leaders for a more sustainable and equitable future.

The alumni and students of the MTSC “come from South America, Canada, the Netherlands, Switzerland, the UK, South Africa, Hong Kong and member countries of ASEAN such as Indonesia, Myanmar, Thailand and the Philippines. The diversity of backgrounds, cultures, seniority and political systems enriches their perspectives. This diversity is an achievement we are proud of,” said Prof Tan.     

 “They are making an impact in the world,” he added. For example, “Nick Finney, is Country Director (Turkey) for Save the Children. After completing the MTSC programme, he was transferred to Turkey to assist with the refugee crisis in Syria. Christy Davis, from Worldvision International started the Asia P3 Hub for incubating partnerships and enabling partnering. In Worldvision’s internal ‘Our Promise 2030 Strategy Story’ competition that considered 165 entries, the Asia P3 Hub was selected as 1 of only 6 for its promise of delivering positive change and significant results as part of Worldvision’s strategy for 2030.”

Professor Tan Yoo Guan, Interim Dean of the School of Social Sciences making his Opening Remarks.

In introducing SMU’s Vice Provost for Research, Professor Steven Miller to give his Opening Address, Prof Tan said, “Professor Miller is himself a seasoned ‘tri-sector athlete’ who has led many successful large-scale cross-sector collaborations. In his domain, this is referred to as the ‘triple-helix’ involving academia, technology companies and government agencies. His success has required the same adeptness for aligning collaborators across varying time horizons while finding common goals and complementary activities.”

Opening Address by Professor Steven Miller

Professor Miller commended the Tri-Sector magazine launched at the Forum as giving an excellent overview of what tri-sector collaboration means and what it is capable of achieving. He went on to explain why it fits with SMU’s identity. “As we project out to Singapore, ASEAN and the world, we will with increasing emphasis talk about taking our research and education and applying it to making a meaningful impact,” he said. He finished by encouraging those working in cross-sector collaborative initiatives, saying, “As exasperating and challenging as it can be to work the boundaries, don’t lose hope, don’t give up, because what you are doing is important.”

SMU’s Vice Provost for Research, Professor Steven Miller giving his Opening Address.

Panel discussion

This was followed by a Panel Discussion with Bruno Occhipinti, Director of Strategy and New Business Development for Phillips (APAC); Julie Rezler, Head, Corporate Engagement Centre, Save the Children, Singapore; and Alexander Lau, Principal Design Lead of the Innovation Lab, Transformation Office of the Public Service Division, Prime Minister's Office, Singapore.

Each outlined how their respective organisations are involved in cross-sector collaboration, explaining some of the challenges in involved but emphasising how this approach can produce profound advances in addressing some of the most entrenched social and development issues.

In answer to the panel moderator’s question “How is the practice of innovation (or design thinking) different in the context of multi-stakeholder partnerships compared to the more familiar context within a single organisation?”, Alexander Lau replied, “Design Thinking requires empathy – not just with the end-user or citizen but even with the people who deliver the services. What is required is to create a system that allows many solutions to happen.”

Bruno Occhipinti added that Innovation in such partnerships raises anxieties that include protection of intellectual property rights and whether every partner is contributing fairly. There would  also be greater uncertainty about the momentum and commitment of organisations and key individuals. Leaders of such efforts, therefore require a lot of resilience and must be motivated to make a social impact. 

Julie Rezler stressed how cross-sector partnerships help all parties to address challenges more effectively. "What we've found," she said, "is that when we innovate with partners, we're a lot more effective. The insights we bring around innovation come from our intimate knowledge of what is going to work in a low-resource setting."

MTSC student presentations

Rounding off the Forum were two succinct presentations by the 4th Cohort of Master of Tri-Sector Collaboration (MTSC) students. The first, From Aspiration to Impact: How corporations can use Cross-Sector Partnerships to achieve Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in the Region, focussed on how as corporations come under increasing pressure to be more sustainable, they can  take steps internally and within their sectors to reconcile the differing expectations of activists, regulators, customers, employees and shareholders.

MTSC graduate, Mr Teymoor Nabili. highlights Danone’s recent B-Corporation accreditation during the capstone presentation on behalf of his team.

Although the UN SDGs provide a useful framework for facing the challenges and opportunities ahead, many companies still have problems identifying how to incorporate these goals into their strategies and practices. The presenters proposed that carefully constructed cross-sector partnerships offer an opportunity for corporations to achieve the SDGs, generate social capital and promote the interests of multiple stakeholders.

The second presentation, "Old but Gold" - Advancing Cross-Sector Partnerships to create "Inclusive Encore Careers" for Singapore’s Seniors in the year 2030, reminded the audience that in 2017, more than 14% of Singapore’s population was above the age of 65.  By the year 2030, this will go up to 25% aged 65 years and older.  Many of Singapore’s seniors will still be working, or seeking employment in a new era where automation, robots and artificial intelligence have reshaped or disrupted jobs.

This complex issue of a silver workforce presents enormous challenges for Singapore to maintain a vibrant economy and provide good jobs for its ageing citizens.  In the rush towards technology, there is also increasing concern that current jobs and services might become inaccessible to seniors. The team proposed that cross-sector partnerships will become increasingly crucial to open up space and offer new opportunities to help this segment of seniors stay digitally engaged, active and employable, as well as to re-shape attitudes towards aging and the future of work.

The forum’s panel discussion and the students' presentations also addressed issues of inclusiveness and equity, as these are essential to the sustainability of our societies and systems.

The evening ended with the opportunity for the participants and audience to network and share their experiences with one another informally.

Watch the video

Read the Tri-Sector 2018 newsletter

See more photos

Main photo: The panel discussion with (L-R) Alexander Lau, Principal Design Lead of the Innovation Lab, Transformation Office of the Public Service Division, Prime Minister's Office, Singapore; Bruno Occhipinti, Director of Strategy and New Business Development for Phillips (APAC); Julie Rezler, Head, Corporate Engagement Centre, Save the Children, Singapore; and moderator Sriven Naidu, Director, Programme Development & Partnerships, Master of Tri-Sector Collaboration, School of Social Sciences.

Forum participants and audience members networking and sharing their experiences during dinner.




ASEAN at 50 (Part II)

Posted on 5 Jan 2018

The Centre for Management Practice at SMU has produced a two-part article on ASEAN based on the panel discussions in the SMU-Channel NewsAsia programme ‘Perspectives’ that was recorded at the Singapore Management University from March to May 2017.

Read more 

ASEAN at 50 (Part I)

Posted on 5 Jan 2018

The Centre for Management Practice at SMU has produced a two-part article on ASEAN based on the panel discussions in the SMU-Channel NewsAsia programme ‘Perspectives’ that was recorded at the Singapore Management University from March to May 2017.

Read more 

Dr Noeleen Heyzer appointed to top UN Mediation Panel

Posted on 20 Sep 2017

The Singapore Management University (SMU) is pleased to announce that Dr Noeleen Heyzer, Social Scientist, Former Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations (UN) and SMU’s Lee Kong Chian Distinguished Fellow, has been appointed as a member of the UN Secretary-General’s High-Level Advisory Board on Mediation for a term of two years.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres announced on 13 September that the establishment of the High-Level Advisory Board on Mediation is part of the “surge in diplomacy for peace” he has consistently advocated, and gives due priority to the prevention and mediation work of the United Nations. The Board comprises 18 current and former global leaders, senior officials and renowned experts who bring together an unparalleled range of experience, skills, knowledge and contacts. It is expected to allow the United Nations to work more effectively with regional organizations, non-governmental groups and others involved in mediation around the world.

In a phone interview with The Straits Times, Dr Heyzer said she was very pleased to be put in a position where she could draw on her past experiences and try to help. She said the "world is in definite need of mediation for peace", which should ideally resolve tensions before they escalate into conflicts. "What we are seeing is our inability to handle these massive complex conflicts, which have led to the forced displacement of populations and that, in turn, has affected the politics and cohesion of societies.”

Read more in The Straits Times story.

Examining the rules of finance

SMU law professor Christopher Chen studies a wide range of regulatory issues in banks, insurers and capital markets

Posted on 17 May 2017

“It is important for lawmakers to strike a fine balance between educating financial investors to make responsible decisions and overly protecting them. The latter may result in opportunistic investor behaviour, which is not healthy for the financial market.”

- Assistant Professor Christopher Chen, Singapore Management University School of Law

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Human capital as competitive advantage

The future of human resources is more about analytics than just people, says SMU Professor Richard Smith

Posted on 19 Apr 2017

“Ultimately, HR professionals have to evolve as the profession is pushed by latest research trends to figure out how employees can generate a competitive advantage. This human capital orientation coupled with a strong analytic focus, will help prepare HR professionals for the future.”

- Richard Smith, Professor of Strategic Management (Practice), Associate Dean (General Management Programmes) and Academic Director of the Master of Human Capital Leadership, Lee Kong Chian School of Business, SMU

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Singapore’s future – anchoring on the small for growth

A new economic model around small and medium-sized growth firms has to be built, says SMU’s Professor Hoon Hian Teck

Posted on 8 Feb 2017

“What must guide our thought is that the growth possibilities are very different when you’re catching up, versus when you’ve already caught up.”

- Singapore Management University’s Professor of Economics and Associate Dean (Faculty, Research) of the School of Economics Hoon Hian Teck

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Exploring China’s vibrant rural economy

SMU’s Associate Professor Forrest Zhang pioneered research into China’s agrarian capitalists

Posted on 18 Jan 2017

“Rural villages are finding niches in China’s economy. Some grow Chinese herbs. Others collect pine mushrooms highly sought after in Japan, or the rare and expensive cordyceps fungus prized in traditional Chinese medicine … There was no local market. But entrepreneurs wanted to capitalise on the suitable climate and thus brought in new products to grow and then export them to other countries. So they found the village, brought the technology and know-how, and signed a contract with the farmers.”

- Associate Professor Forrest Zhang, SMU School of Social Sciences

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Rethinking Singapore’s Urban Form

Singapore Management University economics professor thinks Singapore’s road systems are too much dominated by the cul-de-sac form. A better balance between cul-de-sac and grid forms should be considered.

Posted on 19 Oct 2016

“Singapore’s transport is already reasonably efficient, and it also notably has an extensive system of expressways. But when thinking about how to redevelop the Greater Southern Waterfront area, policymakers can consider the economic implications of a cul-de-sac versus a grid design.”

-        Associate Professor Wen-Tai Hsu, SMU School of Economics

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Opportunities of luxury retail in a digital world

Luxury brands need to better understand their customer base and take advantage of social media, says SMU marketing professor Srinivas Reddy

Posted on 21 Sep 2016

“Luxury and digital were previously an oxymoron; it is no longer so.  But the luxury brand must create a seamless experience.  If the online and offline stores are fully integrated, and if consumers trust the brand, they will be willing to buy from it, regardless of the channel.”

-        Srinivas Reddy, Professor of Marketing and Director, Centre for Marketing Excellence, SMU Lee Kong Chian School of Business.

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