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Singapore's super chamber turns 15

Singapore Business Federation repositions itself as a growth platform to better help businesses grow.

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TAC Alliance representatives with government leaders at SBF's official opening on Sept 5.

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Officiating at the opening were (from left) former SBF chairman Stephen Lee, Mr Iswaran, Mr Teo, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, SBF Foundation chairman Theresa Foo and former SBF chairman Tony Chew.

THE country's top business body, the Singapore Business Federation (SBF), turns 15 this year, but the basis on which it was founded remains as relevant today as it was in 2002.

As the apex business chamber in Singapore, SBF was set up to better organise and represent the Singapore business community and to champion the interests of the business community in trade, investment and industrial relations.

SBF has achieved several milestones in the last 15 years of its operations, said its chief executive officer Ho Meng Kit. The key initiatives in recent years include the formation of the SME Committee and SBF Foundation, the establishment of the NTU-SBF Centre for African Studies, and the release to the government of the Position Paper for a Vibrant Singapore.

It also contributed to the formulation of the recommendations of the Committee on the Future Economy (CFE). "SBF has been an effective advocate, facilitating exchanges between the business community and the government, while helping companies build capabilities, network and tap into business opportunities," said Mr Ho.

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Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat said: "SBF has made important contributions to the CFE process and helped to reach out to the business community. As the Chairman of the Future Economy Council, I look forward to SBF's efforts in promoting closer collaboration between businesses, government and unions, championing the development of the capabilities of enterprises, and encouraging Singapore-based businesses to expand overseas."

Noting that the external environment has changed significantly over the years, Mr Ho said: "Slower global growth, disruption in industries and markets, and the need to gear up to assist our businesses transform post-CFE prompted SBF to conduct a strategic review of its role and focus to better serve its members and the wider business community."

Repositioning itself as a growth platform, SBF will intensify its efforts to sense, prioritise, analyse and help resolve burning issues facing significant segments of businesses, he added. "Central to SBF's new role is the importance of more collaborations with Trade Associations and Chambers (TACs) to benefit the business community."

SBF also aims to be a stronger, objective and constructive voice in advocating to local and foreign governments, businesses and the workforce to promote the growth and vibrancy of the business community, contributing to the prosperity of Singapore.

"Singapore is in a new phase of economic development, and our companies must have deep capabilities and extensive international networks in order to compete successfully in the globalised digital economy," said Minister for Trade and Industry (Industry) S Iswaran. "I commend SBF on its initiative to strengthen collaboration among the TACs so as to better support our industries and enterprises. TACs are important partners and multipliers in our industry transformation effort. By working together, TACs can pool their capabilities and develop innovative solutions to help our companies thrive in a fast-changing world."

Minister in the Prime Minister's Office and Secretary-General of the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) Chan Chun Sing said: "The repositioning of SBF is timely. SBF represents and organises the business community, it understands the fears, concerns and aspirations of our businesses. SBF plays an important role in our business capability development and can value-add to help businesses explore new markets, embrace new business models and adopt new technologies. SBF is also a platform for our businesses to collectively chart our economic future together with the government and labour movement. Together, we will elevate Singapore's competitiveness by having stronger businesses and better jobs for all Singaporeans."

Under the repositioned SBF, there will be new issues committees led by SBF council members. "These committees will drive deeper insights into business issues and are platforms for collaborations with the government and other stakeholders. These committees will undertake activities in support of the growth of businesses and the economy," said Mr Ho.

SBF's first issues committee will focus on digitalisation. Headed by SBF council member Janet Ang, the Digitalisation Committee aims to help businesses build strong digital capabilities and promote the adoption of digital technologies. Ms Ang is vice-president of Industry Solutions, Systems of Engagement and Smarter Cities at IBM Asia Pacific.

SBF is working closely with TACs, the Infocomm Media Development Authority and other relevant government agencies on this initiative. It hopes to launch the first programme or project under this new initiative in early 2018.

"Business and industries need to transform urgently due to digital and business model disruption. At the same time, digital technology opens many opportunities for businesses to innovate and reinvent themselves and move ahead," said Ms Ang.

Another area that SBF will focus on is internationalisation. "This clearly builds on SBF's strengths and expertise," said Mr Ho. "It is recognised as the apex chamber for internationalisation, such as leading and hosting business missions across the globe. We will develop a deeper and more sophisticated knowledge of the overseas markets which Singapore companies are keen to venture into."

Minister for Trade and Industry (Trade) Lim Hng Kiang said: "SBF plays a valuable role in supporting our enterprises' growth and internationalisation. Through its networks, SBF opens doors for Singapore-based enterprises by facilitating collaboration among companies in their overseas ventures, including through organising business missions and connecting them to business communities overseas. SBF has also been instrumental in providing feedback from our businesses on cross-border trade and investment experiences, while helping businesses to utilise Singapore's network of Free Trade Agreements (FTAs). These efforts by SBF have helped our companies to gain a competitive edge in overseas markets."

"SBF recognises that working together with Singapore TACs and business groups will be critical in raising one another's members' and Singapore's economic value and prosperity," said SBF CEO Ho Meng Kit.

SBF will work with TACs to elevate the vibrancy and effectiveness of the entire TAC sector for the betterment of the business community. This is particularly important in view of the need for TACs to assist businesses to transform, following the release of the CFE's recommendations, Mr Ho explained.

As an acknowledgment of solidarity, 31 trade associations and chambers, including SBF, formed a TAC Alliance during SBF's official opening on Sept 5. As founding members and signatories of a TAC Compact, they pledged to work together as strategic partners and collaborators to further the interests of one another's members and facilitate the growth of the business community.

"ASME ( Association of Small and Medium Enterprises) supports this initiative to bring TACs closer together to sense, prioritise, analyse and help resolve burning issues facing significant segments of the Singapore business community," said ASME president Kurt Wee.

"While each TAC has its own capabilities and voice, the Alliance enables TACs to combine resources to become an even stronger enabler to support the growth of our business community. I am a member of the SBF-led SME Committee and I am encouraged by the strong participation of TACs and businesses in the committee. I look forward to SBF building on this good work."

With the government, SBF strives to deepen constructive engagement based on objective and meaningful research and data, said Mr Ho. "We aim to position ourselves as the national business voice to the government, providing deeper, insight-driven, national-level advocacy and follow-up action. As the bridge for the business community to the government, we will collaborate with all stakeholders to shape the national business environment."

Mr Ho said that with SBF's repositioned role, members can expect:

  • Improved engagement especially through online media platforms, starting with the revamp of BizQ, SBF's newsletter for its members.
  • More effective championing of business interests through issues committees.
  • Specific programmes to help members transform through SBF's collaborations with the government on the Future Economy Council.
  • More national-level events, similar to the Singapore Regional Business Forum, to disseminate deep insights on key developments.
  • More seminars, training and workshops on FTAs so that members will be able to better utilise Singapore's extensive network.
  • Greater variety of services through SBF's collaborations with TACs.
  • More programmes, workshops and training from the SBF Business Institute to help members build talent and competencies for internationalisation.