Growing up on the sunny island of Singapore, I often frequented Fortune Centre on Middle Road. The office-cum-retail space is a stone’s throw away from Sri Krishnan Temple and Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple on Waterloo Street. If you ever wander there, you will see two faiths co-existing side-by-side. And if you open your eyes even wider, you will see the mercantile tradition of Singapore that has survived and continued to thrive even when confronted by modernity.
The merchants at Fortune Centre sell Buddhist artefacts, vegetarian cuisine as well as gemstones. I can’t claim or even admit to paying these treasures of the earth much attention in my younger years. As I grew older—and hopefully a little wiser—I was confronted by the skepticism with which many of us modern Asians view the cultures, teachings and beliefs of our ancestors. We think we know it all and that we have made progress. But maybe I really should have been listening attentively and closely to what my elders were trying to teach me. Youthful exuberance—and the false and short-lived lure of indestructibility—has a way of making so many think that they know it all… and then some.
But I didn’t know it all. And right now— due to unprecedented global travel restrictions and border closures—I am finally rediscovering the treasures of my own backyard.
We travel the world in an insatiable quest to see all that the world has to offer, but ignore the treasures in our own backyard. We navigate the Seas of the Sun in search of greener pastures but take for granted the pastures of the familiar terrain we associate with familiarity, monotony and a humdrum existence.
As someone who lived abroad for 12 years, I must say that my long absence really did make my heart grow fonder for all the tiny simple pleasures that I took for granted growing up. We may now visit these large malls and frequent stores with big name brands, but in the Singapore I grew up in, I knew all my neighbours and the business community felt like a family where everyone knew everyone else.
The malady of loneliness that so many who work in corporate-style jobs seem to feel was not a feeling I ever associated with the business world. Back in the day—and yes, I know I am indulging in nostalgia—I would frequent all the other family-run businesses in my vicinity and needed only to identify myself by saying, “I’m so-and-so’s so-and so.” The shopkeepers and merchants would instantly know who I was and I was automatically a part of a community that I have since missed and longed for.
In the early days of my return to the shores of my childhood in 2019, I felt a sense of loss as I reminisced about a past that would never return and which I was too young to fully appreciate.
And then—with the pandemic in full force—life forced us to change.
In a recent article by The Straits Times, it was reported that around half of Singaporean consumers prefer to shop at local businesses to help them recover from the business fallout of Covid-19. This desire to bolster the local economy is also not unique to Singapore. The survey—which was conducted by UOB—found that more than 60 per cent of the consumers they polled across Southeast Asia desired to stand in solidarity with their local businesses.
But it’s not just local businesses that can thrive in the era of Covid. Online businesses have seen unprecedented growth during this period. Investing in digitalisation is not new; and both the public and private sectors have been riding this trend for years. But many businesses, however, have avoided going completely down the digital route. But with the onset of COVID-19, this resistance is diminishing across every industry.
Businesses, regardless of size and sector, are reinventing their business models and leveraging technology to find new solutions in a COVID-19 world.
I believe traders and business people will do what they have always done. They will look at a crisis as an opportunity to find new ways of doing business. Change is not easy—neither for an established enterprise nor a startup. But change is what fuels growth. And in this era of Covid, there exist never-before-seen opportunities–in my lifetime, at least–for businesses to accelerate and ride a wave that is presently building momentum.
Years from now, we will read stories of this era the same way we read stories of ancient civilisations and the colonial era. How this chapter will go down in the economic history of the world is not for me to answer at this moment. All I know is that change inevitably leads to new forms of growth.
So whether we choose local or decide to go global—opportunities exist and we, as part of the business community, must continue to harness them to provide goods and services for our customers as well as create jobs to reinvigorate the economic scene.
After all, that is what entrepreneurs are—a creative economic force. Venture forth, I say. And don’t look back. The world is indeed your oyster.