13 March 2008

Street work ain't for us

It's interesting to see migrants do entrepreneurial things that Singaporeans don't do. What does it say about us? Full essay.


Anonymous said...

who says the enterprising spirit is lacking? there is for example loan sharking, illegal gambling, and all those girls overstaying their visas (I presume most of them slip out of singapore somehow - the number of overstayers far exceed the ones caught at the border) who are presumably engaged in some incoming generating activity,


HanSolo said...

These foreigners have nothing to lose, and lots to gain. At most they would get shipped back to their home country.

I would also imagine that the authorities would be more sympathetic to them than to Singaporeans.

Lastly is the issue of face. When you're in a foreign country, you're effectively anonymous. Your family back home don't need to know that you're cutting hair for foreign workers in a backstreet alley.

Having said that, I do feel Singaporeans have to be more questioning of authority for us to progress as a country.

Benard said...

I recently tried to import a cake that contains herbs that have certain beautifying properties . It is very popular in Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong and have been tested in these countries to be safe.

Guess what? HSA tells me it is not under their purview because a cake is a food, and food is regulated by AVA.

I went to AVA. AVA tells me that food cannot contain herbs.

The product is safe, it is popular but I can't import it in because HSA and AVA have classification problems. Like Ducktours I got the infamous roundabout treatment.

If I am a foreigner, I would ignore the authorities and make a quick buck before exiting. Chances are they wouldn't even notice.

Anonymous said...

i dun know whether anyone has said it before but one thing i noticed about this site is the effective use of photos to make a point. its really cool. but how do you do it? dun ppl get angry when you take their picture?

Anonymous said...

100% agree with hansolo...
"I would also imagine that the authorities would be more sympathetic to them than to Singaporeans."

I used to walk around sungei road (Theft Market)
the authorities dont seem to sympathetic to our old folks here....

azzie said...

On one hand the government says be enterprenaurial, on the other hand there is loads of red tape. No doing a business out of your home if it's a hdb, so all those aunties making kuehs and ckaes to sell to the neighbours are doing something illegal. Go to one authority and they push you to another and the ping pong game of 'it's not our responsibility' starts.

Singaporeans are blamed for their lack of initiative, but it's hard trying to be enterprenaurial unless you have rich parents or savings to fall back on, because the govt is not going to give you handouts if you fail.

Anonymous said...

yb, until a few years back, I always went to the "hairdresser auntie" living a couple floors above me, she had a little corner in her hdb flat for cutting hair. There are women sewing clothes, making cakes/cookies from their homes, ppl giving tuition from their homes (group and individual), etc etc.. As singaporeans we dont have to set up open air shops to cut hair or sew clothes. Clearly it is agst the law (to do business in hdb) but it goes on anyway.
just wanted to point that out.

Anonymous said...

Azzie said " Not only loads of red tape" , you need also loads $ to apply licences too...When you fail and broke in singapore ,imagine how to make a come back?

Blur Ting said...

I'm an entreprenuer and I agree we are lacking that enterprising spirit. Our people are too comfortable and afraid of taking risk.

I sell shipping containers worldwide. In many countries, containers have been successfully recycled as beautiful homes (not your typical beat-up construction site cabins here). It has always been my dream to build a nice containerised office as our own office (and showpiece) but after knocking on our authorities' door, I had been receiving nothing but bad news.

If I manage to push the concept through, I'll probably end up like that poor chap who was operating out of the van and got pushed out of the bidding game.

KiWeTO said...

Its all in the mindset; Singaporeans just have had it drummed out of our minds.

When we encounter a problem, instead of coming up with new solutions to the problem, we either fall back on past solutions that have worked, or wait for someone else to solve the problem.

In most other societies, people will step forward and take their chances with their own solution (however good or bad the solution might be). A Singaporean is likelier to stand still and wait.

Do we have a pro-business environment? Yes and no.
Strong regulation means the majority of startup costs are known, and hidden costs (such as 'influencing' bureaucracies) are reduced.

But, is it conducive to new ideas? NO. As Ducktours has shown, our bureaucracies are great at administrating the known, but haplessly unwilling to take any real responsibility for any decision that has not been decided before, resulting in that businessman needing a Prime Minister to give him the scissors for that Gordian knot.

With the mentality that anything new (and thus, a need to cover my ass from a possible failure) creating needless escalation of decision making, we have a bureaucracy that is efficient, but not effective.

If so, how can true entrepreneurship (new business concepts/ideas etc) flourish?

All we get is a rehash of someone else's existing business, and an open tender that means that someone with a great idea, WILL end up not being the one benefiting most from it.

What needs to be changed?
The whole mindset of taking responsibility. If an office bearer is in charge, than he/she has to take responsibility for a decision (eg: duck tours), not pass it up the chain of command because its risky to take a stand.

Taking the ducktours example, the least LTA or MPA could have done would have been for the heads of the registration offices to meet each other, and issue a joint license or something. That is an action that can be taken at the "xxA" level, not wait for a PM to say "wtf!"

When SG bureaucracy is able to make decisions that carry individual responsibility, then, yes, entrepreneurship may then have the chance to flourish in SG again. Until then, we will have to be content with very narrow bands of entrepreneurship restricted to re-offering existing market offerings.


Dee said...

Most of my Singaporean acquaintances and friends who sell stuff like health products, watches and other stuff say that the bulk of their customers come from other countries.

Most of their reasons for this range from Singaporeans preferring "foreign" brands to legislation and other "red tape" cutting into your business profits. Therefore, in certain situations, you really need connections and be a seasoned business person in order to be profitable.

Btw, if you go to say... Taiwan, many of your potential customers will NOT waste your time asking endless questions and you don't need a government permit for everything, either. All you have to do is set up shop somewhere and the people will flock to you if you know how to attract them.

Jeremy said...

I have an experience to share.

A few years back, just before the vehicle food vendor scheme came out, my friend and I wanted to sell hot dogs from a modified van.

Being the law abiding citizen, we went around asking but not one government agency knew what licence this fell under. The closest this got was the ice-cream vendor on motorcycles, but they stopped giving out those years ago.

We finally ended up at the National Environment Agency, where, we were told to apply at:
1:LTA- to get their approval for modifying the vehicle
2:NEA-to get the licence to conduct such a business
3:NParks/HDB/URA: for their approval to sell in any of the carparks/parks

In addition, we had to get a kitchen in an industrial park for food preparation and waste disposal, go for food handling course, hawker licence, health check ups as well. We also had to submit a timetable of where and when we will be at a particular location.

This was before you knew whether you could get the approval to operate, not to mention the money we already had to put in beforehand to modify the vechicle, establish the kitchen. And we were just selling plain bread, hot dogs with ketchup and mustard!! There wasn't even any cooking, just heating up of the food.

Needless to say, we gave up :) And seeing the sort of restrictions and difficulties that came with the scheme, which coincidentally came up not long after we had ours, I think we were really glad that we had not proceeded. Maybe we should had just proceeded without any licence, I think even the fine would not be as much as the amount we had to put in to go legit.

This was in 2003, but I am not sure if we had proceed beyond this.

Anonymous said...

I know of a young Singaporean lady who couldn't stand the red tape and the competition for a very small market for her traditional bridal services. She moved to JB, bought a house, extended it, and made it into her bridal shop/office. She now has clients on both sides of the causeway. Kudos to her!

Singapore Indian Voice said...

Dear blur ting,

I love your container idea. I wouldn't mind trying to live in one.