Kishore Mahbubani discusses his views about why Singapore has been so successful. He describes the role of early leaders as well as the importance of Singapore’s economic, multiracial, and educational policies. Despite employing policies that may have been deemed somewhat harsh, people supported the state because they could see rapid improvements. According to Mahbubani, the government was honest with the people and made sure they knew they were facing hard choices. Singapore was able to facilitate a multiethnic environment by instituting a meritocratic system and tolerant policies, such as creating four official languages. Employees who demonstrated leadership potential and performed well were fast-tracked. Those who did not were let go. Mahbubani also describes how leaders were able to learn from others’ examples rather than start from scratch with every new policy issue. The government was able to limit corruption primarily because early leaders led by example and the government had a zero tolerance policy. Mahbubani believes that any state that incorporates meritocracy, pragmatism, and honesty will succeed.
At the time of this interview, Kishore Mahbubani was dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy. He was appointed dean in 2004 after serving 33 years in the Singapore Foreign Service, with postings in Cambodia, Malaysia, Washington, D.C., and twice as ambassador to the United Nations, during which he also served as president of the Security Council. He was the permanent secretary of the Foreign Ministry from 1993 to 1998. He authored these books: "Can Asians Think?" ; "Beyond The Age of Innocence: Rebuilding Trust between America and the World"; and "The New Asian Hemisphere: the Irresistible Shift of Global Power to the East." He was listed as one of the top 100 public intellectuals in the world by Foreign Policy and Prospect magazines in September 2005.