TODAY’s global leaders continue to battle major problems, from post-pandemic health care and economic recovery to the energy transition. How can governments and industries seize technology to aid global change? Tony Blair, former Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, executive chairman of the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, provided the closing keynote conversation at the Asia Tech x Singapore Summit last June 2, 2022.
Technology revolution is changing everything. Blair says it is hardest for the government and policymaker to get one’s head around it. For example, how does one work to harness it for the public good? There are several dimensions to it. The question he asks is “How to get better interaction with the government and citizens. How to transform public services? How to build the right digital infrastructure? How do you help businesses also utilize digital technology?” The biggest challenge for policymakers of governments is understanding the scale of this revolution and the different dimensions and how to harness it.
One interesting thing he noted is, there is a generation of younger ministers that are tech savvy that have grown up using technology and feel much more comfortable in the technology world. Then there is “my generation of leaders that are at an older level who still find it very hard. I still go in and have conversations here or indeed elsewhere in the world where I’ll say to a group of politicians: you know this technology revolution is important. I still think the biggest challenge is getting the policymakers and the change makers in the same room because there’s virtually limitless amounts of transformation that technology can enable. But you need to understand it to be able to utilize it. One of the things that’s very tough for policymakers is that the world is changing very fast, but the one bit of the world that often doesn’t change is the government.”
The work of his institute is based on this theory that if you look around the world today, the difference between the countries that succeed and those that fail is the quality of governance because everything else is mobile. Technologies are mobile. Capitals are mobile. “The thing that isn’t mobile is your government,” Blair emphasized. “You can take two countries side by side, same population, roughly same potential in resources, roughly same landmass, roughly one succeeds, one fails. The differences are in governance. One of the reasons I’ve come to Singapore over many years is that I think it’s a fascinating example of why governance today should not be about ideology, but should be about understanding the world and then having practical solutions to the problems. And what gets in the way of whether it’s developing technology or anything else is bad politics leading to bad policy. It’s nearly always because people start with an ideological predisposition. It could be about left versus right, or it could be about religion, or it could be about race. Whatever it is, that gets in the way of decent decision-making.”
In any part of government, Blair stressed that there are also lessons. Number one is the absence of corruption because corruption is the enemy of progress anywhere and everywhere. Number two, the rule of law, having predictable rules. Number three, an education system which tries to educate and develop the human capital of the country. Number 4 is making sure that the government has the skill set itself. If Blair was back in government today, he said he would break down a lot of the silos between the public and private sector. “I don’t think you can really grasp this technology opportunity unless you’ve got people who understand it coming into government,” Blair pointed out.
They focus their work at the Institute on equipping leaders across Asia to deliver ambitious transformation agendas by harnessing the power of tech in a digital age. One example is taking stock of digital-government transformation and pioneering a participatory approach to solving the shortcomings and maximizing the opportunities of gig work.