Session Synopsis

The South Asian Diaspora Convention 2016 will have 11 sessions and a Gala dinner. The sessions are as follows:

  1. Inaugural Session
  2. Investing in Infrastructure
  3. Regional Integration
  4. Captains of Industry: Catalyst for Change
  5. Geopolitics of South Asia
  6. Law and Business in South Asia
  7. Diaspora and Citizenship
  8. Partnership in Education
  9. Entrepreneurship and Start-Ups
  10. India-China Business Dialogue
  11. Book Launch and Reception

Inaugural Session

The Guest-of-Honour for the inaugural session will be Mr Ranil Wickremesinghe, Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister. Sri Lanka is a focal point for the global grand strategies of major powers like the United States, China and India. The centrality of Sri Lanka in the Indian Ocean can catalyse its growth and promote foreign investments in the country. Sri Lanka lies only a few nautical miles away from the busy East-West shipping route, 60,000 ships are estimated to pass through this route every year, carrying two-thirds of the world's oil and half of all container shipments. Sri Lanka's geography gives it an advantage disproportionate to its size. Mr Wickremesinghe will discuss Sri Lanka’s growth model, investment priorities and share his aspirations on partnerships with Singapore and South Asia to fulfil Sri Lanka’s “Wonder of Asia” vision. The Prime Minister will also speak about the challenges which Sri Lanka faces in pursuit of this vision, and outline how these challenges may require innovative regional solutions beyond the nation. Singapore’s Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for Economic and Social Policies, Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam will also be gracing the occasion.

Investing in Infrastructure

Helmed by principal speakers from the region, the session will discuss the scope for diaspora and international investment into South Asia’s infrastructure which is lagging behind its regional competitors. According to World Bank statistics, South Asia region currently spends only 3.5% of its GDP on Infrastructure whereas the region needs to spend around 7.5% of GDP to maintain the projected economic development trajectory. The region therefore effectively needs to double its infrastructure spending if it wants to fully harness its economic potential. Today, the commerce, industrial and manufacturing sectors and exports ride on the back of good infrastructure. The panel discussion with representatives from the World Bank, ADB Institute, IFC, ICBC Bank, IDFC India and AIIB will be sharing their perspectives on how South Asian countries can optimise on its investment led growth strategy. The session will be chaired by Mr Vinod Rai, Chairman of the Banks Board Bureau and Visiting Senior Research Fellow, ISAS.

Regional Integration

Because of its vast geography, South Asia has an array of neighbours that include some of Asia’s most economically vibrant as well as politically sensitive regions, ranging from the Far East to Southeast Asia and the Middle East. The perceptions and policies of South Asia’s neighbours towards the region influence its strategic dynamics significantly. The session will discuss the potential for the evolution of “One South Asia” as a contiguous sub-continental economy. Ambassador Ong Keng Yong (Executive Deputy Chairman, RSIS & Ambassador-at-Large, and Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs) will deliver the opening address at this plenary. This will be followed by Mr Ali Akbar Velayati, Senior Adviser to the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran; the principal speaker for the session. The session will be followed by a discussion by a group of distinguished panellists from the United States, Iran, Japan and Malaysia on the prospects for regional interaction and integration. The panel will discuss the twin problems of external politics that impede economic integration, and the domestic political ramifications of opening up markets to South Asia’s neighbours. The session will be chaired by Mr Girija Pande, Executive Chairman, Apex Avalon Consulting Pte Ltd; and Member, Management Board, Institute of South Asian Studies. He was the co-author of “The Silk Road Rediscovered: How Indian and Chinese Companies Are Becoming Globally Stronger by Winning in Each Other’s Markets.”

Captains of Industry: Catalyst for Change

This session runs parallel to the “Regional Integration” session. Global economic slowdown has brought various issues pertaining to national industrial development into focus. This raises important questions on the resilience of industries to compete in challenging economic conditions and their ability to absorb new entrants. These experiences also call for the need for corporations to innovate in order to adapt to changing circumstances. Industry leaders at the panel will share their insights and experiences on how entrepreneurship can serve as a catalyst for change; especially for society. Mr Binod Chaudhary and other principal speakers will narrate their experiences and demonstrate how the private sector, in collaboration with the South Asian diaspora, can drive profound change in South Asia. The panel consists of renowned industry captains who will articulate their personal views on how business in South Asia need not be “business-as-usual”. The session will be chaired by Mr Piyush Gupta, CEO and Director of DBS Group.

Geopolitics of South Asia

South Asia’s geopolitics are in a state of flux. South Asia continues to search for almost-elusive conditions of peace and stability, with the member-states struggling to contain ethnic strife, religious radicalism and natural disasters. The rise of China is redrawing the entire neighbourhood; under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, India is moving closer to Washington and shifting away from a foreign policy approach of balancing and hedging, instead favouring a global leadership role for India. In Sri Lanka, the presidential election deposed a pro-China government and installed an administration more inclined towards India. China’s rise has overshadowed, to a certain extent, the long-standing antagonism between Delhi and Islamabad over Kashmir, but India-Pakistan relations remain tenuous. In Afghanistan and Pakistan, greater Chinese influence is perceived positively. The search for pan-South Asia peace is made even more difficult by the lack of trust among several member-states, which affects progress towards institutional cooperation. The keynote speaker for the session is Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, Singapore’s Minister of Foreign Affairs. Principal speakers include Mr Mangala Samaraweera, Sri Lanka’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, and Mr Kamal Thapa, Nepal’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs. Panellists from the region will discuss proposals and suggestions by the principal speakers on building a peaceful and stable South Asian region. The session will be chaired by Mr Zoher Abdoolcarim, Regional Editor, Time Inc.

Law and Business in South Asia

Given the nature of globally integrated businesses, South Asian companies and countries are grappling with sophisticated mechanisms for dealing with international disputes through consensus. International commercial arbitration, being a consensual means of dispute resolution, has binding effect only by virtue of a complex framework of national and international laws. These include national arbitration laws, international conventions and institutional arbitrations. In the last two decades, there has been a tremendous proliferation of the number of cases being settled through arbitration and similar mechanisms in South Asia. The session will highlight the lack of effective legal frameworks in some of these countries, which may affect the economic and commercial growth and investment in those states, and show how suitable improvements can be made. Ms Indranee Rajah, Singapore’s Senior Minister of State for Finance and Law, Dr Shirani Bandaranayake, 43rd Chief Justice of Sri Lanka, and Mr Sachin Pilot, Member of the Indian National Congress and India’s former Minister of Corporate Affairs, are the principal speakers. The session will be followed by a panel discussion with renowned lawyers and practitioners in the field, moderated by Ms Lim Seok Hui, CEO of the Singapore International Arbitration Centre (SIAC) and Singapore International Mediation Centre (SIMC). Of interest to the participants will be the expertise that SIAC and SIMC had gained in dealing with a number of cases.

Diaspora and Citizenship

The Diaspora and Citizenship plenary session will feature Dr BK Modi, Chairman of Smart Global Holdings Pte Ltd and Founder of Global Citizen Forum. The session will also feature two recent works by South Asians. Dr Devesh Kapur from the Centre for the Advanced Study of India, University of Pennsylvania, USA will share the main insights from his book, “The Other One Percent: Indians in America”. Dr Didar Singh, Secretary General of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) will also draw from his recent publication on “Politics of Migration: Indian Emigration in a Globalised World”. The session’s main focus will be the issues concerning the South Asian diaspora communities and how citizenship is being redefined by trans-nationalist movements. There is likely to be a presentation by India’s Ministry of External Affairs on the engagement platforms and policies with regard to “Overseas Indians”. The session will be moderated by Prof Subrata Kumar Mitra, Director and Visiting Research Professor, ISAS.

Partnership in Education

While South Asia has made tremendous gains in expanding access to schooling over the past decade, poor quality education still needs to be addressed. According to the World Bank Report, nearly 13 million children aged 8 to 14 years in South Asia do not receive schooling, while the quality of education for those who do attend school is low and fails to equip students with adequate skills to join the workforce in the future. Education has emerged as a focal point for greater interface between South Asia and Southeast Asia. Can “skills education for all” yield demographic dividends for South Asia? Does university education matter? South Asian youths have found Singapore and several parts of Southeast Asia to be sources of quality higher education. At the same time, institutional educational partnerships between South and Southeast Asia are flourishing. The panellists will examine the trends and characteristics of evolving partnerships in their countries and focus on the lessons from the South Asian experiences. Prof Tan Chorh Chuan, President of the National University of Singapore, will speak on the university’s role in economic and societal development. A distinguished panel of speakers from UK, India and Malaysia will deliberate these issues. The session will be chaired by Dr S Narayan, Visiting Senior Research Fellow, ISAS.

Entrepreneurship and Start-Ups

There is a broad consensus among stakeholders on the importance of encouraging start-ups across South Asia. Such ventures not only provide avenues for channelling the region’s creative entrepreneurial energy but also create new jobs and expand incomes. On 16 January 2016, the “Start-up India” initiative was launched, with the aim of fostering entrepreneurship and promoting innovation by creating an ecosystem that is conducive for the growth of start-ups. The objective is one of moulding a nation of job creators rather than mere job seekers. Incubators are also proliferating in Pakistan. This phenomenon is part of the global wave of shared office spaces, incubator programmes, accelerators and university labs which cultivate entrepreneurship and innovation. The hope is to kick-start local tech-ecosystems and create South Asia’s “Silicon Valley”. In Bangladesh, the “Connecting StartUps Bangladesh” initiative has gained ground through the government’s investment in Software Technology Parks across the country. In Sri Lanka, powerful angel networks have emerged. How is the start-up landscape in the region evolving, and how will entrepreneurs transform South Asia into an innovation-driven economy? The session will be led by Mr Mohandas Pai, Chairman, Aarin Capital Partners & Manipal Global Education India. Featuring a distinguished panel of speakers from India, Singapore and New York, the session will be chaired by Mr Venugopal Gupta, CEO of “Business Parables”, India.

India-China Business Dialogue

Leading speakers from the China Business Forum held on 12 July will gather to have a dialogue with business leaders from India. The Dialogue will discuss the potential for collaboration and cooperation in infrastructure, education, environment and the economy.

Book Launch and Reception

The Convention will come to a close with an interesting talk by former Governor of the Reserve Bank of India, Dr Duvvuri Subbarao. Dr Subbarao will present his memoir titled “Who Moved My Interest Rates?”, and he will speak about his perceptions and actions as RBI Governor in trying to steer India during the tumultuous years of the global financial crises. The book will be launched by Mr Ravi Menon, Managing Director of the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS).

Gala Dinner on the evening of 18 July

The dinner is a special occasion to celebrate the achievements of the South Asian diaspora and to stimulate discussions on pressing issues confronting South Asia. The Guest-of-Honour for the occasion is the Prime Minister of Singapore, Mr Lee Hsien Loong. He will engage in a conversation with Mr Shyam Saran, former Foreign Secretary and Chairman, Research and Information Systems (RIS), India, on geo-political and geo-economic issues of the region. There will also be an award ceremony to confer the title of “Outstanding Member of the South Asian Diaspora” on a renowned and distinguished personality from the diaspora.