International Enterprise Singapore (IE Singapore)
Features | Trade, Industry, Finance

GROWING SINGAPORE
LOCALLY AND ABROAD

International Enterprise (IE) Singapore works with companies in a wide range of industries to furnish them with the knowledge and support they need to not only become globally ready, but globally competitive.

IE Singapore is the key driver of Singapore’s external economy, with more than 39 offi ces across six continents (more than half of which are in emerging markets). It prides itself on promoting our nation’s bustling business and trade hub to the world and priming Singapore companies for growth and market penetration overseas.

Many local companies have benefitted from IE Singapore’s assistance. One of them was Love, Bonito, an international online boutique for quality women’s apparel. IE Singapore helped smoothen Love, Bonito’s expansion into Malaysia by providing them with in-market contacts for public relations, marketing and manufacturing.

With IE Singapore’s expertise in bringing Singapore brands abroad, it’s no wonder that roughly half of Singapore SMEs have overseas revenue and more of them are also looking to chart their own growth and success stories abroad.

Doing business in overseas markets

As a global team with a global outlook, IE Singapore is represented in all continents with 39 offices across the world. In fact, the Johannesburg office in South Africa recently welcomed 26-year-old Faridah Mohd Saad as its new Centre Director. Faridah first started her career at IE Singapore in 2011 with the Project Development Group, before moving to become Manager of the Middle East and Africa Group in December last year and eventually accepting her current position in Johannesburg.

To the undiscerning eye, Faridah’s job in the Middle East and Africa Group might seem like a risky undertaking, considering that she is of the fairer gender and has to do business in a seemingly-turbulent region.

Faridah Mohd Saad
IE Singapore Mid-Term Scholar

Designation: Manager, Middle East and Africa Group

Studied: Bachelor of Arts and Social Sciences,
National University of Singapore

"It is also important to embody an entrepreneurial spirit as much as your companies do, because ultimately you are the ones opening the doors to the overseas market."

But the sanguine individual is quick to address these unwarranted concerns, explaining, “People often perceive Africa as a continent that is war-torn, conflict-ridden and threatened by health epidemics. They fail to realise that Africa is the fastest-growing continent after Asia, with a trillion-dollar combined economy and a population of over 1.2 billion. There is indeed massive, untapped potential for Singapore companies to invest and trade there.”

Faridah also faces the challenge of dealing with culture clashes and communication gaps in a foreign land. However, IE Singapore prepares its officers to overcome this challenge by providing for foreign language lessons. These include German, Portuguese, Russian and other relevant languages. In fact, these lessons are not only available to those preparing for overseas postings - they are also available for HQ officers with an interest in the language, or have dealings with the country of language.

Bringing local companies overseas

IE Singapore’s mandate to champion internationalisation is something Faridah strongly resonates with. The political science graduate applied for her scholarship because she was drawn to both serving in the Public Service and assisting local entrepreneurs to grow locally and abroad.

This support and push for internationalisation is exemplified in one of Faridah’s projects, where she helped a Singapore company build its first green-building showcase in Cambodia during her tenure with the Project Development Group.

This project saw Faridah working with key government and industry organisations in Singapore and Cambodia to jointly showcase green products and structures and share insights about energy-efficient buildings, all to reduce logging activities and greenhouse gas emissions.

Faridah was able to leverage on Singapore’s expertise in green building to launch this project. “It was difficult to manage the company’s expectations and balance everyone’s interests. I had to adopt an open and flexible mindset to ensure mutual benefit. The entire project (including the construction and design of the showcase structure) took two years and its success gave me a tremendous sense of accomplishment,” she muses.

Faridah and her dedicated team in IE Singapore, with support from colleagues in other ministries, also spearheaded the Asia Infrastructure Centre of Excellence (AICOE), a joint initiative with the Asian Development Bank to catalyse infrastructure development in Singapore. The AICOE works with governments to identify their infrastructure needs and create projects through private sector participation and investments. These projects create opportunities for both SMEs and larger companies. Faridah adds, “The SMEs today are the global firms of tomorrow. It is important to groom, support and mentor them in order for Singapore to continue its economic progress.”

Building relationships

When asked about the kind of qualities Singapore companies must possess in order to soar in overseas emerging markets, Faridah advises that they must be patient, determined and willing to work with a flexible timeline. The ability to manage both political and commercial risks is also vital for progression.

She shares, “We don’t stress this enough, but companies must take time to understand the market they are looking to enter and its cultural nuances. It is also wise to bear in mind that although we are efficient, efficiency is not the most important factor for growth in emerging markets. There is also a need to invest in relationships – it is easy to forget this when you are caught up in trying to close a deal.”

Clearly, Faridah places a huge emphasis on nurturing her relationships. Her supervisor during her undergraduate internship in the Enterprise Service Group also became her mentor after she started her career and is someone she has come to greatly admire. “It has been two years since she left the organisation but we still remain very close. She has guided me both personally and professionally – in fact, all our middle- and senior-management personnel are nurturing figures,” she tells us.

In addition to receiving support, guidance and advice from mentors to take on a steep learning curve, aspiring IE Singapore scholars can also look forward to a dynamic, fast-paced career within the organisation. “IE Singapore seeks to nurture global-ready individuals who possess strong cultural awareness and an international outlook. It is also important to embody an entrepreneurial spirit as much as your companies do, because ultimately you are the ones opening the doors to the overseas market.

“Aspiring scholars must believe in IE Singapore’s mandate to assist Singapore companies as they enter into global markets. Not having a fear of flying will also bode well for your future overseas stints and posting!” Faridah rounds up with a laugh.