Global benchmarking reports are great conversation starters. Here in Singapore, a nation defined by its drive for excellence, these benchmarking reports are held as evidence of the country’s development success. From topping the global education index PISA, the Global Competitiveness Index, and the Leading Maritime Capitals of the World Report, Singapore takes great pride in being first, in Asia if not globally.
An important global ranking for Singapore is the Doing Business survey, a ranking the island nation topped for many years, indicating the ease with which business can be done in the little red dot.
Global benchmarking surveys are powerful tools to engage in a policy dialogue. However, given that they are global in nature, there are a set of assumptions and limitations in methodology which are partly determined by the huge variations in data availability across countries. Methodologies of these surveys are continually updated to reflect nuances in context that may lead to a different but more comprehensive set of analysis and conclusions.
One of our priorities here at the World Bank Group is to continue our dialogue with all our stakeholders, to see what we are getting right in these surveys and how we can do better. We have a particularly unique opportunity in Singapore, where both government agencies and the private sector work hard to stay on top. Singapore is anything but complacent, and that makes for a rich discussion about how our surveys may be improved.
Indeed, a recent visit to Singapore by Augusto Lopez Claros, who led the Doing Business report team, enabled us to discuss in-depth the findings and methodology of the report with a wide variety of stakeholders – and all within a 24-hour window. The conversations were instructive, and keep us in tuned with our audience and how our work helps theirs.
We identified five different audiences for the one-day visit – an ambitious number in any context. Our first interaction was with our main counterpart: the government. A meeting hosted by the Ministry of Trade & Industry gathered all the relevant agencies that deal with the 11 Doing Business indicators. Some officials sought feedback on a number of very relevant questions on methodology and approach; for example, differentiating countries versus regional blocs for the Trading Across Borders indicator. These questions reflect the forward looking thinking of the concerned government agencies, and provides us with a different perspective to the indicators.
Following the meeting with the government, we moved on to one hosted by the Singapore Business Federation, the country’s leading private sector association, which again attracted an impressive list of participants. Some of the world’s leading firms mobilize their operations across Asia from Singapore. These firms refer to the Doing Business report quite extensively in the context of exploring investment locations. There was a great deal of interest in understanding better how these indicators are put together.
We also met with academic community - professors, students, and development partners at the public lecture hosted by the National University of Singapore (NUS). The questions posed at this were more broad, and a great reminder of the public’s great interest in the cutting edge research at the Bank and its role in shaping policies for economic development. Students from developing countries posed some particularly thought-provoking questions, on how high rankings on global benchmark reports may not necessarily reflect shared prosperity in a country.
We also hosted a virtual but very engaging discussion of the DB report with our clients - through video conference – with government clients joining us from across the East Asia and South Asia region, including Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Brunei, Thailand, and the Philippines. This was a virtual peer to peer learning event, and particularly helpful in enabling our counterparts to learn from the issues other countries are dealing with. Apart from the methodology related issues, we were also able to share some of the lessons from Singapore’s own DB reform experience. The Singapore Hub serves well as a laboratory for connecting a range of good practices to our clients across Asia.
Lastly, we also hosted a discussion on the Women Business and the Law report, with the Women CEO’s network in Singapore. We were heartened to see the impressive turnout: 27 participants from the private sector and also government, including the Senior Minister for Law and Finance, and the Deputy CEO of IE Singapore, the country’s investment promotion agency. Triggering an animated discussion on the issue of women’s legal rights in Singapore as well as in other regions, and on the impact on female labor participation in those countries undertaking reforms, the meeting was another opportunity for the World Bank to learn how our research is influencing the shaping of policy.
So, in a span of 24 hours, we were able to gather important suggestions from our intended audience: policy-makers from across the region, businesses and entrepreneurs, scholars and academics. Not often do we have such a rich opportunity to receive – and respond to – feedback from so many parties.
Majulah Singapura – Onward Singapore!