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Where Singapore has underachieved

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By Augustine Low

It’s often said that Singapore punches above its weight. Our international standing is prominent, we are a major force behind regional cooperation, and we are not bashful about making our views and success story known on the global stage.

With a population of just over 5 million, with no natural resources, Singapore can certainly be considered an overachieving small nation.

But instead of always giving ourselves a pat on the back, the reality check is that we also fall behind many other countries which are even smaller than us. While we may have overachieved economically, we have underachieved in a number of areas.

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When will be ever produce an Olympic champion or a Nobel Prize winner?

Too small a population base? This excuse is thrown out the window when we do a simple comparison.

Grenada, with a population of barely 100,000, won an Olympic gold medal in 2012. Bahamas, with less than 400,000 people, have won 15 gold medals, while Estonia, with a population of 1.3 million, have won a total of nine gold medals.

One of the greatest overachieving small nations has got to be Iceland, with only 330,000 people. Its national football team is ranked 15th by FIFA, it has produced a string of chess grandmasters, won an Olympic gold medal, and it boasts a Nobel Prize winner.

Speaking of Nobel Prize winners or laureates, Faroe Islands (population 50,000) has one, Luxembourg (population 530,000) has two and Cyprus has one.

So, while we can proudly declare that Singapore punches above its weight, we should also be mindful that we have also underachieved compared to many countries much smaller and poorer than us.

Can we look forward to the day when we stand tall and proud in producing an Olympic champion, a Nobel laureate, or a world-renowned novelist or artist?

It would be more cherished and a far greater fillip than national wealth or the hosting of an international marquee event.
When GDP figures are long forgotten, heroes will continue to be remembered. They make a country extraordinary. They help define the limits of our aspirations.

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