On Thursday, October 3rd, the Ambassador of Singapore to the United States, Ashok Kumar Mirpuri, and his wife, Mrs. Gouri Mirpuri, hosted an intimate group of 20 for an elegant dinner at the Singaporean Embassy. Among those in attendance were Coach Kathy Kemper, founder and CEO of IFE; Marci Robinson, chair of IFE’s Board of Stewards; Shane Green, co-founder of IFE’s Media and Technology Roundtable; Greg Farmer, vice president for government affairs at Qualcomm; Scott Ferber, CEO of Videology; and Timothy “Bo” Kemper, executive director of the Robertson Foundation for Government. Joanne Ke, Ali Wyne, and Zaahira Wyne attended as IFE Fellows.
Coach Kemper opened the evening by thanking Ashok, noting that she was calling him by his first name rather than his formal title because all of the guests were attending as private citizens—the U.S. government had shut down just days earlier. Because there was no official speaker (special guest Caitlin Hayden, spokesperson for the National Security Council, was unable to attend) and all guests were attending as private citizens, Coach told us that we would depart from tradition and have a free-flowing conversation rather than a formal talk and question-and-answer period. And we were successful… Disruption had dividends! Collaboration and conversation prevailed, tandem with the mission of IFE.
Ambassador Mirpuri stated that the United States has been the world’s preeminent power since the end of the Second World War, and he expects that it will continue to be looked to for leadership. Nonetheless, he admitted that his colleagues in Singapore are concerned about the degree of partisanship in our nation’s capitol, amply on display in the impasse over ending the government shutdown. Indeed, Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsein Loong told CNN recently that “the signal that the Americans are unable to get their act together” “will last much longer than the shutdown.”
The Ambassador noted that while Singaporean students consistently top global rankings when assessed on their performance on international exams, they are not known for being “disruptors.” Mrs. Mirpuri noted that she recently co-founded the HUB in Singapore, a space where Asian entrepreneurs to collaborate, and she senses that younger Singaporeans are more keen to take risks and defy the perception that they are rote learners. The Ambassador asked how the U.S. has been able to cultivate and sustain such an entrepreneurial climate. Those who answered cited the availability of venture capital, the acceptance of failure, and the ability of the U.S. to assimilate people from all over the world creatively and productively. Some noted that while entrepreneurs typically launch or join start-ups in their 20s, or even as teenagers, a growing number of mid-career professionals and even senior citizens have found “careers after retirement” in the start-up space.
Some attendees also noted that a growing number of American youth are turning away from government service, partly because they are disillusioned with what they see as government’s ineffectiveness, and partly because there are greater financial incentives to join the private sector. Others, however, expressed frustration that the stories of individuals who are thriving and innovating as public servants too often go unreported. The Ambassador noted that individuals who join the Singaporean government receive comparable salaries to those who join the private sector.
The evening not only produced a rich conversation and collaboration, that engaged everyone around the table; it also reminded us that even in the most unexpected circumstances—a government shutdown in this case!—the show can go on and do splendidly. “Disruption has its Dividends!”
IFE Fellow, Ali Wyne
About Our Host
H.E. Ashok Kumar Mirpuri is the new ambassador from the Southeast Asian city-state of Singapore is an experienced diplomat with no prior postings in the Western Hemisphere. Set to begin his posting on July 23, 2012, Ashok Kumar Mirpuri succeeds Chan Heng Chee, who served as Singapore’s ambassador to Washington from July 1996 to June 2012.
Born December 13, 1959, Ashok Mirpuri earned a Bachelor of Social Science degree in Political Science at the National University of Singapore in 1984 and an M.A. at the University of London School of Oriental & African Studies in 1992.
Mirpuri joined the Singapore Ministry of Foreign Affairs in May 1984. He served his first overseas posting as first secretary (political) at the Singapore Embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia, from 1987 to 1991. Mirpuri served in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Policy Planning & Analysis Directorate I (South East Asia) from 1992 to 1996, including service as Director starting in 1994.
In 1997, Mirpuri was detailed to Shell International Ltd in the United Kingdom as a corporate advisor for the Asia Pacific region. He returned to Jakarta to serve as minister-counselor and deputy chief of mission at the embassy from March 1998 to June 2000.
Mirpuri received his first ambassadorship in July 2000, serving as high commissioner to Australia from July 3, 2000, to June 2002, and as high commissioner to Malaysia from July 2002 to June 2006. The title “High Commissioner” is used by countries that belong to the Commonwealth of Nations, like Singapore, for its ambassadors to other Commonwealth countries. Mirpuri served as ambassador to Indonesia from July 2006 to June 2012.
Mirpuri, a keen golfer, is married to Gouri Uppal. They have a daughter and a son.