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BLOG: Learning from Lee Kuan Yew: A Centennial Celebration

On September 16, 2023, Singaporeans marked the 100th birthday of their founding father and first Prime Minister, Mr. Lee Kuan Yew. This remarkable occasion served as a moment of reflection on the legacy of a visionary leader who shaped the destiny of a nation. As Singapore pays tribute to Lee Kuan Yew, it is essential to explore the enduring principles and wisdom he imparted that continue to guide Singapore’s journey. Here, we delve into the insights and values shared by Singaporean politicians and examine the relevance of these lessons for the present and future.



A Legacy of Values

Lee Kuan Yew’s leadership was characterized by a set of core values that laid the foundation for modern Singapore. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong eloquently summed up these values, which include meritocracy, religious freedom, racial harmony, justice, equality, self-reliance, integrity, and incorruptibility. These principles have not only defined Singapore but continue to be essential in maintaining its success. Let’s take a closer look at what we can learn from these values:



Meritocracy: Lee Kuan Yew firmly believed in selecting the best individuals for key roles based on their abilities rather than other factors. In today’s world, meritocracy remains a fundamental principle for building effective organizations and societies. It ensures that talent is recognized and utilized, contributing to growth and innovation.



Religious Freedom and Racial Harmony: Singapore’s multicultural society is a testament to its commitment to religious freedom and racial harmony. Lee Kuan Yew’s emphasis on fostering unity among diverse communities is a lesson for countries facing similar challenges. Embracing diversity can lead to social cohesion and economic progress.



Justice and Equality: Lee Kuan Yew advocated for a just and equitable society. These principles remain crucial in addressing societal disparities and ensuring that every citizen has equal opportunities for success.



Self-reliance: The idea of self-reliance resonates with Singapore’s history, given its humble beginnings. Today, this value serves as a reminder that resilience and independence are vital in the face of global uncertainties.



Integrity and Incorruptibility: Lee Kuan Yew’s uncompromising stance against corruption set the tone for Singapore’s clean governance. In an era marked by corruption scandals worldwide, Singapore’s commitment to integrity remains a model to aspire to.



Lessons from Lee’s Close Associates

Several prominent Singaporean politicians, including Deputy Prime Ministers Lawrence Wong and Heng Swee Keat, have shared valuable insights based on their experiences working with Lee Kuan Yew.

Finding Purpose and Dedication: Lee Kuan Yew dedicated his life to ensuring Singapore’s survival and success. This unwavering commitment serves as a reminder for individuals to find their purpose and pursue it with passion and dedication.

Taking a Strategic, Long-term View: Lee’s focus on securing Singapore’s strategic interests for the long term is evident in the country’s water management strategies. This approach highlights the importance of strategic planning and forward thinking.

Adaptability and Innovation: Lee Kuan Yew’s ability to adapt to changing circumstances, such as his stance on bilingualism, showcases the importance of being open to innovation and flexible in addressing evolving challenges.



Planting Seeds for the Future

Education Minister Chan Chun Sing’s tribute emphasizes the significance of planting trees, a symbol of commitment to future generations. Lee Kuan Yew’s vision for a “Garden City” and his tree-planting campaigns in the 1960s continue to inspire Singapore’s commitment to environmental sustainability.



Lee’s Memorable Moments

To gain further insights into Lee Kuan Yew’s wisdom, let’s explore some of his memorable moments:


  1. On Separating from Malaysia: Lee’s courage to make difficult decisions, as seen in Singapore’s separation from Malaysia, teaches us the importance of resolute leadership during challenging times.
  2. On Taking a Long-term View: Lee’s emphasis on long-term planning and sustainability is a valuable lesson in an era often marked by short-term thinking.
  3. On the Strength of Singaporeans: Lee’s comparison of Singaporeans to the resilient durian fruit reminds us of the strength and resourcefulness that can emerge from challenging circumstances.
  4. On Governing Singapore: Lee’s commitment to safeguarding Singapore’s interests and not compromising on its principles exemplifies strong and unwavering leadership.
  5. On Micromanaging Private Lives: Lee’s approach to micromanaging aspects of citizens’ lives, while controversial, highlights the government’s role in shaping society and achieving national goals.
  6. On Being a Good Minister: Lee’s definition of a good minister underscores the importance of making tough decisions while maintaining transparency and communication.
  7. On How Political Leaders Are Judged: Lee’s perspective on leadership assessment emphasizes effective governance, continuity, and graceful transitions—a relevant lesson for leaders worldwide.
  8. On Advocating for Singapore’s Success: Lee’s dedication to Singapore’s success and his willingness to overcome obstacles demonstrate the importance of perseverance and unwavering commitment.
  9. On Saving and Investing for a Rainy Day: Lee’s foresight in managing Singapore’s reserves underscores the importance of financial preparedness for uncertain times.
  10. On Cherishing Human Relationships: Lee’s reflection on the value of human relationships reminds us of the importance of personal connections amid life’s challenges.


A Beacon of Hope and Progress

Lee Kuan Yew’s centennial celebration offers an opportunity to reflect on the enduring values and lessons that continue to shape Singapore. From meritocracy and racial harmony to adaptability and integrity, his legacy remains relevant in an ever-changing world. 


As Singapore looks to the future, it can draw inspiration from the wisdom of its founding father and apply these principles to overcome new challenges and achieve even greater success. Lee Kuan Yew’s vision and leadership have left an indelible mark, not just on Singapore but on the world stage, serving as a beacon of hope and progress.


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