Insights from the Inside

SIF’s new volume of curated essays by regional thought leaders and other accomplished personalities explore the Asean identity.




ith Asean crossing the half-century milestone, there is no better time to take a closer look at its raison d’être. Since its inception in 1967, the Southeast Asian organisation has transformed into a political entity known for its principle of consensus and marked economic growth.

But what does Asean really stand for, and what makes it tick? Has it become a community, or is it still a region? Could the key to creating deeper bonds within Asean lie in the development of stronger ties between its people? Singapore: Insights from the Inside, Vol III  explores the diversity and idiosyncrasies of Asean, as well as its hopes and dreams. Launched by the Singapore International Foundation to commemorate Singapore’s chairmanship of Asean this year, the book comprises 50 essays and artworks produced by influential contributors from 20 nationalities. Collectively, they give their take on the social-cultural aspects of Asean, from education and entrepreneurship, to arts, culture and sports.

Here are some views from the collection of essays, which fall under five broad categories.


Drawing upon the regionʼs traditions of oral storytelling and food, Charis Lokeʼs illustration pays homage to Singaporean artist Chua Mia Teeʼs painting, “Epic Poem of Malaya”. Based in Malaysia, Loke enjoys bringing to life fantastical worlds that are rooted in real world cultures or issues.

“To maintain Asean unity, we must first acknowledge the differences of each member state and make efforts to accommodate those differences, because unity cannot serve the interest of some particular members at the sacrifice of others.”

Svay Sareth
Artistic Director, Artisans d’Angkor
Essay Title: Art Represent Our Dreams to Heal and Unite

“Food is nutrition for the body as well as the heart, serving as a cultural connection with others. My hope is that food can deepen bonds among Asean and the rest of the Asian countries, just like how the padi stalks in the Asean logo are bound together.”

Yoshihiro Murata
Chairman, Japanese Culinary Academy
Essay Title: Deepening Asian Bonds through Food


Singapore-based designer Esther Gohʼs graphic depicts how conversations and actions allow influencers to bring about positive social change. Gohʼs works have been published internationally by D&AD, a British educational charity that aims to promote excellence in design and advertising, and the Society of Illustrators.

“...although Singapore is only a small island at the edge of a great continent, its engagement with the broader world has been a model for many larger nations, and the friendship of the peoples of Asean bodes well for the education of future generations.”

Pericles Lewis
Professor of Comparative Literature, Yale University
Founding President, Yale-NUS College
Essay Title: Shaping Minds through Liberal Arts Education

“...the long journey that I have been walking with SIF for almost two decades portrays the transfer of human resources development across borders... With the hope of scalable collaboration between Singapore and Thailand, I strongly believe that this friendship will broaden the next generationʼs perspective on building a more cohesive and socially responsible society.”

Taweesak Kritjaroen
Assistant Professor, Graduate School of Management and Innovation, KMUTT
Essay Title: Nurturing the Next Generation



Discrimination- fighting superheroes with disabilities star in this manga-styled illustration. It was created by Amelia Tan, a 16-year-old Singaporean student with mild autism. She studies various forms of art media at Very Special Arts Singapore.

“...we believe that acceptance of diversity cannot only be taught in classrooms – it has to be felt and experienced.”

Ayu Kartika Dewi
Managing Director, Indika Foundation
Co-founder, SabangMerauke
Essay Title: Connecting Souls, Shattering Stereotypes

“...with its diverse heritage, incredible infrastructure, and well-connected positioning at the crossroads between Asia and the world, weʼre grateful for Singaporeʼs invaluable role in our journey of building bridges of empathy and trust between the Wall Streets and the backstreets, and look forward to Singaporeʼs continued leadership in the impact-investing space.”

Durreen Shahnaz
Founder & CEO, Impact Investment Exchange
Essay Title: Connecting the Backstreets of Asean to the Wall Streets of the World


Charis Lokeʼs artwork likens cultural traditions and rituals to interlacing threads connecting generations. The educator also works on community arts and culture projects with Arts-ED Penang.

“ does not just unite a nation in cheering for their own, but it brings us together as people...”

Joscelin Yeo
Vice President, Singapore Swimming Association
Essay Title: Bridging Differences with Sport

“At the same time that Asean is trying to forge closer ties between member states, the leaders might also pay attention to their knitting at the level of regions and communities, towns and villages, where the fault lines around religion and race are all too evident.”

Roland Davies
Director, British Council Singapore
Essay Title: What the Void Deck Can Teach Asean


Esther Gohʼs illustration shows how innovation in areas like education, healthcare and conservation raises the quality of lives in the region. Goh has collaborated with brands like Facebook, Chanel and Singaporeʼs Changi Airport.

“...partnering with other countries in Asean is another way to improve and advance healthcare expertise in the region...”

Assoc. Prof. Dr. Bouathep Phoumindr
Head of Rehabilitation Medicine Department, Vice Dean of Faculty of Medical Technologies, University of Health Sciences, Laos
Essay Title: Improving Medical Rehabilitation for People with Disabilities in Laos

“In most of the water programmes I have been involved in, there is a tendency to approach the water challenges purely from an engineering perspective. However, it became clear that other elements – such as shared aspiration, business-case thinking and involvement of non-water experts – are needed to turn the water challenge into an opportunity.”

Frodo van Oostveen
Co-Founder and Managing Partner, The Water Agency
Essay Title: Tackling Asean’s Water Challenges



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