Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi speaks at SMU

24 Sep 2013
Delivers the sixth Ho Rih Hwa Leadership in Asia Public Lecture

SMU was honoured to host yet another iconic leader of the modern era on 22 September 2013, when Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, Chairperson of the Lower House Committee for the Rule of Law, Peace and Tranquillity in the Myanmar Parliament, Chairperson of the National League for Democracy and Nobel Peace Laureate delivered the sixth Ho Rih Hwa Leadership in Asia Public Lecture at the Mochtar Riady Auditorium.

Like Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi similarly stands as a global inspiration for peaceful resistance to harsh repression. She embodies Myanmar's struggle for democratic reform, having spent one third of her adult life in detention in the cause of freedom and democracy.  She is a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, an accomplished author, an opposition party leader and now a parliamentarian.

Daw Suu spent the afternoon at SMU during her five-day visit to Singapore. Among the distinguished guests at the Lecture were Mr Yaacob Ibrahim, Minister for Communication and Information; Mrs Josephine Teo, Senior Minister of State; Mr Robert Chua, Singapore Ambassador to Myanmar; and Mr Bilahari Kausikan, Singapore Ambassador-at-Large; as well as Mr Yong Pung How, Chancellor of SMU; Mr Ho Kwon Ping, SMU Chairman; Members of SMU’s Board of Trustees; members of SMU’s School Advisory Boards, donors, faculty members, staff members and students of SMU, various schools, junior colleges, polytechnics and other universities. Altogether, some 600 people gathered to watch Ms Suu Kyi’s lecture in the auditorium as well as via live video feeds in other venues in the SMU Administration Building.

In his welcome address, Mr Ho Kwon Ping explained that the lecture series was named in honour of his late father, Mr Ho Rih Hwa, who would have been particularly pleased by Daw Suu’s participation. Mr Ho Kwon Ping said his mother and father met and married in Burma and left only under duress as political ‘storm clouds’ gathered in the country

Daw Suu’s lecture focused on the subject of leadership. "The mind-set of leadership is the determination to serve, not to lead, and it is the determination and the commitment to serve that decides who is the real leader, and not the desire to be a leader," she said.

She said one way of winning people’s support is by treating them with respect and “as equals”. Giving an example of a road-widening scheme in her constituency which required some farmers to give up some of their land, Daw Suu said it was not her offer of compensation that won their support. She remarked, “They liked the fact that they were consulted and we were not going to ride roughshod over them and take their land away as had been done over the course of the past few decades.” They even told her the project would require more land.

Leaders should value and respect their people and fulfil their needs, but it is not only those in governance who need to embrace change — “those who are governed (should) change as well,” she argued. A good leader must be prepared to make decisions that are unpopular but necessary, even if this means he or she may not get re-elected, she said. "Sometimes, you have to undertake unpopular decisions if you think that is good for the country in the long run, and that is a test of true leadership."

In the Question & Answer session, during which queues of students and professors from SMU and several other educational establishments raised many searching queries, Daw Suu was asked whether a leopard “can change its spots”, in reference to the military junta that governs Myanmar. She said wryly that “leopards are rather beautiful creatures in their own way” and in many countries, the military is admired by the people. The aim, she said, is to change the constitution, which currently provides the military with a privileged place in the government. “That’s the first step towards assuring that the leopard will find its real rightful, beautiful backdrop.”

After the event, SMU Accountancy undergraduate and Myanmar national Pwint Yee Cho said, “Daw Suu is such an iconic leader who is well-respected not only by Myanmar nationals but also by the international community. The whole Burmese community here is honoured that such a strong and admired figure visited us in Singapore – and SMU Myanmar students are especially proud that she not only gave such an insightful lecture in SMU but was also so gracious in spending time in addressing each and every question raised to her.”

Following the public lecture, Daw Suu and other Myanmar Members of Parliament attended a closed door business dialogue at SMU where frank and candid views and ideas were exchanged. Moderated by SMU President, Professor Arnoud De Meyer, dialogue participants included Guest of Honour and Singapore Ambassador to Myanmar, Mr Robert Chua;  SMU Chairman Mr Ho Kwon Ping and members of SMU’s Board of Trustees; Provost and Deputy President (Academic Affairs) Professor Rajendra Srivastava; Vice President, Business Development and External Relations, Professor Annie Koh; Vice President, Corporate Marketing and Communications, Mr Alan Goh; and members of the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

See more photos.

Watch a video of the lecture.

Watch a video of the Q&A session.

Main photo: Daw Aung San Suu Kyi delivering her speech ‘Mind-set in Leadership’ at the Ho Rih Hwa Leadership in Asia Public Lecture Series 2013.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi receiving a gift of appreciation from SMU Chairman Ho Kwon Ping.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi with SMU President Arnoud De Meyer at the closed-door business dialogue.

Last updated on 27 Sep 2013.