This evening, INSEAD was honoured to host the Crown Prince of Bahrain, Salman bin Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa. I read in the local papers today that the Crown Prince is in Singapore for 3 days to meet with various leaders here.
Professor Helmut Schutte first introduced one of our seniors, Eyad, who is Bahraini and also a member of the outgoing Students’ Council.
Eyad gave a polished speech, introducing the Crown Prince and the roles he had played in shaping the modern policies and strategies of Bahrain. Consulting Wikipedia on my iPhone, I learnt that the Crown Prince was educated in Washington, DC and also in Cambridge like his father.
The Crown Prince’s speech broadly covered his plans to take Bahrain to the next level. He wanted Bahrain to diversify its economy, beyond oil. He stated that Bahrain should retain its Muslim values while at the same time respecting the cultures, nationalities and ethnicities of people who come to Bahrain to work. At one point the Crown Prince seemed to address our Singapore Minister who was also in the auditorium, recalling Singapore’s own rapid developments in its recent history and adding he looked very much to meeting Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew.
The Q&A session that followed was more interesting, with classmates from various countries like the US/France, Turkey, Pakistan/Bahrain, Malaysia and Ireland asking him about his plans for education, developing other industries in Bahrain, elaborating on the difficulties in effecting change, and his thoughts on the region and sharing of know-how between government officials from other developing countries. Professor Schutte also asked if INSEAD entrepreneurs would find it easy to set up business in Bahrain.
One area I felt Bahrain was more progressive was how it did not make its scholars (who are also sent to top universities like Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Oxford, Cambridge etc) return straight to public administration. Instead, they were allowed to join the private sector right after graduation, but would be asked to mentor the new batch of scholars.
Overall I felt it was a good talk; nothing mind-blowing but not boring either. However some classmates felt the Crown Prince was not detailed enough. I actually did not expect him to be too specific. I am not sure how many of you have been in public service and have written speeches or talking points for important Government officials.
Firstly, if the speech is made to the general public, the subject matter will probably be broad, to cater to everyone. Already the Crown Prince seemed to focus more on business development and public policy aspects which would appeal to us MBA students.
Secondly, one should avoid being too specific especially about things that might change later, especially if one is a political figure being watched by one’s own people and the international press. I’d think the Crown Prince’s Ministers would be the ones to give specific details. For instance, one INSEAD Alumnus cited very specific figures and the Crown Prince looked at his Ministers to confirm the facts first, although he was mostly on top of things. This wasn’t meant to be a low-level sales pitch but a big picture speech. (Of course, if our Prime Minister gives his Budget speech we expect him to give us financial details, because there is a specific topic in mind already. And Barack Obama, who used to be criticised for not being specific enough, is now scoring points for giving lots of details about his policies. So it is a case by case situation.)
Lastly, if you want to cover a wide area, you can’t get too detailed within a limited period of time. I’d rather paint the broader picture and if asked again, I’d go into the details. Our professor was also very mindful of the time constraints due to the Crown Prince’s busy schedule.
As a Singaporean, what the Crown Prince said had an added dimension by reminding me about what my country has achieved. Sure, we’ve heard it all before - we had no natural resources, a tiny piece of land, a small population; we are just a ‘little red dot’ on the map, yet we have become a developed nation. Nothing is perfect, of course, but we definitely could have done much worse.
Another insight shared by the Crown Prince was his observations of other countries’ officials. There were officials who cared about the country and were comparing notes at meetings, telling each other to avoid the mistakes they themselves had made. It is heartening to hear these little anecdotes from a high-level figure. Then there were other officials who didn’t take such pride in their work and the difference was telling.
So overall I still think it was a good session, because it was a little better than how I expected it to be. Frankness and occasional displays of wry humour are refreshing in any sort of politician or statesman, and the Crown Prince will definitely be a most urbane, intelligent future ruler.
Update: My classmate Mel H has similar thoughts on her blog.