Aaron Maniam is deputy secretary for industry and information at the Ministry of Communications and Information of Singapore. We will be directing our spotlight on his experience and talent prior to our upcoming Digital Discussion on March 10, where he is one of the high-profile international panelists discussing digitalisation challenges and the national digital strategies of Estonia, Singapore, the UK, and the OECD.
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Crafting a new normal
Aaron Maniam has been deputy secretary at the Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI) in Singapore since 2020. In his current role, he works with different government agencies and institutions to streamline their digitalisation initiatives. One such project is SME Go Digital, where small- and medium-sized enterprises get financial backing to digitise their operations.
MCI also offers another program where experts-in-training get to shadow chief technology officers to gain experience on going digital. And there are other activities focused on expanding access to computers and the internet, for families in need, for example.
All of these efforts are helping to push the world towards what Maniam calls “a new normal,” which he characterised in a recent interview as a “point of stability, and that exists and lasts for a while.” This is not the case at the moment, as Maniam pointed out, as the world is actually grappling with constant change and volatility daily. Within MCI, his team’s top priority is to work toward that new normal though, by maximising the adoption of technology, so that as many people as possible have access to digital technology as possible.
A high-profile career in public service
Maniam has been a career government official in Singapore and has served in the Asian island country’s foreign service, the government’s Centre for Strategic Futures, at the Institute for Public Sector Leadership at the country’s Civil Service College, and within its Ministry of Trade and Industry. He studied at Raffles in Singapore, and then went on to graduate from Somerville College at the University of Oxford with a degree in philosophy, politics, and economics.
“I am very much a social scientist and humanities person at heart,” said Maniam. “But I still need to understand the technology, to understand what the trends are, and to understand what the engineering is behind particular apps or platforms so that I can understand how they are being applied in public policy settings.”
Maniam got his masters in international and development economics from Yale University in 2002 and in 2014 gained a doctorate in digital government at the Blavatnik School of Government at Oxford, where he studied government digitalisation efforts in Singapore, New Zealand, and Estonia.
He’s also a poet
While Maniam’s career has been in public service, with a specialisation in digitalisation efforts, he has also carved out a literary career for himself on the side. In 2003, he won the first prize for English poetry in the National Arts Council’s Golden Point Award. Four years later, he published his first poetry collection, Morning at Memory’s Border, which was shortlisted for the Singapore Literature Prize in 2007. A second collection, Second Persons, appeared in 2018.
Online journals such as Stylus and Softblow have also featured his work, and it has been included in numerous anthologies of Singaporean and Asia-Pacific poetry. In 2009, Maniam was one of 50 poets featured in Fifty on 50, a collection to mark Singapore’s 50th anniversary of internal self-government.
To stay in shape mentally and physically, Maniam works out regularly and meditates twice daily. According to Maniam, these varied interests allow him to recharge and enhance his performance across the board.
“Once you have multiple passions to pursue, then each thing you do becomes a break from the other things that I’m doing,” said Maniam. “Rather than think of one project as a drain on energy and another being only a source of it, everything I do becomes a potential source of energy.”
Aaron Maniam is among the panelists of the next e-Estonia Digital Discussion on March 10 at 3 pm (GMT+2), titled: Digital – the only superpower you really need?
freelance journalist and writer