Profile of French Alumni n°7 : Zhiheng PNG, Ministry of Finance
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Read profile n°2 : WANG Zihan, Fonder, VivaLing.
Read profile n°3 : Chia Yew Boon, CEO and Founder of Catalyst Advisors
Read profile n°4 : Yvonne Guo, Doctoral student
Read profile n°5 : Tang Hwa Kwee, Journalist
Read profile n°6 : Lim Kah Bin, Programme manager of the French Double Degree Programme at National University of Singapore (NUS)
Read profile n°8 : Zainudin Nordin, former Member of Parliament and President of the Football Association of Singapore
In order to celebrate the launch of the France Alumni in Singapore platform on 14 January, the Embassy of France invites you to discover each week the profile of a Singaporean student, who has studied in France, regarding his/her journey. This week, we meet Zhiheng PNG, from the Ministry of Finance.
Can you briefly introduce yourself ?
My name is Zhiheng PNG, I am Singaporean. I studied 3 years in France from 2006 to 2009 before continuing my studies in the US and the UK. I work since January for the Singaporean Ministry of Finance. Prior to that, I worked two years in the private sector for the e-commerce brand Zalora and at the Investment Banking division of the bank Morgan Stanley.
Can you tell us about your educational background?
After obtaining my Bachelor’s Degree, I got the Singaporean government scholarship "Public Service Commission", which aims to train future executives of the Singaporean government. In 2006, 39 scholarships were awarded, and I was the only one to leave for France. The state finances our studies until the Master, and in return we have an obligation to work for the government for 6 years (5 in the case of France). I chose France to do something different. In Singapore, the majority of public servants went to Oxford, the London School of Economics (LSE) etc. The state encourages students to choose other destinations such as France, Germany, China and Japan. I wanted to learn a new language, discover a new culture. France is a very rich country in terms of culture, heritage, literature, political sciences, philosophy. Its intellectual tradition attracted me.
When I arrived, I started with a one-year language course at the Sorbonne. Before leaving, I had only taken two or three weeks of French courses at the French Alliance. At the end of the year, my French friends advised me to try Sciences Po so I applied and got accepted to the Havre campus, which is a branch campus of Sciences Po Paris.
I enjoyed Sciences Po. The students are very diverse, with a very close-knit community. We were very connected to Paris, with many common activities. I liked how debates are livelier than what I saw in Singapore. I also liked the interaction between students and the management team. Students can commit themselves for the school, even in its management, through committees. Sciences Po has the advantage of having a brand and a strong network, and we could enjoy it when we had to find stakeholders for our events. Within the school, I was a member of the BDE (students organization). I organized conferences between Le Havre and Asian students. I also created the English debating society to represent Sciences Po in international competitions like Parliamentary Debates.
After two years at Le Havre, I went to Harvard College in exchange for a year. Upon returning, I decided to leave for the UK to complete a Masters degree at the London School of Economics in economics.
I really enjoyed my time in France. I got a really unique perspective. The pedagogy is very different from the Anglo-Saxon system. Sciences Po has a long tradition of oral presentations and essays. I loved getting this perspective on Europe and on the French political and economic model. That helped me a lot in Singapore, enabling me to think "out of the box". I think this perspective is really interesting for my colleagues here, since I’m the only one I know in the Ministry who studied in France.
Can you tell us about your first work experiences?
After returning to Singapore, I did my military service for a year and a half, and then I joined the private sector. So I postponed my arrival into the public service for two years to gain experience. At Zalora, an e-commerce company specialized in fashion, I worked in a warehouse, where I was managing logistics and supply chains to optimize the process. The main project was to "insource" our delivery system, that is to say, to recreate an internal postal system. We also created a partnership with 7-Eleven to create a point relay delivery service. Then, I wanted to change so I joined Morgan Stanley as an analyst in the investment banking division. I had the opportunity to travel to Hong Kong, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines and it was extremely interesting. In both companies, there was a strong French community. Speaking the language really helped me to access these communities.
Since January 2015, I am with the MOF, where I am part of the team "economic strategy". Heart of our business is the research on the sources of economic growth, and this through policies to support innovation, productivity, and entrepreneurship. We have a planning mission. We are about 150 people in the department.
The program to which I belong, the "Public Service Leadership Program" gives us the opportunity to change departments every two / three years. It is a program which aims to train future leaders of the public service. I could indicate a preference for some positions, and I did not want to join the Foreign Ministry because I do not want to be pigeonholed as a France specialist. I see my studies at Sciences Po more as a general training in political and economic sciences.
Political commitment in Singapore is less common than in France. I remember being very surprised to walk to a demonstration by firefighters in my first week in Paris. I had never seen that. This was very interesting to discover the culture of political engagement.
What memories do you have of France and what connection do you maintain with the country?
I had the chance to travel around all France, and my favorite place is definitely the Savoie region, because of the ski and the Beaufort cheese. Unfortunately it is very expensive and hard to find in Singapore! I love the Rhône-Alpes region, Grenoble, Annecy etc.
In Singapore I always try to join events related to France, either through the Embassy, or Sciences Po or other schools.
I am involved in the alumni association of Sciences Po in Singapore. We have organized events including networking evenings and public debates. A debate that we organized was on the system of governance in France and Singapore. This debate was held at the LKY School, which is a partner of Sciences Po. So we try to re-create a space for intellectual debate, a little bit of Paris in Singapore.