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Regular version of the site

Singaporean Businesspeople at the HSE

From June 23-26, 2013, a delegation from the Singapore Business Federation visited the Higher School of Economics (the HSE) as part of a special business tour. Its organizers, Andrey Yakovlev, Director of the HSE Institute for Industrial and Market Studies, and Vasily Solodkov, Director of the HSE Banking Institute, as well as a participant told us about the event.

What was the main purpose of this visit? How did it differ from the international meetings organized regularly at the HSE?

Vasily Solodkov: This was the first time the HSE welcomed such a serious business delegation that came not for a formal introduction but to listen to lectures by our university professors, to ask questions, to look and understand what’s going on in the country, and to meet representatives of the business community and the government.

Andrey Yakovlev: Speaking about not our experience, but international experience, this is a classic type of business and educational tour, when people who want to invest in another country come to get to know local conditions and get help in establishing contacts with the local entrepreneurial community and governmental bodies. Such programmes for international investors could become regular. This would be useful not only for the HSE but also for the Russian economy in general as a tool for demonstrating opportunities for investment in Russia.

Why do you think these Singaporean businesspeople became our first such visitors? Representatives from what other countries, in your view, could be interested in such programmes?

Andrey Yakovlev: It was at their initiative. But, three times in the last few months, I’ve heard such interest expressed by members of the foreign business community. Singapore is close to China, and China is rather interested in the Russian market, so this geographical direction of cooperation is obvious. But, examples also exist from the other side, the European side. In the beginning of March, I spoke in Verona, and that event was organized by an international centre under a local university, together with a regional chamber of commerce and industry. They invite lecturers from all over the world to events organized for the Italian business community. And one of the Italian businesspeople, for example, entered the Russian market in 2006 and then opened a subsidiary in Kaluga.

We believe that economic growth in Russia – about 3% – is low. But, in the context of the stagnation in Europe and the hardly noticeable revival in Japan (I talked about this with Japanese colleagues), Russia has many uncultivated niches that could be fulfilled with foreign investors in order to get higher profits.

What was the programme for the tour?

Vasily Solodkov: The delegation came for six days, three of which were spent in Moscow and three in Saint Petersburg, where our partner was the Leontief Centre. Our key objective was to give them a general view of a country where they could invest. That’s why the first lecture we offered them was about politics – Professor Mark Urnov, Academic Supervisor at the Faculty of Politics, told them about the investment climate in Russia, which is, putting it nicely, not the most attractive for foreign investment today.

Then we offered our guest a review of the situation in the Russian financial system, in the real economy sector, and in wholesale and retail trade. Here the lecturers were Vadim Radaev, First Vice Rector of the HSE, Vladimir Bessonov, Head of the HSE Laboratory for Research in Inflation and Growth, Andrey Yakovlev, and I. We offered the Singaporean businesspeople information that, we hope, will help them plan their investment programme in Russia.

Andrey Yakovlev: The lectures took place in the morning, and in the afternoon the Singaporeans went to business meetings we organized at their request: at the Chamber of Trade and Industry, the Ministry of Economic Development, and Credit Agricole Bank in Russia, which is headed by former HSE professor Erik Koebe, as well as with leaders of the Community of European businesspeople working in Russia. We also invited our colleagues from Singapore to a roundtable meeting organized as part of the conference at the HSEInternational Center for the Study of Institutions and Development. It’s interesting to note that when we were only discussing the schedule for their visit, we offered our guests some cultural events, but they asked us to keep them to a minimum and replace them with business meetings. This is a sign that they came here with serious intentions, not for a sightseeing tour.

What could be the practical results of this visit?

Vasily Solodkov: First, we’ll be happy if as a result of this visit some Singaporean students come to the HSE, since, as far as I know, we’ve never had any in attendance before. It is difficult to measure immediate results, but it’s always good when people get a clearer view of our country and invest in it with an understanding of all the opportunities and risks. Anyway, establishing friendly contacts between two countries is always positive.

Andrey Yakovlev:  Growing investment by Singapore in Russia cannot be the result of an isolated event; a complex of measures would be necessary for this to happen.  And, no complex approach exists for attracting foreign investment in Russia. We’ll try to suggest our ideas on this to the Ministry of Economic Development and attract organizations in different Russian regions to engage in cooperation. We shouldn’t focus only on Moscow; we need to create a network of institutions that could work with international partners throughout Russia. The HSE could coordinate this process.

One of the Singaporean delegation participants, Toh Eu Jin, Senior Assistant Director at the Research and Enterprise Division, Ministry of Trade and Industry of Singapore, commented on the results of the business tour:

— The role of our Ministry is to promote the growth of Singaporean companies and, as a result, the Singaporean economy as a whole. We help businesspeople look for points of entrance to international markets and at the same time attract international investors to open their offices in Singapore. We see a growing interest among Singaporean businesspeople in Russia, and as part of this tour, we wanted to learn more about the opportunities Russia can offer them. It was interesting for us to learn more about the Russian political system since it sets the framework for economic activity. We wanted to understand how business is administered, what business traditions exist here, and how commercial activity is regulated. The very first lecture at the HSE was very informative. While Professor Urnov was rather pessimistic in his evaluation of the current political situation, I think that people in other countries are not so pessimistic about Russia. What makes us more optimistic is that the Russian population is becoming more educated and integrated in the global community. Russia has the potential to become a ‘bridge’ between the West and the East both in cultural and economic terms.

Oleg Seregin, HSE News Service

Photos by Nikita Benzoruk

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