Mr Dinesh Naidu will never forget the night he had a tense conversation through a locked door — with a frying pan in his hand.
The caller in question was “a neighbour with mental health issues” in the corridor outside his studio apartment, screaming and sobbing. Worried both for the man and himself, Mr Naidu kept the door locked till the police arrived.
This happened while he was on an exchange programme at Harvard Kennedy School in Cambridge, Massachusetts in the United States last year.
“It is an exceptionally beautiful, wealthy and socially progressive city,” he says, but this incident, along with others such as the arrest of a Harvard student who was naked and allegedly high on drugs in the street, shaped his thinking about urban governance and resilience.
“I became more alert and aware of my surroundings, which in turn helped me to notice and even enjoy the city more.”
Life begins in the middle
Mr Naidu’s exchange programme was part of a master’s degree in public management at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, which he completed last year under the MND (Ministry of National Development) EDGE Scholarship.
It offered a mid-career sabbatical for the 44-yearold, who had worked as a researcher, writer and civil-society organiser for over a decade before joining the MND’s Centre for Liveable Cities (CLC) in January 2011.
He jumped at the chance to gain new skills, knowledge and perspectives before “returning to new and challenging work in Singapore.”
“It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to read and listen widely and deeply, to be challenged intellectually and emotionally, to share my thoughts and experiences, and to connect with very interesting people from around the world,” he says.
Sharing knowledge, bringing change
Mr Naidu’s enduring interest in Singapore’s built environment makes him a perfect fit for the CLC, which develops and shares practical knowledge on urban planning, development and governance.
As deputy director of knowledge platforms, he helps distil this knowledge for publications and events such as the World Cities Summit, which helps benefit Singapore through exchanges with foreign city leaders.
He also hopes to help enrich urban planning and policy discourse. Recalling his experiences in Cambridge, he says: “While Singapore might provide many things very safely and seamlessly, it may also encourage us to be more passive as citizens.
“In comparison, after the arrest of the student in Cambridge, members of the local student community organised and engaged with the authorities and media. This capacity to self-organise is one sign of social resilience,” he adds.
When asked how liveable Singapore is, he says: “When it comes to quality of life and environment, Singapore does very well — but I think all cities, including ours, have to become more sustainable and resilient.”
Adapting for success
Mr Naidu believes that resilient people are also adaptable.
“When editing our magazine, interviews or articles sometimes fall through at the last minute, but in the process of solving the problem, we have produced some of our best issues.”
“While we may aim for certain ideals at the start of a project, there comes a time when we should not sweat the small stuff. The challenge is to make changes on the fly while meeting larger objectives,” he says.
“The source of all problems — and the solution to all problems — lies within us.”