Singapore’s Philip Yeo – Neither Civil Nor Servant



Philip Yeo is a member of the United Nations Committee of Experts in Public Administration, chair of SPRING Singapore, and the focus of Neither Civil nor Servant, a biography by Peh Shing Heui.

Philip Yeo Liat Kok (1946-) is now 70 years old. Born in Singapore, he studied Applied Science (Industrial Engineering) at the University of Toronto in Canada under a Colombo Plan scholarship, before graduating with a Master of Business Administration (MBA) in 1976 from Harvard University under a Fulbright scholarship. He was also awarded an honorary doctorate degree (PhD) from the University of Toronto, Karolinska Institutet in Sweden, National University of Singapore, Monash University in Australia, and Imperial College London for his work on economic development in Singapore and Asia.

Yeo served in the Administrative Service from 1970 to 1999, and with the Singapore Government, he was Special Adviser for Economic Development in the Prime Minister’s Office (2007-2011), and Senior Adviser for Science and Technology, Ministry of Trade and Industry (2007-2008). He served in many more positions and has been awarded a range of public service achievement medals.

But Yeo has never forgotten the importance of scholarships. In the course of his career the Government of Singapore has sent thousands of Singaporeans to top universities around the world on government-funded scholarships. Yeo established the A*STAR Graduate Academy to implement a plan to train up 1,000 PhD scholars that would eventually return to Singapore and undertake research in fields such as information technology, engineering, molecular biology, biochemistry and medicine.

He also gives a great deal of personal attention to his scholars and tracks their academic performance. In July 2013, a National University of Singapore scholarship was named after Yeo. The scholarship sends about 10 student recipients outside Singapore each year to study at top universities or startup technology companies.

He views have not been without controversy over the expectations of scholarship holders and his views on competing with western countries on cutting-edge biomedical research.

In 2016 his biography, Neither Civil nor Servant, was launched. Over $500,000 has been raised for charity through its sales. The funds collected by the Economic Development Innovations Singapore (EDIS), the organization he chairs, will contribute to the needs of underprivileged children, via EDIS CARES, the charity arm of EDIS. The funds intend to reach 300 children over the next three years. The EDIS CARES funds are administered by the Community Foundation of Singapore.

Neither Civil nor Servant: The Philip Yeo Story, written by Peh Shing Huei, covers the 50-year career of Yeo as a civil servant, a public administrator, and government advisor. It is a biography of human capital.

Neither Civil nor Servant has become a best-seller on the non-fiction list since its launch in November 2016. In Singapore it occupies the number one spot on the top seller list in most bookstore chains, and it had its first reprint in December 2016, a month after its launch.

A maverick, who is not afraid to challenge the status quo, Philip Yeo has earned a reputation as one of Singapore’s most accomplished government officials and a ‘colourful bureacrat.’

Yeo’s motto is: “never say die, always dare to be different, always want to make a difference.”


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