Cleo Change Makers 2017

From being the first women in their field to striking out on their own where society needs them most, these amazing eight are finding ways to make Singapore better than ever. Prepare to be inspired.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

From being the first women in their field to striking out on their own where society needs them most, these amazing eight are finding ways to make Singapore better than ever. Prepare to be inspired.

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Jasmine Chong 28, Founder of Yoga Lab

Jasmine had to overcome both personal and professional struggles – but she was determined to make yoga more accessible.

With so many yoga studios in Singapore, it can be difficult carving out space for one more, but Jasmine did just that all in one year. She opened the first Yoga Lab studio just last May and quickly found success – the brand now has three studios.

Prior to running her own yoga studio chain, the 28-year-old was a yoga instructor and, before that, she was working in the banking industry. She found this role unfulfilling and saw herself as a “failure” because she couldn’t be herself. She eventually decided to take a leap of faith and try her hand at what she really wanted to do.

Jasmine was motivated to open Yoga Lab because she wanted to offer more affordable yoga lessons to Singaporeans. Keep your eye on this ambitious woman shaking up the local yoga scene; she’s got more up her sleeve.

Cotton turtleneck, $66.90, Topshop. Silk chiffon lace skirt, $500, Three Floorz from Et-i-kit. Gold earring, $14.90 (for a pair), and gold choker (worn as bracelet), $25, both H&M. Satin bow heels, $49.90, Charles & Keith. 

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Samantha Dorcas Soh 24, Product Designer and Founding Partner of ShopBack

Samantha took a leap of faith when she and her co-founders decided to create ShopBack … even though she had no idea how to design a website.

Love the discounts and cashback offers you get from ShopBack? One of the six people you’ve got to thank is Samantha. The 24-year-old product designer co-founded the company in 2014, and is in charge of the platform’s UI/UX design. In fact, she taught herself to design the whole site.

Today, ShopBack is one of Singapore’s leading shopping sites, and has expanded into Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines. It’s clear that Samantha is the kind of woman who puts in some thought before speaking. She pauses after every question but gives concise answers. “Run as fast as you can so you’ll benefit in the future,” is the advice she’d give to fellow 20-somethings. Given her career trajectory, it seems she’s doing exactly that.

Cotton knit bralette, $69.90, cotton knit turtleneck, $74.95, and tiered polyester pleated skirt, $64.95, all H&M.

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Yip Pin Xiu 25, Paralympic Gold Medallist

They say getting started is the hard part, but as world record-holding Paralympian Yip Pin Xiu can attest, overcoming self-doubt can be much harder.

A three-time Paralympic gold medallist, a one-time International Paralympic Committee gold medallist, named “Athlete of the Year” by The Straits Times in 2016 and the holder of two world records in the 50m backstroke and 100m backstroke, Pin Xiu has accomplished a lot, to say the least, in her 25 years.

On top of these accomplishments, this fresh grad has also just completed her degree in Political Science at Singapore Mangagement University. It was this commitment to her education that had the swimmer take a break after the Beijing Paralympics, which taught her a lot about endurance and commitment.

“Taking a break from competitive swimming gave me a lot of freedom,” she recalls. “But it made it very hard to train. By the time I got back into it for [the London Paralympics], it was almost too late. There was a period when I doubted myself. I thought I was done after 2012. But what made me continue was that I really enjoy seeing my timings get better each time. I also felt it wasn’t time for me to stop.” She made a return to form in the Rio 2016 Paralympics with a new world record in the 100m backstroke.

Mesh polka dot dress, $790, Whole9Yards. Heels, Pin Xiu’s own

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Debra Lam 24, Co-founder of Society Staples

Debra was told she couldn’t do it. Now, she’s on to her second successful social enterprise.

Debra Lam is a powerhouse whose energy and strong desire to help the less fortunate led her to create Society Staples when she was 22. With two autistic brothers, Debra grew up with an awareness that their opportunities were limited compared to hers.

This inspired her and co-founder Ryan to start Deaf Dragons, a dragon boating team made up of the hearing-impaired. “A lot of people didn’t think it could work,” says Debra. “But in just a year, these same people were donating money and encouraging us.”

She credits their success with Deaf Dragons as one of the key reasons they felt confident about launching Society Staples, a company that aims to raise awareness on the issues faced by those with disabilities. The company runs workshops, programmes and educational events to encourage both individuals and companies to be more inclusive.

Cotton knit striped top, $49.90, Topshop. Tulle skirt, stylist’s own. Silver earring, $14.90 (for a pair), H&M. Nylon choker, $25, Topshop. Patent leather pumps, $46.90, Charles & Keith.

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Nur Yusrina Ya ’akob 30, Mount Everest Summiter

It took seven years of training for Yusrina to reach the summit of Mount Everest.

When the devastating earthquake hit Nepal in 2015, Yusrina had no choice but to turn back from Everest Base Camp. They had trained for about five years, climbing staircases and training at the gym in simulated low-oxygen environments three times a week.

While she was grateful she wasn’t hurt in the earthquake, she also couldn’t help but feel like she had wasted her five-year effort. And it wasn’t like she could just go at it again – she had to assemble a climbing team, sort out funding and finances, and find another window of time when she can take a few months off for the expedition. Yusrina admitted that life got in the way and it became difficult for her to pick up where she had left off. “But I couldn’t stop thinking about it. It bothered me for a long time,” she says.

When no one else from her original team wanted to make the attempt again, Yusrina decided to form a new team, NTU-NIE Everest Singapore, with two other individuals. They embarked on their expedition earlier this year. But when her two teammates had to abort the climb due to hypothermia and frostbite, Yusrina alone pushed on to the summit with two guides. On May 22, 2017 at 11:55am Singapore time, Yusrina reached the summit of Mount Everest, making her the first Malay Singaporean woman to stand atop the 8,848m-tall mountain.

Cotton knit turtleneck, $45.90, ZARA. Polyester wrap dress, lyrca ruffle pants, $99.90, both H&M. Scarf, Yusrina’s own.

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Kelly Wong 27, Founder of Wong Kee Noodle

Kelly has entered the male-dominated world of hawker markets as the founder of Wong Kee Noodle.

Formerly in the banking industry, Kelly has been the brains and brawn behind the popular Wong Kee Wanton Noodle for the last four years. Her first stall at Maxwell Food Centre closed due to issues with the ongoing construction work in the area, and you can now find Kelly plying her trade at Timbre+.

If you’re wondering, Wong Kee stands for “Remember Wong” in Cantonese, Wong being Kelly’s father. He’s her noodle supplier and the one who inspired her passion for cooking as she grew up watching him make magic in the kitchen.

When we interviewed Kelly for this feature, she constantly emphasised the importance of pushing through and picking yourself up when you fall. That the hawker world is predominantly male doesn’t faze her. “It just makes me want to prove myself more,” says Kelly.

Lace and mesh dress, $820, Three Floor from Et-i-kit. Metal earrings, $15, Lovisa. 

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Audrey Tan 29, Co-founder of Angels of Impact and PlayMoolah

Audrey is literally in the business of empowering women.

The year was 2009. The world had just come out of a global financial crisis, which was considered by many economists to be the worst since the Great Depression in the ’30s. As a young finance student, Audrey saw many of her peers struggling with money, and decided there was a need to get people thinking about better financial literacy. “I wanted to educate young people on good money habits, because it would be so useful when they reach adulthood,” says Audrey. That led her to co-found PlayMoolah, a financial literacy app that teaches children as young as six on how to manage money based on a real-life simulation.

It was her work with PlayMoolah that brought Audrey to the impoverished areas of Indonesia. Realising that the children there needed more than just financial savviness to break out of the vicious cycle of poverty, Audrey decided to build a network for female social entrepreneurs within the region. She enlisted the help of her former lecturer and social impact investor Laina Greene, and Angels of Impact was born. The company aims to fund female social entrepreneurs and promote their businesses by connecting them to companies in Singapore. And to double the feel-good factor, all of the social enterprises supported by Angels of Impact are committed to using ethically- and sustainably-produced goods and services.

Silk and wool tuxedo blazer, $585, Sandro. Cotton tee and tutu, stylist’s own

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Lee Jia Pei 28, Navy Captain

Jia Pei quit her job as an auditor to join the Navy. Now she’s a Captain.

Having graduated with a degree in accountancy back in 2011, it was only natural that Jia Pei went on to become an auditor. So imagine her parents’ surprise when she announced that, after just one year at a Big Four accounting firm, she would be enlisting into the military to pursue a career in the Navy.

“I just wanted to do something more dynamic and challenging,” says Jia Pei matter-of-factly. “My family was definitely shocked by my decision, though.” So what prompted her to make this career switch? Jia Pei thought hard for a while, before telling us that when she was a teenager, she thought it would be cool to join the National Cadet Corps, but her school didn’t offer it for girls. As an adult, she felt like perhaps she could join the Navy, which led her to doing some research. One thing led to another, and now she’s a Navy Captain.

“What they say is true – you regret the things you didn’t do more than the things you did. I’m thankful I didn’t spend the past five years in vain. I never regretted my decision,” says Jia Pei.

Lace dress, $650, Three Floor from Et-i-kit. Sheer turtleneck, $45, Topshop. Gold hoops, $9.90, H&M.