ANNA VANESSA HAOTANTO
COO & PARTNER OF ABZD CAPITAL
THINKING LONG TERM AND INVESTING IN THE UNINVESTABLE
Recently, as I approach my mid-30s, I’ve encountered many friends who are afflicted with illnesses or lifethreatening situations. This made me question my own mortality and purpose in life: “ What am I doing this for? What impact am I leaving? Is the world a better place because of me?”
Finance and investments have always been my passions. Having grown up in a difficult financial situation, I’m a firm believer in education and how it empowers people. With proper financial access and education, any individual holds the power to create opportunities for themselves. This will have a positive net effect on the communities around them. A Unesco report estimated that if every student in low-income countries had basic reading skills when they left school, more than 170 million people would rise out of poverty.
I started my career in banking but quickly realised that I wasn’t making the impact I desired. The basic tenets of finance are to create profits and maximise value. But I personally believe that it’s not enough to make money. It is also our duty to help those who can’t help themselves, and to better society. We have to invest responsibly and focus on investing in the uninvestable.
What is “uninvestable”? We have to venture beyond the usual model and asset classes – public markets, real estate, hedge funds, commodities and venture capital – and look at the things professionals traditionally term as “unprofitable”. The world is changing rapidly and I fear that in our comfort zones, we are not progressing as quickly. Hence, we cannot afford to do things the way they have been done for the past decade.
When I started The New Savvy, Asia’s leading financial education portal for women, most people dismissed me because they felt that I was limiting myself by focusing only on women. Many advised me to make it as broad as possible, to ensure that we got more website views and hit metrics that investors focused on. Women in finance, to investors, is just not an investable asset class. To them, “women are just not interested in finance and usually leave it to the men to handle money”.
Still, I was adamant that women in finance was an undeserved market. Financial products didn’t appeal to women as they were technical and full of jargon. We did not connect to finance because it didn’t appeal to us emotionally. Five years on, The New Savvy has raised conversations on why it is critical that women educate themselves to become financially conscious. My team helped to ensure women who did not have access could learn about personal finances and be empowered to make smarter financial decisions in their lives.
Similarly, I noticed that in Singapore, there were 44 Michelin star restaurants in 2019 as compared to 22 in 2016. The average price of a Michelin-starred meal is over $200. There are many who would love to dine in a Michelin starred restaurant but the cost is just too prohibitive. How can we make a great dining experience accessible to the masses?
My partners and I started Gourmet Food Holdings (GFH), an investment firm focusing on opportunities in the global F&B industry. From my understanding, there is no investment company solely focused on the F&B space. If so, how would a budding F&B entrepreneur ever get access to strategic investors and operators that would invest in their business and help them grow? You can’t because none exist. GFH provides strategic growth capital to entrepreneurs who would otherwise not have access to any traditional source of financing to help them expand their business and scale globally.
More importantly, what I love about building an F&B investment platform is the impact we are making. It is a level playing field where your background or qualifications don’t matter. What matters are hard work and promoting those who have the heart to grow. My team is also consistently thinking about how to give back to the underprivileged by either training, hiring or donating to them. The ability to transform lives through our investments excites me. Another point of consideration is how F&B can bring about certain social narratives – especially those that help to reinforce good values in our society, like dining as a family.
As the next generation with the keys to growth for the next few decades, we enjoy unlimited options. The world is our playground but we must not take this privilege lightly. We are the trustees to carry the institutions of Singapore forward. If we don’t take up the responsibility, who will?
I encourage all of us to think longterm and venture into the unknown. To invest in the uninvestable and look beyond profitability. It is our duty to empower others through responsible investing, job creation and education. Let that guide your decision and legacy to the world.
“I believe that it’s not enough to make money. It is also our duty to help those who can’t help themselves, and to better society.”
HAIR EILEEN KOH/HAIR PHILOSOPHY, USING KEVIN.MURPHY MAKEUP AMY CHOW, USING SHU UEMURA CLOTHES SLEEVELESS COTTON SHIRT FROM BRUNELLO CUCINELLI. TWEED JACKET AND SHORTS FROM PINKO SHOES LEATHER HEELS FROM SERGIO ROSSI
“I believe that it’s not enough to make money. It is also our duty to help those who can’t help themselves, and to better society.”
DR NEO MEI LIN
NUS RESEARCH FELLOW AND CO-FOUNDER OF CELEBRATING SINGAPORE SHORES
SAVING THE ENVIRONMENT THE RIGHT WAY
Turn off the lights. Avoid single-use plastics. Reduce the carbon footprint. These are actions widely propagated as ways to save the environment, but it also frustrates me that they’re missing an important element – biodiversity.
My fondness and curiosity for the natural world was fostered by my parents, who unassumingly led me on the path to becoming an environmental advocate and marine biologist. We spent many of our weekends as a family exploring the nooks and crannies of the nature places in Singapore such as the vast lallang fields of Punggol and the fishing jetties off Lim Chu Kang. Today, these places have disappeared in the face of development.
I meet many passionate young people who want to do their part in saving the environment, but my feelings towards them are somewhat ambivalent at times. On one hand, I’m heartened and inspired by their desire to act now, but I feel troubled by how their notion of “saving the environment” tends to omit the well-being of biodiversity. Their good intentions are instead focused on the well-being of humans and their health.
But how many more species have to become extinct before we remember to include biodiversity in the equation for saving the environment? The first species declared as globally extinct in 2020 was the Chinese paddlefish, one of the world’s largest freshwater fish that once lived in China’s Yangtze River. Closer to home, the Sumatran rhinoceros is now extinct in Malaysia where the very last rhino died in November 2019. In Indonesia, there are no more than 80 left.
The truth is, we don’t feel these losses because people are more and more disconnected from nature and its biodiversity. If we lose that connection, what might it mean for our planet?
In today’s context, nature may mean something different to many of us, including myself, who grew up in a city. For most, it may mean the park that one walks through daily on their commute to work. Even so, our children and adults are gradually disconnecting from nature because of the shrinking of nature spaces to make way for development and the increasing consumption of digital technology in their daily lives. When one spends more time in the digital world, one is spending less in the natural and real one. It is therefore harder for people to connect the dots to a sustainable future when the opportunity to experience and understand nature’s benefits are few and far between.
Nature is not just nice to have but a necessity to maintain our physical and mental well-being. A growing body of research has established the effects of nature’s benefits on health, relieving stress and promoting healing. We need to find ways to let nature balance our lives. We need to convince policymakers and corporations to consider the human need for nature. These benefits would become irrelevant if we continue to destroy nature around us. And this destruction is assured without human connection to nature.
Since becoming a mother, my work has taken on more meaning as I’m trying to leave a positive environmental legacy for my daughter. I wish for her to still have the opportunity to have meaningful, enjoyable encounters with nature. She cannot grow to love nature if she does not experience it. We need to create opportunities for both children and adults to reconnect with nature. If not us, who will be the environmental stewards for nature?
Conservation is no longer enough. If we want to protect our environment, we must cherish and preserve whatever natural habitats are left, and restore or create natural habitats in urban spaces to protect the biodiversity that all living creatures, including humans, need. I believe that it is not yet too late to act. We may be the cause of many environmental problems we see today, but as a race, we have the capacity to develop solutions to make a difference and save the environment the right way.
“How many more species have to become extinct before we include biodiversity in the equation for saving the environment?”
HAIR SHA SHAMSI, USING KEUNE MAKEUP ZOEL TEE, USING LAURA MERCIER CLOTHES WOOL COAT FROM LORO PIANA SHOES LEATHER WEAVE HEELS FROM BOTTEGA VENETA
FOUNDER AND CREATIVEDIRECTOR OF THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY
A HAPPY MEAL
When was the last time you checked in with your inner happiness? The rise of social media has set unrealistic expectations of life in our minds, presenting the carefully selected best parts of everyone else’s lives constantly at our fingertips, and then leading us to compare them to the negatives in our life. As depression and anxiety disorders become more commonplace, it’s hard to ignore the negative implications that highly curated feeds have on our state of mental health.
Don’t get me wrong, technology and digital innovations come with many merits. They have helped to decentralise power held by monopolistic companies, create entirely new economies overnight, change the way we operate businesses, liberalise media content, and even shape the face of politics.
I benefited greatly from the proliferation of technology. It allowed me to start my own businesses at a fairly young age, tap into the possibilities of a borderless economy, reach out to global audiences, harness data to make better decisions, build communities and, of course, pursue my passions. It’s truly been amazing. Yet, in this increasingly connected world, why is it that more and more people are feeling increasingly disconnected and less than happy?
In late 2018, I faced a hurdle some might relate to. A void developed inside of me and I came to the realisation that I was increasingly unhappy despite doing what I love. Success didn’t bring along the fulfilment like it used to and material possessions didn’t spark joy or excitement anymore.
Instead, constant comparisons clouded my focus and jealousyinducing social feeds distracted me. I thought that if I had achieved more, it might fill that empty void and make me feel better. Over time, the unhealthy build-up of stress, anxiety, loneliness and self-doubt affected my mental health. Long work hours coupled with poor sleep quality and other personal struggles physically exhausted me. I knew then that I needed to change so that I could heal.
The path to recovery required me to take a few steps back in order to move forward. I needed to distance myself from the overwhelming negativity and information overload of our digital age. In the next couple of weeks that followed, I put together a plan with my other half to set off on a sabbatical break that would re-prioritise our lives, reshape our perspectives and guide us through our later years.
We set everything aside and booked a pair of Round The World tickets with hard-earned flight mileage chalked up over the years that would take us across continents, countries and cultures over the span of four months.
With our discovery hats on, a backpack and a suitcase each in tow, we navigated the different climates, basked in different cultures and sought new experiences that would help us re-evaluate our lifestyles and redefine our interpretation of happiness. But this was not a luxury vacation by any means. We travelled frugally and carefully rationed our expenses throughout the trip (I’d be happy to share specific details over a coffee or dram if anyone is interested).
As it turned out, living out of a suitcase for months teaches you a thing or two about life. We realised that when you drag yourself out of your comfort zone, you’ll discover what’s truly important and better appreciate all that you already have. You’ll also start to pay more attention to the moments that define your life. As you cut out the clutter, the clarity that follows will allow you to separate the nourishing needs from the frivolous wants. It’ll also help you make better decisions that will drive you forward on a more purposeful path, impacting the people around you and your community.
Looking back, some of the best experiences and most beautiful memories were free of charge. Some of the best meals we’ve had didn’t come from top-dollar kitchens but small, family-run restaurants full of heart. And some of the kindest, most inspiring people we’ve met didn’t really care about conforming to social norms or unrealistic expectations.
It doesn’t take much to be genuinely happy. All it takes is a small shift in perspective and being aware and mindful of our thoughts. Never let anyone and social media influence your definition of happiness and success. Focus on being more present. Surround yourself with people who support your cause and replace anxiety with patience.
Don’t rush to the destination, pay attention to the journey. Take one step at a time and allow your heart to be filled with even the smallest of wins. Maybe that’s the secret sauce to all those happy meals.
“Success didn’t bring along the fulfilment like it used to and material possessions didn’t spark joy anymore.”
GROOMING EILEEN KOH /HAIR PHILOSOPHY, USING KEVIN.MURPHY, AND AMY CHOW, USING SHU UEMURA CLOTHES COTTON KNIT SWEATER, COTTON JACKET AND PANTS FROM ERMENEGILDO ZEGNA COUTURE SNEAKERS CHEN’S OWN
CEO AND FOUNDER OF TRI-SECTOR ASSOCIATES
PAYING IT FORWARD WITH SKILLS-BASED GIVING
Volunteerism used to be just about contributing time. Many of us have a memory from school of cleaning beaches or planting trees. In recent years, there has been a growing realisation that time can be even more impactful if we also contributed skills. In Singapore, there are now skills-based volunteer organisations that enable consultants, accountants, engineers and data scientists to contribute their professional talents to good causes.
What about our giving? Well, around the world, a growing number of philanthropists are infusing giving with their investment skills. It enables them to give more meaningfully, which keeps them engaged and increases their impact. This trend could play a critical role in helping us find new ways of solving problems fit for our country’s next 50 years.
Traditional giving focuses on providing grant funding for a specific program, and usually on a one- to three-year basis. In effect, traditional givers are “buying” social services for beneficiaries who cannot pay for such services themselves. We need buyers. But we also need builders, who are focused on bettering the capability of the social agencies themselves.
In the for-profit world, different types of hands-on investors play this “builder” role at various stages in order to take a company from idea to scale. Skills-based givers, many with investment backgrounds themselves, are adapting lessons from investing to play a “builder” role in their giving.
They contribute to starting up. The US-based Greenlight Fund, for instance, convenes local leaders to identify the root causes of social problems, then scouts nationally to replicate the best available solutions, conducting due diligence on hundreds of organisations in the process.
They help to accelerate growth. New Profit, a US-based pioneering “venture philanthropy” fund, provides large long-term grants specifically for organisational costs, and then helps investees build capacity by sitting on their boards and giving them access to a wide network of in-kind resources.
Finally, they help organisations achieve sustainability. As an exit strategy is key to any investment, skills-based givers help organisations develop an intentional strategy to grow their own sources of repeatable “income” in a variety of ways: from traditional giving by hiring fundraising staff, from the market by becoming a social enterprise, or from governments by negotiating outcomes-based contracts.
We are already starting to see signs of skills-based giving in Singapore. The modalities vary. The largest skills-based giving conference in Asia is held here every year. Collective philanthropy circles have been set up to make giving more efficient. Each week, I interact with family offices that have set up impact investing arms. There is S$2.4 trillion of wealth in Singapore that’s being managed at any one point in time. Imagine if a fraction of the expertise spent managing that could be used to solve our social problems.
We are evolving as a country, and skills-based giving can play an important part. It ensures a more cohesive society in a way that complements traditional giving. Skills-based volunteering has not led to the downfall of traditional volunteering. Instead, it has raised the profile of volunteering as a whole, drawing in new sources of giving, getting more out of current giving, and making giving more widespread.
It also generates better solutions by allowing members of society to work as true partners with the government. Recognising that as problems become ever more complex, they become difficult for any government – no matter how competent – to solve alone, our new generation of leaders has started initiatives such as the Singapore Together movement. In some cases, this will mean the government has the solution and simply needs to draw on traditional givers and volunteers. In many others, it may be that the government needs a partner to come to the best solution. Or it could be that there is no government solution at all. Skills-based giving builds the capacity that society needs to be more active partners with the government, to the betterment of Singapore and Singaporeans.
“In recent years, there has been a realisation that volunteering can be even more impactful if we contribute skills.”
GROOMING SHA SHAMSI USING KEUNE, AND ZOEL TEE, USING LAURA MERCIER CLOTHES COTTON MANDARIN SHIRT, COTTON JACKET AND PANTS FROM BOSS
SHUYI & JUSTIN LIOK
CO-MANAGERS OF THE LIOK FAMILY OFFICE
DEAR ORION, A LETTER TO OUR SON
Blinking back tears of joy, we stared nervously. “Pregnant,” it read. This was the reassurance we’ve been praying for.
The past three years have been testing. With countless doctor visits and fruitless attempts, we rejoiced when friends started young families while feeling isolated and dejected with our infertility. Faced with repeated disappointment, it seemed that it would be a dark journey with no end in sight.
Your maternal grandfather was a boy scout and fondly recounted his camping excursions, where he sought comfort in spotting the prominent Orion’s belt constellation even in the darkest nights. We prayed and sought assurance that, like Orion’s belt, you would be there. We committed your name, Orion, in our prayers and trusted that one day you would be.
Our pregnancy was a joyous one. There was no morning sickness, aversions or cravings. We spent the summer exploring ruins and grottos in Malta, partying in Romania, savouring hearty cuisine in Bulgaria, enjoying biergarten brunches in Germany, wine-tasting in France and whiskytasting in the Scottish Highlands. You were curiously soaking in new sounds and tastes, telling us with an excited little kick at night about how much you enjoyed the day.
In the weeks leading up to your arrival, we set up the nursery with your cot, sterilisers, cameras and drawers full of swaddles, face towels and mittens. We itemised our todo list across multiple Excel tabs, checked and re-checked that we had prepared everything on the list, speed-read parenting guidebooks and attended crash courses on parenting. Despite being more “wartime ready” than “Insta-good”, nothing could prepare us for your arrival.
You arrived quietly on October 18, 2019, without a cry while your mother was still sedated. Your father watched in despair and prayed for our family to be reunited. The medical team did everything they could for you to catch your first steady breath, while you were still slumbering peacefully, oblivious to the world. In those early hours, the fear of losing you taught us to treasure the blessing of having you.
Four months into your young life and you are the best teacher we can find. You patiently withstood our trials and errors, and taught us to be the best parents we could be. Together we ploughed through helpless days and sleepless nights, our tears of despair soothed only by a longing to be close to you.
Parenthood is full of paradoxes. Through you, we finally understand how much our aged parents sacrificed for us. Be it keeping awake to lull us to sleep at night, scaling back on splurges to save up for our future or giving up career opportunities to spend more time nurturing us, the conscious decision they made to put us first came easy to them – just as it became easy for us to take their love for granted. With you, we find ourselves walking the same path, but with a greater respect and appreciation for your grandparents.
Parenthood is humbling. Through you, we learnt that in an age of empowerment and technology, being faithful is our only hope. Our lives were planned out and everything was on track. We had achieved academic and professional accolades, travelled the world, set up our family office, and even planned a babymoon in the summer of 2016, ready to welcome our little “monkey” by year’s end. But that was not to be. Still, we were unfazed, confident in the array of modern fertility treatments. The delay in months became years and our foolhardy confidence was quickly subsumed by a void filled with insurmountable failure. For the first time in our lives, we could only surrender to God and have faith. And then you arrived, darling Orion.
You have strengthened our faith and showed us how God loves us. We will strive to be good stewards and show you that you too are loved by God. Your arrival was an arduous but eagerly anticipated one. Everyone prayed alongside us and rejoiced when you were conceived. We witnessed His perfect creation for you are everything we prayed for and more.
Be kind and loving. We live in a fallen world, separated by differences and judged by facades. When you look at us with complete trust and adoration, we are awakened to take another look at our tainted world through your lens of innocence.
Honour your legacy. Your paternal great-grandfathers came to Singapore and worked to their last breath to provide the best lives for us. We hope that, through us, you will learn their virtues of humility and hard work, and will not take your life for granted. Orion, just as you have brought light into our lives, we hope you will live up to your name and always be a shining beacon of hope to others by the Godfearing life you will live, even in the most challenging of days.
“Parenthood is full of paradoxes. Through you, we finally understand how much our aged parents sacrificed for us.”
GROOMING FOR BOTH SHA SHAMSI, USING KEUNE, AND ZOEL TEE, USING LAURA MERCIER CLOTHES (JUSTIN LIOK) VISCOSE SHIRT, POLY-STRETCH JACKET WITH MATCHING SHORTS AND LEATHER WEAVE LOAFERS FROM BOTTEGA VENETA SHUYI LIOK) COTTON SHIRT DRESS AND LEATHER WEAVE HEELS FROM BOTTEGA VENETA
CEO AND CO-FOUNDER OF SHIOK MEATS
IT’S TIME TO START RETHINKING THE WAY WE CONSUME MEATS AND SEAFOOD
Meat. Seafood. Dairy. Eggs. These are such an integral part of our daily diets. We cannot live without them. But the animals providing such produce are living and dying in horrible conditions. The US$7.3 trillion meat and seafood industry is tainted with factory farms, large scale fisheries, animal exploitation and cruelty, slave labourers and excessive use of antibiotics.
Take the shrimp and seafood industry, for example. I am going to share my first-hand experience of visits to some of the largest shrimp farms in the world. We have all seen the disgusting videos of slaughterhouses where cows, chickens and pigs are in overcrowded enclosures, subjected to cruelty and bad practices. But not many of us have seen how shrimps are bred.
In the oceans around us, they are bottom feeders, consuming dead fish and other marine creatures as they float by, as well as deep water plants and so on. The shrimp industry exploits this aspect by growing them in sewage water. Then cleans them with industrial bleach, dunks them into vats of antibiotics and packs them for human consumption. It is appalling. Seawater shrimp, on the other hand, are loaded with microplastics and have an alarming 1:20 ratio of by-catch. Sewage water, antibiotics, heavy metals, bleach and microplastics are elements that should never be associated with food but those are what we are putting into our mouths.
The world population is going to increase to 10 billion in the next 25 years and we need to feed all our fellow human beings. The solution my team and I are working on at Shiok Meats is cell-based clean meat that doesn’t compromise taste, flavour, texture or nutrition.
Clean meats are produced from stem cells extracted from animals in order to produce thousands of tonnes of meats in a controlled environment so that they are tasty, nutritious and sustainable. As they are produced from stem cells, their biological and chemical composition is exactly that of meat. What Shiok Meats offers is meat that comes from a different source for meat lovers as well as people who do not eat meat for ethical reasons.
An easy narrative has been put together by the industry to compare clean meats and seafood to plants and how they are grown in greenhouses. In the greenhouse, a small cutting of a plant is placed in a controlled, nutrient-rich environment. At the end of the day, what you get are still plants, vegetables and fruits with the same taste, nutrition and biological and chemical composition.
Similarly, for clean meats and seafood, stem cells have this amazing ability to keep reproducing in the right conditions. I am talking about trillions of cells in a controlled and sterile environment. In this case, a large chamber called the bioreactor. If you have seen breweries, you would have seen those huge stainless-steel tanks in which beer is brewed. Just imagine these huge tanks brewing meats and seafood instead.
Fascinated with this technology and passionate about contributing to the future of food, I co-founded Shiok Meats in 2018 with Ka Yi Ling. I have been working with various types of stem cells from my graduation through to my Masters, PhD and post-doctoral research work, and I wanted to produce clean, healthy and environment-friendly seafood using stem cells.
Ka and I started with an idea, a lot of passion and a little money. In six months, we had our first prototype – cell-based shrimp dumplings. They were delicious, succulent, sweet and had that umami flavour while being cruelty- and antibiotic-free. Our vision: to produce sustainable, delicious and healthy meats and seafood from cells with the same taste, nutrition and texture. So, before you put food in your mouth, think about where it came from and then make a conscious choice. All of us can make a difference.
“Sewage, antibiotics, heavy metals, bleach and microplastes are five elements that should never be associated with food.”
HAIR EILEEN KOH/HAIR PHILOSOPHY, USING KEVIN.MURPHY MAKEUP AMY CHOW, USING SHU UEMURA CLOTHES SRIRAM’S OWN
HO REN YUNG
VP, B RAND HQ OF BANYAN TREE HOTELS AND RESORTS
MINDFULNESS AND EMPATHY IN THIS DAY AND AGE
Every year on my birthday, I walk up a mountain. The darkness before dawn. Steps taking me to a peak that, in memory, mark certain points in my life, like tattoos. One such memory was of the wind-whipped sunrise on Beginning-to-Believe Peak in Huangshan. Another, the blue ocean of the Maldives where I shared an “intimate conversation”and prolonged gaze with a wild dolphin, clearly the head of its pod and infinitely curious about this creature (me) from another land.
Yet another was becoming a mother last year. Just before our son Rei was born, a friend asked me to close my eyes and articulate in my heart a wish for my unborn child. A moment of wondrous surrender, treading the line of “out there” and “in here” with visceral, incomplete and yet wholly embodied knowledge. What gifts did I wish for this fresh new being in a world that is increasingly both known and unknown? Simply, I wished for Rei to see the world as a beautiful place.
Why? A colleague recently shared a page of her son’s exercise book in which he responds to a question in class: “Is the world a peaceful place?” He writes in achingly sweet eightyear-old articulation: No, because Australia has forest fires, Indonesia has flood kill over 60 people, China hit by mystery virus, Iran and US are fighting, Philipians (sic) volcano eruptions. How then do we strive for peace in an overwhelming world, create a safe harbour for our young ones, hold a space for our own inner voices, and demand sustainability from our systems?
I begin with moments. Placing Rei on his back on sunlit patches of earth, his eyes squinting against the blue above. Now that he’s walking, we wonder together over his found saga seeds, stones, and pieces of wood in the forest behind where we live. Collecting them like precious totems, which I hope with tether him to a love for nature that grows as he rolls downhill into a world needing love. We protect what we love.
Moments flow into movements. One movement is for sustainability to start “in here”. The narrative is “out there” with an overwhelming number of disasters around climate change, deforestation and biodiversity loss, as well as an incomprehensible number of people whose lives will be at a perilous edge if we do not change. Changing the sustainability conversation to one that begins “in here” means cultivating love for what we seek to protect, celebrating nature, and creating connection and empathy for others beyond our own web.
The mindfulness movement has tremendous potential for being a practice that leads to enhanced sustainable behaviour. Much of the new surge is framed against promises of productivity, personal calm, and self betterment. This is in the context of an almost epidemic level of loneliness, depression and anxiety in the last five years. It is clear that now more than ever before we need a compass to navigate the “in here” against the chaos of “out there”. And yet, in the desire for this illusion of control, we may be putting up more barriers than ever.
I am often asked how to start a mindful movement, whether in one’s daily schedule, personal orbit of family and friends, or in an organisational rhythm. As leaders at every level, the answer is the same. Start with a moment. Start with yourself and then find people to share these moments with. This might be a moment with a friend, of taking a minute to arrive before having that coffee. A moment for yourself at the end of the day for gratitude. A moment with your team members after a huddle for appreciation.
One year ago, my mindful practice was sitting alone. Today, I start every morning by sitting with a friend. Sundays are Grass Days with our toddler son, often in nature, luxuriating in the silence of open awareness. I have spent a week in mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) teacher training with three team members first, and then facilitated a senior management session practice with 30, many of whom were entirely new to this.
We are sparking mindful practice in the service culture and mindset development of our 11,000 associates globally, and have engaged with a university to conduct a research study on the effects of mindfulness in hospitality – an industry where the product value is in the interaction between two human beings. We are also creating programmes for our guests to incorporate mindful aspects into nutrition, sleep, breath work and water therapy, as well as putting into place Well-being Wednesdays as a corporate policy. And we are articulating the greater good in our clarion call as corporate citizens because we believe there needs to be a paradigm shift in the discussion of what makes Good Business.
We belong to this earth; it does not belong to us. Mindfulness reminds us that we belong to each other. After reading this, dare to open your heart for a pause, close your eyes for a moment and envision your own sunlit patch of earth. Start now.
“We belong to this earth; it does not belong to us. Mindfulness reminds us that we belong to each other.”
HAIR EILEEN KOH @HAIR PHILOSOPHY, USING KEVIN MURPHY MAKEUP AMY CHOW, USING SHU UEMURA CLOTHES HO’S OWN
DIRECTOR AND FOUNDER OF BLUE SKY ESCAPES
BREAKING THE PATTERN OF WHAT YOU THOUGHT YOU KNEW
“I love them both equally,” muttered Pel. She was referring to her two husbands, both brothers. The women of Lay, one of the most remote mountain villages in Bhutan located at an elevation of 3,800m, practise polyandry and have multiple husbands.
“How does either husband know which child is biologically his?” I asked. “Well, my first child belongs to my first husband and my second to my second husband. My third child belongs to my first husband, and the pattern continues. We worked it out this way to avoid confusion,” she responded nonchalantly. How practical, I thought. Conversing with Pel, who looked about my age, challenged what I thought I knew about marital constructs. Lifelong monogamy was, in fact, a rare societal construct that had only taken root globally in recent centuries. The unravelling of my old patterns of thinking had begun.
Running a travel company founded on the ethos of immersing oneself in transformative experiences means that I’m constantly challenged to rethink what I thought I knew. For example, a safari lodge in Kenya had me rethinking sustainable, watersaving measures beyond the classic turn off the tap while you lather up way. The answer: bucket showers. A bucket was simply provided in the shower for collection of the initial outpour of cool water as you waited for it to turn hot. The water collected was then used to water the plants, wash the floors and so on. How could I have lived all these years in a “developed” society and not done this at least once? It’s hard not to become just a little bit more earth-loving from life on the road.
As it were, one could not have experienced a true mobile safari camp without having had a bucket shower. And, frankly, you only really need just that one bucket. These small yet impactful practices speak volumes as to how communities living more than 7,000km away think about the same issue, offering transformative insights into the psyche and heartbeat of a culture.
But the beauty of embracing that pattern-breaking lifestyle is that it rubs off on those around you, too. To my husband’s amusement, I returned from a retreat in Bali a vegan. “Are you seriously not having any cheese or prosciutto on your pizza?” He chuckled as I sheepishly ate a slice with just tomato spread and olives. I had to customise the pizza. If not, the only thing on the menu that I could eat was bruschetta. But a couple of months later, my husband – the redblooded carnivore who could never live a day without eating some form of animal protein – was, on his own volition, ordering Japanese shabu shabu, sans beef. He too, had begun to challenge what he thought he knew through the adoption of a plantbased diet.
“The more I know something, the more I know nothing!” Samir exclaimed, raising his hands to the sky as we navigated the terrain of the High Atlas mountains in Morocco. Samir, our guide from the Berber tribe, was explaining to me what he loved about his job. Indeed, there can be no end to what you know, and it is exactly the kind of curiosity emboldened by the growth mindset Samir had that made my hike in the High Atlas especially memorable.
Perhaps he was right – curiosity is all it takes. Over the years, I’ve chosen to embrace every day occurrences with an open heart and a hunger for experimentation. What I’ve come to find is that the adoption of a patternbreaking lifestyle is best accompanied by the harnessed ability to observe things as they are without judgment. If we could develop a meditative practice and view every curveball or discovery thrown our way as opportunities to stretch the realms of what we thought we already knew, wouldn’t that be extremely liberating? And if all of humanity succeeded at the unravelling of old patterns and fixed mindsets regularly, what might our world look like?
“Lifelong monogamy was, in fact, a rare societal construct that had only taken root globally in recent centuries.”
HAIR SHA SHAMSI, USING KEUNE MAKEUP ZOEL TEE, USING LAURA MERCIER CLOTHES COTTON DRESS FROM COS SHOES LEATHER AND CANVAS HEELS FROM MIU MIU
PHOTOGRAPHY TAN WEI TE ART DIRECTION FAZLIE HASHIM STYLING DOLPHIN YEO STYLIST’S ASSISTANT THOMAS HONG