The Weekly’s annual Great Women Of Our Time Awards aims to inspire the next generation, fuel entrepreneurial passion and galvanise women to be a force for change. In this 2018 edition, our roster of barrier breakers features 18 women from various sectors, from public service to business owners, who have achieved their success through strength, smarts, hard work and determination. Here are the nominees from the Sports, Health & Wellness; Design & Style; and Science & Technology categories BY NATALYA MOLOK & CANDY LIM-SOLIANO
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Agnes Kwek, 40
Executive Director, DesignSingapore Council
Agnes’ foray into design was in 2010 while doing research on public sector innovation. It was for a revamp of the Ministry of Manpower’s Employment Pass Services Centre using design thinking tools with IDEO (a global design company). “What struck me then was how the team was trying to make things work from the users’ point of view and help the users feel supported.” She adds, “If all government services were designed to make it easy for users, our public sector would be unbeatable!”
As Executive Director she’s led the Council by charting national policies on design. The mother-of-two, who also spearheaded the implementation of recommendations under the Design 2025 Masterplan, predicts many changes in the local design landscape over the next 10 years. “We will see Singapore-based companies pushing for greater innovation as their growth strategy, and the public sector using more design to deliver citizen-centric services. We will also see designers having a greater voice in the boardroom, and also making an impact on businesses and public services.”
Next month, Agnes will assume the role of DesignSingapore Council’s first Design Ambassador, based in Paris. Her new role will play a big part in deepening Singapore’s design networks. “I’ll be spending a large part of my time helping Singapore designers and design firms to go international by fostering collaborations and talent exchange. I’ll also be keeping a close watch on the latest trends and developments in the design industry that could be relevant for Singapore.”
Taking inspiration from nature, PANDORA invites you to walk through an enchanted garden, where dragonflies become beautiful pendants and the waves of the pond turn into stackable rings.
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Olivia Lee, 33
As a child, Olivia found that her aspirations were always shifting. “The list included artist, inventor, architect, scientist, comic artist, entrepreneur, and writer. But on hindsight, I realised they were all related to creation,” she shares.
It wasn’t till Olivia discovered the practice of industrial design that all her interests amalgamated and started to make sense for her as a lifelong profession. “I fi nally found a vocation that balanced all my desires and interests.”
And, it wasn’t long before Olivia’s work got noticed too. Last year, she made waves at the renowned Salone del Mobile Milano furniture fair in Milan with her 10-piece furniture and decor range, The Athena Collection.
Designed and presented as “future-proof” solutions for the technology-related habits of modern homeowners, the clever collection included a vanity table that could be used with interchangeable accessories like smartphone holders and mirrors, as well as a tactile rug that helps virtual reality gamers avoid walking into walls. Add to that Olivia’s refreshing “analogue” approach to the idea of a smart home – her designs contained no electronic products and would never require software updates.
“My creative process is driven heavily by concept,” she explains. “I’m most interested in asking questions that have not been asked, and telling stories in ways that have yet to be told. This is an approach that is not driven by ego or style – it is grounded by good exploration and insight.”
Not one who lets critics or discrimination get her down, Olivia says boldly, “If you deliver strong work, then gender is secondary. I treat negativity as noise. I think the best thing to do is to ignore any preconceptions about how you should be as a designer, insist on your existence, write the rules, dismantle stereotypes and be brave.”
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Goh Ling Ling, 44
Founder & Designer, Ling Wu
Ling Ling’s sense of style was shaped by the street fashion, flea markets and music she lived and breathed during her time (1995 to 1998) at Central Saint Martins College of Art & Design in London. A year later, after she graduated, she launched Ling Wu, a bag label borne out of her love for exotic skins and a need in the market for “relaxed or casual ones that looked cooler”.
Today, with a showroom at Chip Bee Gardens and a successful online shopping site, the mum-of-three designs bags that balance form with function. Ling Ling aims to craft timeless accessories for the modern working mother “who knows exactly what she wants”. Her bags are made from butter-soft leathers and hand-polished exotic skins that are sustainably-sourced and painstakingly rolled with glass bottles by artisans in Indonesia and Thailand, to retain the organic texture of the skin while giving it a soft, luxurious feel.
With her graphic design background, it’s inevitable Ling Ling gains inspiration from art and design. “Fashion, music, design, and art – they’re all intertwined,” she says. Travels are also a constant source of inspiration. “When I travel and source, the sights, sounds and habits of the people I come across in different cultures bring me new inspiration!”
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Vanessa Paranjothy, 29
Co-Founder, Freedom Cups
“Periods are everybody’s problem,” says Vanessa, adding that social beliefs and taboos surrounding menstruation add to the issues that women in less developed countries face. This includes having little or no access to feminine hygiene solutions.
That’s why Vanessa, along with her two sisters, co-founded Freedom Cups, a social start-up providing women in underprivileged communities with menstrual cups. Designed after a “buy one, give one” model, Freedom Cups are made of medical-grade silicone and can be reused for up to 12 hours each time, making them ideal especially for those living in rural areas with no toilets, electricity or running water. Also, priced 40 per cent lower than others in the market, each cup is made to last up to 15 years, replacing about 5,000 disposable sanitary products (the amount a woman uses on average in her lifetime).
Recalling her first project in the Philippines, Vanessa shares, “When we first visited, the village chief told us that we could only give them out to the married women because of the issue about virginity.” Vanessa stresses that the objective of her team is to educate women about their bodies and the importance of sanitation and hygiene, and to that end, they are respectful of different cultural beliefs. She realised the impact these cups had when mothers came to them asking for cups for their teenage daughters, by the end of the week’s session.
Aside from the sisters making it to last year’s Forbes’ 30 Under 30 Asia list, Vanessa won the Commonwealth Youth Award for Asia this April. She’s also met with political bigwigs, including Barack Obama.
Vanessa says her next goal is to scale up. “Giving out cups individually is not going to help us reach the billions of other women who need our help. So now that we’ve laid the ground and we know what we’re doing, we’re looking for partners to help us bring these cups out to many more women!”
Channel your inner queen with PANDORA’s Enchanted Nature collection, which features playful chain tassels and elegant swirls coming together in a collection fit for royalty.
ENCHANTED TASSELS EARRINGS; CHANDELIER DROPLETS NECKLACE; BRACELETS WITH CHARMS; AND CHANDELIER DROPLETS RINGS, ALL FROM PANDORA. DRESS FROM COVETELLA. SHOES FROM ROGER VIVIER.
Cassandra Chiu, 38
Founder, The Safe Harbour Counselling Centre
Cassandra’s personal struggle and triumph over her disability spurred her to start The Safe Harbour Counselling Centre to help people deal with emotional challenges and feel whole again, using psychotherapy.
Visually impaired since she was aged eight, due to an inherited degenerative eye condition called Stargardt disease, Cassandra recalls feelings of isolation and was ridden with many questions growing up. “Even at a young age, I understood that I was different; that I couldn’t do a lot of the things my peers could.” But, rather than dwell on her sorrows, she learnt to rise above daily challenges, and credits her mum’s brand of tough love for building up her sense of independence.
“My mother never cut me any slack because of my disability. She had the same expectations of me as she had of my brother, who is fully able-bodied. I had my fair share of household chores to complete, like washing the toilets and doing the dishes,” she explains. That fighting spirit she was brought up with continues to drive Cassandra who was the first guide dog owner in Singapore, and she has been a vocal advocate for a wider acceptance of guide dogs in our society. (She’s pictured here with Esme, her guide dog.) And amid that fighter is a heart for people. “I believe my purpose in life is to help the world be a slightly kinder place for the disabled community.”
She’s now set her sights on a new life coaching business called Actualised, which will focus on self coaching and professional development to help people realise their life’s purpose. She adds, “Hopefully, I get to spread that message of joy through my training.”
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Rujia Ali Shahul Hameed, 48
Nurse Clinician, Department of Continuing and Community Care, Tan Tock Seng Hospital
“When I wanted to go into nursing, my father was quite sceptical of my choice,” says Rujia. Being their youngest child and only girl in the family, he was worried about the low pay and demanding hours. But she eventually managed to convince her family and joined Tan Tock Seng Hospital as an Intensive Care Unit (ICU) nurse before moving to education and training. Today, she is a community-based nurse and treats patients in their own homes.
Rujia finds going into patients’ homes gives her a better understanding of their medical conditions. “The main difference is that when you give advice in their homes, they may not listen, whereas patients tend to be a little more obedient when in the hospital,” she adds.
Despite the challenges, she has pressed on, visiting up to six homes a day from 8 am to 5.30 pm over a five-day work week. While there, she conducts various health checks and tests for diabetes, blood pressure and physical stress.
Surprisingly, the hardest part of the job for Rujia initially, was getting over her own prejudices: The poverty she witnessed saddened her. “I had never seen people living in hardship (growing up),” she admits.
But, today she fully engages with her patients, having picked up Hokkien and other dialects: “Food and language bring a lot of people together. Without a common language to link me to my patients, how can I improve their lives? In this way, I can touch the community I’m dealing with in ways that will bring meaningful impact.”
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JEWELLERY FROM PANDORA. BLAZER FROM MASSIMO DUTTI. TOP AND PANTS FROM MANGO.
Dr Sherry Aw, 35
Independent Fellow, Institute of Molecular & Cell Biology, Agency for Science, Technology & Research (A*STAR)
Armed with a PhD in Biological and Biomedical Sciences from Harvard University, A*STAR scientist Dr Aw is currently set on finding the causes and potential treatment of age-progressive neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, using genetics, molecular and imaging techniques. This is to ensure our ageing population can cope with old-age onset diseases.
She’s conducting her research on the Drosophila fruit fly, which she claims shares 60 per cent of human genes. “We look into these tiny fly brains, to find the causes of and potential treatments for dying brain cells that lead to neurodegeneration. Using the fruit fly model is actually faster than studying human cells because it only takes 11 days for the Drosophila to grow from an egg to an adult,” she explains.
Despite the heavy subject matter of her research, Dr Aw still finds time to care for her two sons aged four and one. “While a career in the Sciences is demanding, it’s also simultaneously flexible,” she says. “It’s less rigid than other industries, in my opinion, because I’m still able to go to parent-teacher meetings or pick up my son from school if he suddenly falls sick.”
A supportive family helps, too. “My husband also works in the Sciences, so we have developed an understanding with each other and take turns to carry out a lot of parenting duties. At the end of the day, that’s what parenting is about: Teamwork.”
JEWELLERY FROM PANDORA. DRESS FROM COVETELLA.
Dr Eliza Fong, 32
Senior Tutor, Department of Biomedical Engineering, National University of Singapore
Dr Fong helms a five-man team of biomedical engineers. Their aim? Engineering liver tumours and testing anti-cancer drugs on them, to aid research scientists in their quest for a cure.
“Increasingly, in cancer research, we find that we can’t just use a one-drugto- treat-all approach for patients. For example, two patients may both be suffering from liver cancer, but patient A may respond to a drug very differently to patient B,” she explains.
Her research team hopes to develop a personalised approach to cancer treatments. While they are currently growing tiny liver cancer tumours in a laboratory setting, Dr Fong is optimistic her team is making incremental steps towards testing on cancer cells from real patients, and hopefully find a cure.
“One of the driving factors that led me into this particular research was realising cancer is actually much more prevalent than we think. There have been people in my family who have been affected by it; I know of people my age, who’ve been touched by it. Cancer can hit anyone from a young toddler to a motherof- three, to someone who is in their twilight years,” says Dr Fong, who is aware that finding a cure will be a long process, but hopes her research in bioengineering will contribute to that end.
As for being the female head of her team, Dr Fong says gender has never interfered with group dynamics. “I think that has a lot to do with who you choose to collaborate with. Women have to be able to be selective and be more aware of the people they work with. I lucked out in that I found people who were all supportive of my approach to the research programme. All of us also have the same goal in pushing the science forward to achieve our end target.”
Pretty In Pink
Make a statement with bursts of romantic pink from the PANDORA Rose collection. Whether it’s a pair of floral drop earrings or dainty charms dancing on a bracelet, it’s all you need for a timelessly glamorous look.
WILDFLOWER MEADOW DROP EARRINGS; PANDORA ROSE HEARTS OF PANDORA NECKLACE; BRACELET WITH CHARMS; AND ASSORTED RINGS, ALL FROM PANDORA. DRESS FROM H&M. BODYSUIT FROM PERK BY KATE. BELT FROM MANGO.
Lynette Tan, 38
Executive Director, Singapore Space & Technology Association (SSTA)
It’s hard to think of the Little Red Dot as a place where the space industry can thrive, but the SSTA is changing that perception.
Lynette, who oversees the running of the association, says, “Becoming a smart nation and tapping into the Internet for things, these all require space-borne assets,” she shares. “So, we set up SSTA in 2007 to raise awareness and interest in Singapore’s space efforts, which currently consist of getting satellites launched for surveillance and research purposes.” As of last year, the SSTA has launched seven satellites into orbit.
This is a personal milestone for the mother-of-two who has harboured a passion for the field of space technology since her youth. “I studied in the US where there was a correlation between space technology and how it drives innovation – I want that to be a reality for Singapore. We’re a technologically-advanced country that embraces innovation, so being involved in reaching for the stars should naturally resonate with us.”
Lynette recognises there is still gender inequality in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. She reveals, “I could see first-hand that as I moved up in my career, there were less and less women being represented at senior management levels.” She attributes this largely to society’s expectations of women being the primary caregivers. “Society needs to recognise that not all the responsibilities of parenting need to fall on the mother; only then can women truly thrive in their chosen careers.”
FASHION STYLING: AARON KOK, ASSISTED BY TAN GIN YEE / PHOTOS: VERONICA TAY AND VEE CHIN, ASSISTED BY GONG YI MING AND PHYLLICIA WANG / MAKEUP: HONG LING (USING NARS), KEITH BRYANT LEE (USING YSL BEAUTY) AND GINGER LYNETTE (USING LANCÔME) / HAIR: ASH LOI/ATELIER AND KENNETH ONG, USING KEUNE HAIRCOSMETICS SINGAPORE / FURNITURE: ETHNICRAFT ONLINE SINGAPORE / SPECIAL THANKS: NICKY LOH