Every year, The Singapore Women’s Weekly shines the spotlight on 18 outstanding, high-achieving working women in the Great Women Of Our Time awards. These inspiring pioneers and game-changers are making an impact in different arenas in Singapore. In this issue, meet the nominees in the Education & Public Service, Finance & Commerce, and Science & Technology categories.
Winnie Chan, in her 40s Founder and CEO, Bynd Artisan
Words such as “artisanal” and “traditional” can often be overused or misused, but they perfectly describe the business of Bynd Artisan, the brainchild of Grandluxe’s third-generation scion. “I want stationery to be looked at in a different light because we have upped the ante and made it sexy,” Winnie reveals. “Bynd Artisan is my way of providing our younger customers a tactile experience of choosing and making their own notebooks – something I want to preserve even as we enter a digital world.” Winnie’s strategy has given Grandluxe’s craftsmen – some of whom have worked at the 71-year-old book binding company for over 40 years – the opportunity to be retrained as artisans. Bynd Artisan products can now be found at Tangs, as well as its uber chic ateliers at Chin Bee Avenue and Holland Village, where popular weekend notebook-making workshops are conducted. The homegrown brand made its first international launch in Hong Kong last month.
It’s no longer enough to just ‘work harder’ or ‘be more efficient’…
“Bynd Artisan was borne as a retail concept that builds on the company’s old craftsmen’s experience in book binding and leather crafting. As an ‘old-school product’, we had to reinvent ourselves with a new business to stay relevant in a digital world.”
Many customers have found us via social media…
“When we first opened our Atelier, senior management staff told me to ensure that no customer took photos of the store in case they copied it. I had to change their mind-set, because we do want people to take photos and post them on Instagram. In fact, the number of Instagram hashtags has now become a KPI for the marketing department.”
The nicest gesture of appreciation I’ve received for my work was when…
“An 80-year-old retired printer, who used to work for my grandfather, visited me and gave me a thumbs up for the changes I have implemented and turned into reality!”
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Yvon Bock, 36 Founder and Managing Director, Hegen
From the mental and physical fatigue, to the struggles that mothers face when trying to keep up with breastfeeding after returning to work, Yvon’s been through it all. The mother-of-four drew on her own breastfeeding experience to create a revolutionary line of baby bottles, which are designed to simplify and enhance the nursing process. Born after almost five years of intensive research and development, the stackable bottles come with innovative features such as a patented no-screw-thread closure, twist-toopen bottle design, and interchangeable feeding and storage bottle lids. To make things easier, the unique square-shaped bottle can be closed with one hand. In 2014, the enterprising mumpreneur showcased Hegen bottles at Kind & Jugend, the largest baby products trade show in Germany. The first-of-its-kind bottle created such a stir, creating interest with importers in Europe and the US, as the bottles offered a feeding solution that allowed mothers to express-store-feed with a single container. In Hegen’s case, the adage “mother knows best” rings so true!
I want to make things easier for parents…
“Hegen was founded with the aim of designing meaningful products that advocate breastfeeding and enhance the breastfeeding journey for parents.”
My vision has always been about making a difference…
“If my products can somehow help breastfeeding mothers in their journey and increase the percentage of breastfeeding mothers and duration, this would be the greatest achievement I could possibly contribute to our future generations.”
There’s no point crying over spilt milk…
“Just before we were about to go into proto-typing Hegen bottles, we found out that our idea had slipped out into the market. Our initial designs became obsolete overnight! We were mentally demoralised and drained, but decided to relook at our design ethos – and came back stronger.”
Anisa Hassan, 44 Managing Director, IJL Asia; Founder, Nusantara Health Pte Ltd
The premature birth of Anisa’s eldest daughter prompted her career switch. “The ungodly hours of shiftwork destabilised my life,” shares the former Channel NewsAsia broadcast journalist turned award-winning entrepreneur. “Becoming a mother changed my perspective about what’s really important to me,” adds the mum-of-two, who took a two-year hiatus to focus on family and to think things through. In March 2004, Anisa gave birth to her second child, then flew off to US to complete a month-long training in preparation for the franchise business she had decided to embark on. It’s Just Lunch Asia, an upscale matchmaking agency for busy professionals, was launched in July 2004. Now 12 years on, her company has matched thousands of singles worldwide, and arranged over two million dates. Not one to rest on her laurels, the businesssavvy Anisa has also authoured two e-books about dating, and has recently launched Oobat, a range of doctordeveloped health supplements which use traditional jamu as the key ingredient.
Entrepreneurs are creators…
“We create solutions for problems that have not been overcome or effectively addressed. The entrepreneurial journey is long, winding, and very interesting. Be prepared to play full out, even when success is not apparent.”
Writing a book allows me to synthesise my ideas…
“And express them in a manner that can reach and benefit more people. I write to give people hope and optimism, and help create possibilities where all they see is the end of the rope.”
I look up to a lot of people, especially the self-made women…
I love to read about success stories, and how these women overcome odds to get to the pinnacle of their careers or chosen businesses. One day, I hope to become an inspiration to the world. It’ll be exciting to see how this kampong girl emerges on the other side.”
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Cheryl Chong, 30 Co-Founder, The Social Co (50For50)
Cheryl’s full-time job keeps her busy analysing and executing real estate investments and divestments. But as Vice-Chairperson and Director for Community Engagement of the Young Women’s Leadership Connection (YWLC), Cheryl actively leads communitydriven initiatives to engage her peers. As if that weren’t enough, the changemaker went a step further, and co-founded The Social Co with her good friend, Rebekah Lin. Together, they launched 50for50, a 19-month nation-wide campaign which ended in March this year. The initiative raised close to $2.25 million for 58 local charities, matched equally by the Government, hitting a remarkable total of $4.5 million. Cheryl and her team are now working on 1 For 1, a new fund-raising campaign to to get Singaporeans to donate $1 each.
The idea for 50For50 seemed idealistic and unachievable…
“But people came on board, trusted us, and went with it. We are so grateful and happy to have created a platform that activates timechallenged youths, who do care, to give back to society in creative, meaningful and sustainable ways.”
1 For 1 is a youth-led initiative…
It’s about rallying every single person in Singapore to donate $1 towards a good cause. The idea is to make giving easy, convenient, and almost second nature.”
Whenever I feel like giving up, I tell myself…
At the end of the day, it’s about the beneficiaries we’re trying to impact. I remind myself of the objectives we’ve set out to achieve, to focus on the good things, and to keep the big picture in mind.”
Fion Phua, 46 Founder, Keeping Hope Alive
For the last nine years, Fion and her team of volunteers have been knocking on the doors of one- and two-room rental flats at 7.30 am every Sunday, to see if residents living inside require help. On top of delivering rice to the needy, the group has provided families-inpoverty with groceries, assisted with overdue medical or electricity bills, and helped school children with their bus fares. Be it the cleaning out of bedbug-infested homes, to helping elderly folks who live alone to clip their nails, no task is beyond this big-hearted woman who takes it upon herself to seek out those in dire straits. In 2012, Fion, a selfmade club membershiop broker from humble beginnings, donated 50 branded bags worth $70,000 – in exchange for 6,500 5 kg-sacks of rice for the needy. Last year, the mother-of-one was also a recipient of the annual President’s Volunteerism and Philanthropy Awards.
Their stories tell me not to give up…
“I’ve discovered many hidden stories behind closed doors… child and spousal abuse cases, in addition to challenges faced by needy families. We will do whatever we can to help. One bag of rice may not help needy families solve all their problems, but this gives them hope to carry on with life.”
I don’t welcome cash…
“I don’t want people to donate money. No, I want you to come down. I want people to come out of their comfort zone and roll up their sleeves to help the people who need help.”
Always approach people with a humble spirit…
“If you go around asking people if they need handouts, many of them will reject you. I now ask for help when I knock on doors… I ask to be given a chance to learn to do something for someone else.”
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Jayne Nadarajoo, 47 Founding Director, Melbourne Specialist International School; White Lodge Education Group Services Pte Ltd; The Pantry @ Loewen Gardens
As a young mother back in 1999, Jayne realised that pre-schools in Singapore did not provide the learning environment that she was so passionate about. Having a wealth of knowledge from being a highly experienced early childhood professional, Jayne decided to start White Lodge Kindergarten, and adopted a learning ethic which focuses on an interactive curriculum, where the children learn by the experiences they encounter. Her then three-year-old son, Saktish, was her first student. An advocate for special needs integration, Jayne welcomed children with learning disabilities into White Lodge each term, and saw how they thrived in a small school setting. But their next school placement was often challenging due to the lack of available special needs schools in Singapore. This led the mum-of-two to launch Melbourne Specialist International School (MSIS) in November 2014, followed by The Pantry Cookery School, which provides vocational training and life skills programmes for the students of MSIS. Celebrating its 16th year now, White Lodge has since expanded to six kindergartens and two School of the Arts for young children in Singapore.
The opening of Melbourne Specialist International School is a personal achievement…
“I am for inclusive education, and all children having an equal right to education. Our special needs school caters to children four to 18 years of age, and I am working towards a vocational programme for our students aged 18 to 21 years.”
Let’s empower all individuals with special needs…
“Time and again, I hear horror stories about ugly customers who turn abusive and nasty, when a service is slow or a mistake is made. I hate to think that our society can only achieve success when there is a mandate with punishment – if this is so, then perhaps we should have a national campaign on ‘integrating individuals with disabilities into the society’, as we did with the courtesy campaign!”
As a parent I want my children to be independent…
“And hope that they will transfer their knowledge and skills towards self-sufficiency. In the same way, we are giving all our students at MSIS an opportunity to gain more confidence and practise their skills in a safe environment, before going out to the larger community.”
Associate Professor Ho Ghim Wei, 40 Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering, Engineering Science Programme, Faculty of Engineering, National University of Singapore
A materials scientist by training, Associate Professor Ho started her academic career fresh out of completing her PhD degree in Electrical Engineering at University of Cambridge. “I had to learn how to write research proposals to secure grants, set up and manage my own research lab and team, supervise undergraduate to PhD students, publish scientific papers, give lectures and tutorials, and contribute to various administrative services,” she recalls. Today, Assoc Prof Ho leads the Ho Research Group at NUS, with the aim of creating novel nanostructured materials for energy and environmental sustainability. These research thrusts are centred around the development of photoactive material for solar energy conversion devices and the search for renewable energy, some of the most critical 21st Century global issues. Assoc Prof Ho was recognised as an honoree winner in the Junior Chamber International Ten Outstanding Young Persons (TOYP) 2015 Awards, in the Scientific and/or Technological Development category.
I’ve never had a female mentor to guide me…
“I was once told not to waste my time in a STEM industry. That spurred me to work harder than my male colleagues to prove my competence.”
My work is of practical impact…
“I hope that my research eventually brings about affordable and viable solutions to the remote regions and to meet increasing demand for integrated sustainable technologies.”
I am inspired by enduring purpose…
“I hope to push advances in health and environmental benefits, and bring about greater recognition for the under-represented women in this field.”
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Associate Professor Sierin Lim, 39 Assistant Chair (Research), School of Chemical and Biomedical Engineering, Nanyang Technological University
In her role, Associate Professor Lim juggles the multi-faceted roles of a scientist, teacher, motivator, mentor, business manager, and writer. Her Bioengineered and Applied Nanomateirals Laboratory (BeANs Lab) focuses on the design, engineering, and development of hybrid nano/microscale devices from biological parts by utilising protein engineering as a tool. These nature-derived proteins are then used to deliver molecules (for example, for anti-cancer drugs, cosmetic actives, nutrients) and contrast agents (that enhance images during medical imaging procedures, such as MRIs). Says the STEM ambassador for the Singapore Committee for UN Women, “We can start off with a 50:50 ratio, but over time, some women switch fields or stop being involved.” She adds, “Societal support and systemic change are necessary to encourage more women to stay in science. For example, the recalibration of achievements versus time, may be one way of helping women to come back after a pause.”
My mum is my main driving force…
“When I was little, she used to drop my brother and me off at the science section of book shops. I started reading science books, and developed my interest from there.”
I feel fulfilled working towards something bigger…
“My co-workers and I are constantly working for the betterment of mankind. One day, I hope to see the fruits of my labour realised as products in the market, as a result of research produced by my lab.”
I persevere and keep an optimistic view on life…
“In reality, the experiments that we design don’t always turn out the way we expect them to, and it is absolute determination and perseverance, that helps me to push forward instead of giving up.”
Esther Wang, 28 Founder and CEO, Joytingle
While volunteering at a children’s ward in a hospital, Esther noticed that children with chronic illnesses were scared of having their blood taken. Trained as a product designer, Esther decided to create a solution to help them. With the help of the ACE Startups grant from SPRING Singapore, and incubation support from Social Venture Lab@NUS, she set up Joytingle in 2012. She then worked with the National University Hospital and KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital to invent Rabbit Ray. In a deliberate move, Esther chose to partner a local contract manufacturer that employs an older generation of Singaporeans. “These individuals bring decades worth of experience and immaculate workmanship to every Rabbit Ray,” she says. “Despite their age, their hands are deft with the blade.”
Rabbit Ray is a patient engagement device…
“Ideal for four- to eight-year-olds, it helps reduce their fear of needles. Children learn about phlebotomy (blood draw), vaccinations, plug setting and intravenous drip, and as they become more familiar with the medical procedures, they become less fearful too.”
The first Rabbit Ray play session was defining…
“I watched as the child looked at Rabbit Ray with intrigue, and after the play session, she was able to tell me the functions of the syringe and white blood cells".
It was a priceless moment.” I never intended to be an entrepreneur…
When Rabbit Ray was accepted in an international healthcare conference (Australia) for presentation, and shortlisted in the global top 15 for the James Dyson Award, I realised I had a winner in my hands. Besides being a designer, I’ve also become an entrepreneur, so that I can do justice to the ideas in my hands.” W