Changing Live

These women in Singapore are bringing about positive change in society through the work they do. Meet Christine Amour-Levar and Kuik Shiao-Yin

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

These women in Singapore are bringing about positive change in society through the work they do. Meet Christine Amour-Levar and Kuik Shiao-Yin

Blouse from Karen Millen. Skirt with front slit from Alice + Olivia. Bracelet and earrings, all from Swarovski.
Blouse from Karen Millen. Skirt with front slit from Alice + Olivia. Bracelet and earrings, all from Swarovski.

“We are all ordinary people who want to do extraordinary things. I believe we can all make a difference, one person at a time.”

Christine Amour-Levar, 43, Co-founder, Women On A Mission

Together with her friends, Christine co-founded Women On A Mission (WOAM), a non-profit organisation that combines challenging, selffunded, expeditionary travel to remote locations, to raise funds and awareness in support of humanitarian causes. Since 2012, Christine and the WOAM team have conquered the Everest Base Camp, the Wadi Rum desert in Jordan, the Himalayan Tsum Valley, and the frozen Gulf of Ob in Siberia. Christine is also a Marketing Consultant for Temasek Trust (the philanthropic arm of Temasek Holdings), and the Chief Marketing Officer of iRaceMedia. This amazing mum-of-four authored The Smart Girl’s Handbook to Being MUMMYLICIOUS, a motivational guide to post-pregnancy fitness.

You started WOAM with your friends, Valerie and Karine. How did you come up with the idea of empowering women by challenging yourselves?

“In 2012, after Valerie, Karine and I trekked to Everest Base Camp with six other adventurous women, raising awareness and funds for women survivors of war, we felt the whole experience was so transformational and meaningful that we decided we simply could not stop there. So we decided our mission would be to continue to inspire women to leave their comfort zone, their families and homes for a certain period of time, while pushing their limits in an effort to rally support for a worthy cause. As a result, Women On A Mission was born, and it evolved naturally into something bigger and more meaningful.”

How does WOAM’s expeditions raise funds?

“We raise funds via our treks and events. Prior to each expedition, each new team member sets up an individual fundraising page that is directly connected to a charity we support. We also organise fundraising events in Singapore with the support of sponsors and often conduct auctions, sell tickets or collaborate with artists on projects. Recently, at one of our fundraisers for the UN, we hosted Dr Anousheh Ansari, the first self-funded woman astronaut to fly into space, and last November 2015, as part of our fourth expedition, we trekked in Siberia with the nomadic Nenets reindeer herders of that region. This was the first time in history that an all-female team accompanied the Nenets on one of their yearly 60-km journey across the frozen Gulf of Ob, which is a bay of the Arctic Ocean located at the mouth of the Ob River, deep in the Arctic Circle in northern Russia.”

WOAM has conquered some of the toughest treks in the world. What’s up next in 2016?

“This year, we are looking at another very exciting expedition. We’re aiming to become the first allfemale team to trek across Iran’s Lut desert. It is the hottest place on earth with record ground temperatures measured at 70.7 C, and also one of the world’s driest places. This expedition takes inspiration from some of the world’s celebrated explorers like the great Marco Polo and British explorer Wilfred Thesiger. During this next journey, we will be traversing vast star dunes, uneven meteorite fields and gigantic salt plains travelling an average of 25 km per day during a period of 10 to 12 days. It’s going to be quite the adventure!”

Dress from Karen Millen. Necklace and earrings, all from Swarovski
Dress from Karen Millen. Necklace and earrings, all from Swarovski
What drives your team forward when the going gets rough?

“International statistics show that one in three women experience physical violence in their lifetime, and worldwide, up to 50 per cent of sexual assaults are committed against girls. Annually, two million women and girls are trafficked, while girls make up two-thirds of children who are denied primary education. These challenging expeditions help to raise funds and awareness for women survivors of war and abuse (who we champion via an organisation called Women for Women International). In addition, we also organise inspirational events and workshops here in Singapore, and in Nepal. To date, we’ve raised more than half a million dollars for the causes and organisations that we support, such as AWARE, the Singapore Committee for UN Women, and Aidha, a local NGO that empowers domestic workers.”

What is your vision for WOAM?

“We want to keep growing our network of volunteers and increase our support of AWARE’s sexual assault care centre, and the Singapore committee for UN Women’s anti human trafficking initiatives. We also hope to get more involved regionally in programmes that will help abused women in my home country, the Philippines. Ultimately, I hope that the work we do will encourage more women to speak out about issues that are important to them. I also wish for more men to get involved with gender violence issues – sexual assault, domestic violence, sexual harassment and sexual abuse of children are often seen as women’s issues when, in fact, they are also men’s issues.”

As a working mum of four kids, how do you balance it all? You even found time to write a book! What’s your day like?

“I try to be very organised and each week’s schedule is planned out very carefully. It includes time for all my work projects, which are numerous and quite diverse; what needs to get done for the children in terms of their school work; extra curricular activities; doctor’s appointments; play dates; and birthday parties, as well as time for me to exercise and do errands; fit in my work appointments; and finally, time to read; write articles; connect on social media; and work on my second book. Each day is different and there’s never a dull moment. Generally I pack in as much as possible in one day.”

Any personal tips on time management?

“For the last 15 years or more, I have religiously handwritten all my goals, resolutions, dreams and favourite quotes in a notebook. I take it out every weekend and reread it to get a renewed sense of inspiration and direction. I find that this helps me to focus my energy on what I want to work on for that year.”

With so many balls to juggle, how do you stay connected to your kids?

“I still read stories before bedtime to my two younger children who are eight and six years old, it’s something they still enjoy very much and which I used to also do with my two older children, now 15 and 13, when they were younger. I try to schedule one-on-one time for a special outing with each of my four children once every couple of weeks. And whenever the school needs a parent volunteer for a special outing, I try to go as often as possible since it makes the child so happy to have their mum with them. It also allows me to get to know their classmates a little better.”

What would you say to someone who’s keen to bring about positive social change – but unsure of where to start?

“I believe everyone has a distinct mission inside him or her, one that has the capacity to inspire. Ask yourself this question: What is your mission in life? Sit down and think about what you truly love, and how you could contribute to society with your own special talents. So if there is something you have been wanting to start, don’t hold back. If there is an opportunity that presents itself to make more of a difference, reach out for it with all your heart, now is the time.”

Dress and necklace, all from Dorothy Perkins.
Dress and necklace, all from Dorothy Perkins.

“Nothing belongs to me and me alone. All that I have been given is for the purpose of blessing someone else in the world.”

Kuik Shiao-Yin, 39, Co-founder and Creative Director, The Thought Collective

Shiao Yin is an entrepreneur who built a series of ventures on all things good. Together with two partners, she runs The Thought Collective, a group of social businesses that explore new ways of making Singapore braver, kinder and stronger. Starting with the School of Thought (a tuition centre that advocates empathy and civic-awareness), the business expanded into an umbrella of social ventures including Food for Thought (a socially-conscious restaurant group that has been supporting nine children in less developed nations through World Vision’s Area Development Programmes since 2007), Think Tank, Think Scape, and Common Ground. Shiao- Yin is also a board member at *SCAPE (which focuses on youth development), and sits on the management committee of (which looks at building up interracial and inter-religious harmony in Singapore). With just the right mix of idealism, creativity and business skills, this changemaker proves that today’s entrepreneurs are indeed making the world a better place.

The School of Thought was borne from the idea of bridging social and market gaps. Since then, you’ve expanded the business across multiple platforms. Where is this all headed?

“We started the company in our 20s out of gut instinct. We’d met through volunteering for our university’s crisis hotline, so we already shared a common hope to do something to help people deal with their emotional problems. As teachers in the private and public sectors, we noticed a social gap – many youths were coming out of the education system apathetic, learning to care only for their own grades and own success rather than the success of their family, community, their world, or their nation. The market gap then, was that nobody was offering General Paper as a tuition subject because of the assumption that it was impossible to teach ‘maturity’ about current issues. Interestingly, General Paper presents a unique chance for youths to learn about why the world is broken in so many aspects, and what ordinary people can do to be a part of the solution. We wanted to help develop the knowledge, empathy, and initiative of the next generation. Those three words are still the core objectives of The Thought Collective today. We evolved into the different businesses because we needed multiple touch-points to reach young people and young adults – running a school only had its limits of outreach. Today, we are running a school, designing public engagement exhibitions, developing learning journeys, running restaurants and producing various media, events and programmes. Our mission has broadened, but everything that we do is about the business of empathy and resilience. My hope for The Thought Collective is that we find a way to better structure and document what we do, so that we can translate our work to other countries. We want to create a cross-cultural social franchise model for youth development that can strengthen the social and emotional capital of other Asian cities.”

Everyone faces stumbling blocks along the way, what were yours?

“The biggest stumbling blocks we will encounter in our lives is really within ourselves. I will always struggle with feeling inadequate and unworthy of accomplishing the grand goals we have set for ourselves. But I have learnt that when it comes to creating meaningful change, the harvest is plenty, yet the workers are few. If I keep getting the opportunities to do good work, then I will receive the opportunities with gratitude. Knowing my inadequacies will help me stay humble and everlearning, so that I can do better work.”

With 14 years of entrepreneurial success under your belt, what has your experience taught you?

“Entrepreneurship is not for everyone. It puts you in a position to be at the front of the wheel and you see the action in all its crazy, fun, and honestly, frightening glory. Not everyone finds that interesting or exciting. And frankly, you don’t have to be an entrepreneur to make a difference. All I care about is that people find their strengths and calling in life, and have the courage to live them out. If you are a great stay-at-home mum and feel called to do so, then do it with joy and confidence. If you are built to excel in a certain profession and don’t feel called to be a boss, then do that with joy and confidence.”

In addition to juggling work, you’ve also taken on the role of a Nominated Minister of Parliament. What are your NMP responsibilities like?

“They include attending Parliament sittings once a month. That can last for at least two days. Aside from that, it is a personal choice as to how much time you want to spend on researching issues, talking to your community in your own version of ‘Meet The People’ sessions, and translating what you discover into Parliamentary Questions or speeches. It does help somewhat that part of my regular work already involves reading and researching into current issues.”

Top; skirt; and necklace, all from Warehouse.
Top; skirt; and necklace, all from Warehouse.
You’re a ‘mumpreneur’ with a toddler, what’s your strategy for keeping things in check?

“I try to leave work on time and I refuse to work on weekends. I’ve started a new habit of getting up at 5 am to get in personal quiet time to pray, journal and get centred on the work I need to do for the day. I’m usually working between 8 am to 8 pm, and work mostly consists of meetings, appointments, writing, speaking, creating and thinking. I never manage to finish my to-do lists, and there are always new things that get added to it. When I am on holiday, I am on holiday - no checking of emails or Whatsapp for work-related things, although I am definitely contactable in any work emergency situations. I write down familyrelated to-do items, like ‘read storybooks’, in my work to-do list, to remind myself it is just as important to accomplish.”

What life goals are you working towards?

“I had a life goal in my 20s to someday support 100 children in 100 different countries. I don’t know if I’ll ever get there. Recently, I’ve started giving to Rural Orphans Widows AIDS Network in Uganda as well. I believe philanthropy starts at home, but it should also cross borders so that we can see we are all constituted of one another.”