At the Great Women Of Our Time Awards 10th Anniversary last year, we crowned seven winners out of the 18 deserving finalists – read more about these inspiring women here
ARTS & MEDIA: Beatrice Chia-Richmond, Creative Director, 28th Southeast Asian Games
This year’s Great Women Of Our Time Awards was a homecoming of sorts for Beatrice. “When I hosted the gala dinner in 2008, I had the privilege to meet Mdm Halimah Yacob and listen to her most inspiring speech,” she recalls. “I also witnessed The Weekly’s unwavering support for women by celebrating and honouring their achievements.
“To return now as an award-winner is incredibly meaningful, as I have followed the award-winners on a yearly basis and learnt how this incredible pool of women has grown,” she says. “They never fail to inspire me.”
Beatrice, who helmed the 28th SEA Games opening and closing ceremonies at the Singapore Sports Hub in June, pulled out all stops to concoct the spectacular extravaganza of pyrotechnics, music and performances. The 41-year-old actress, director and producer has her next big project lined-up – the 2016 National Day Parade, which she directed back in 2011. It was “one of my favourite projects”, she reveals.
“To recharge, I spend time with my son. I hope to spend more time with him when NDP 2016 comes around because I really missed him during hectic periods!” shares the mum-of-one.
EDUCATION & PUBLIC SERVICE: Mrinalini Venkatachalam, Head of Public Awareness and Youth Initiatives, Singapore Committee for UN Women
A few days before her shoot with The Weekly, Minnie (as she’s affectionately known to friends) gave birth – a week earlier than she expected – to her first child. Ahalya, Mrinalini’s daughter with her banker husband, Vinay Balakrishnan, is now nine months old. The proud 30-year-old mum gushes, “She has a strong personality and is already expressive, alert and vocal for someone so young!”
These are the very same traits that have made Mrinalini so successful at her job. As Head of Public Awareness and Youth Initiatives at the Singapore Committee for UN Women, she spearheads efforts to promote awareness of women’s issues, such as trafficking and domestic violence. In addition to lending hands and heart to underprivileged women, she also seeks to engage our youth in social change, and help shape their social perspectives.
Among the programmes that she’s helped push forward, is Businesses Against Trafficking In Persons (BIZ@TIP). The campaign aims to raise an awareness and understanding of human trafficking and its relevance to Singapore, so that companies can better develop ways to combat it. It also fosters collaboration between businesses, to create
an anti-human trafficking environment.
In 2016, BIZ@TIP will reach out to business school students across Singapore. Its purpose is to help these students develop effective strategies that they can implement, when they become future leaders in the industries that are most affected by human trafficking.
“What drives me is seeing women take the lead on social issues that the world faces today and the immense impact they have achieved,” says Mrinalini. “I’m also motivated by the knowledge that there are youths among us who could, in the future, fill the shoes of these women and create an even better world.”
HEALTH, SPORTS & WELLNESS: Choo Ling Er, Professional Triathlete
A little over two weeks before the Great Women Of Our Time Awards gala event took place, Ling Er completed the Kona Ironman World Championship in 11 hrs 00.55 mins, becoming the fastest Southeast Asian in her age group.
The 28-year-old did not expect to top her category. “I had no expectations; I was simply glad to be in the mix,” she says. “So it was a huge surprise when I heard my name! My win was nostalgic… it felt just like it did when I won my first Ironman tournament in Korea.”
Ling Er says that the award has spurred her to do even more to encourage other women to pursue a fit and healthy lifestyle, her story itself is already an inspiration.
A car accident in 2009 broke both her legs but Ling Er defied doctors’ expectations and launched a victorious comeback within a year. Although she spent only four months training for the Philippines 70.3 race, she was the first to cross the line for her age group. In 2013, the triathlete decided to go professional.
She attributes her success to that “fine line between my stubbornness and my determination, which pushes me past new boundaries”, but credits her fiance and manager, Alan Soh, who she draws strength and support from. “He assured me that being a full-time triathlete was a sound choice, and helps me manage things like sponsorship and administration, so that I can focus on training and racing,” Ling Er reveals. “He also never stops encouraging me.”
FINANCE & COMMERCE: Clara Cheo, CEO, Golden Village Multiplex and Golden Village Pictures
This industry dynamite gave herself only a 50 per cent chance of winning in her category, but her endeavours to propel Golden Village forward and position it as the go-to cinema for this generation of digital-savvy movie-goers, didn’t go unnoticed by the judges.
“I didn’t think so much about winning the award,” she says humbly. “Being chosen as a finalist was already a wonderful form of recognition for me. I’m truly honoured to be associated with all the outstanding women who have received it, and I hope that, together with other winners, we can be role models to inspire other women to achieve their dreams too.”
Indeed, Clara’s illustrious career has been about working hard and thinking smart. After joining Golden Village in 1996, she helped to set up an accounting system and put in place processes for every outlet to greatly improve efficiency. Clara was promoted to Financial Controller in 1999, followed by Chief Financial Officer in 2010.
Since stepping into the role of CEO in 2013, she has continued to push out interesting and innovative concepts and products. These include an iGV mobile app, which enables consumers to purchase tickets via smartphones, complete with QR code tickets. Last year, the company also rolled out Singapore’s first D-Box motion seats, which are motion-fitted to complement the action on screen, for an immersive experience.
Indeed, keeping up with innovation has kept the 50-year-old at the forefront of Singapore’s entertainment industry. But the mother of two teenage boys remains grounded. “I am just one of the many career women who juggle work and family commitments at the same time,” she says. “One needs multi-tasking skills to get through both the nitty-gritty at home and the demands at the office, in addition to support from a team of great people.”
SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY: Dr Ong Soh Khim, Associate Professor, Department of Mechanical Engineering, National University of Singapore
As an ambassador for the Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics (STEM) programme by the Singapore Committee for UN Women, Dr Ong helps to galvanise a new generation of women to pursue an education and a career in these fields.
“Our work goes toward dispelling the perception that women are not suitable for jobs in STEM. Gender traits imposed and implied by the society mean females are seen as emotional and empathetic, hence non-competent in these industries,” she explains. “By encouraging more women into science and engineering, we can narrow this perception and equalise the roles of men and women.”
When the 40-something is not lecturing or researching, she speaks at seminars, gives talks, conducts workshops and serves as a mentor at schools and learning institutions. She also attends discussion sessions at companies to give insights on gender diversity in technology.
In August, she conducted a workshop for a leadership conference at a secondary school. She shared with the 45 pupils her experience in engineering and how it offers opportunities for leadership, among others.
This was followed by a hands-on session, during which they competed to build the tallest and sturdiest tower with recycled paper. “It was awesome and amazing to see how these pupils used their innovativeness and creativity to fulfil their objective,” Dr Ong says.
The conviction with which she pours herself into her task has given rise to a confidence that is not only inspiring – but refreshingly candid too.
“I deserve this award,” says Dr Ong, who was also the first Asian female to be elected as a Fellow of the International Academy for Production Engineering in 2012. She adds, “This award is a recognition of my efforts and achievements through the years of hard work. Many women tend to attribute their success to luck and being likeable… Women should tell themselves, ‘I am not just lucky. I deserve this.’”
DESIGN & STYLE: Janice Tan, Executive Architect, Urban Redevelopment Authority
Winning a Great Women Of Our Time award caps what Janice describes as “a year of immense professional growth for me”.
She is now part of the team working on the Rail Corridor, a 24 km trail that served as the train route between Tanjong Pagar Railway Station to Malaysia from 1932 to 2011. In March last year, URA invited design professionals to develop a concept master plan and concept proposals for the Rail Corridor. The aim is to transform the Rail Corridor into a community space that both reflects its heritage as a former railway track, and protects its rich greenery.
Janice says, “It is an extremely challenging project that operates both at a national level and on a community scale, since an estimated one million people live within a 1-km radius of the Corridor.”
Outside of the office, work does not halt either. Together with some friends, Janice participated in an international design competition, Cambodia 2015, which called for proposals for a floating structure on the country’s Tonle Sap Lake, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is home to over 1.2 million people. The site caters to medical aid, ecological research and environmental education.
“The Tonle Sap Lake project made me realise that the world is such an inter-connected place, and the problems that our ASEAN neighbours face will inevitably affect us too,” Janice shares. “As a designer who believes in the altruistic potential of the field of urban design, there is a propensity for my work to extend beyond Singapore’s shores.”
And while the 34-year-old is a role model for other women, she insists she has some way to go. “I have come to realise that ‘greatness’ is earned, not owned…” says Janice. “I’m inspired to do more, by using my abilities to improve the lives of others. Give me some time – I may not be there yet, but I believe that one day I will be.”
MOST INSPIRING WOMAN: Jennifer Heng, Director and Founder, DaySpring New Life Centre
Set up in November 2014, DaySpring New Life Centre provides help for women in distress over unsupported pregnancies, as well as pregnancy counselling and referrals for family and social services. The early days were fraught with difficulties – including criticism that there was no demand for such services in Singapore – but Jennifer and her team held fast to their vision and soldiered on.
Jennifer’s conviction was rooted in her personal experience – as a teenager, she had gone through two abortions and struggled with the guilt that followed.
“I hope to bring more awareness to the fact that children are not an inconvenience or ‘accident’, and that there are no ‘unwanted’ children. Every child is wanted, even if not in his or her birth family, then it could be in an adoptive family,” she says.
The 39-year-old’s endeavours struck a chord with The Weekly’s readers, who voted her as 2015’s Most Inspiring Woman. Calling herself “simply a conduit of the message”, the Education & Public Service nominee stresses that more can be done to help women with unsupported pregnancies.
“We need to bring the issues to the surface and dialogue respectfully, with the aim of finding solutions,” says Jennifer, who is married with a four-year-old daughter.
“It’s tempting to simplify, but the issues surrounding the women we reach out to, are complex. The culture of shame that’s prevalent in our Asian society, also disempowers people,” she explains, “But with open discussions, we can begin to emerge from the shroud of shame and deal with these issues head-on.”
Jennifer is looking forward to the day when unsupported pregnancies become treated as a family issue. “It takes two to conceive a child but often, we focus so much on the woman and the child, that the man seems irrelevant. We must begin to engage all members in the family, with policies to facilitate this engagement. A child needs both mother and father.”