What’s one thing that annoys Hsien-Hsien Lei ? Being called “such a scientist”.
“Once in a while, I still get comments like that,” says the chief executive of the American Chamber of Commerce in Singapore (AmCham), a Chinese-American married to a Singaporean. “Why do we dismiss the scientific point of view? If anything, science is more reflective of the real world than business, because businesses are so laser-focused on driving value.”
Despite her positions of influence in health and industry organisations across Asia and the US, Lei — who has an epidemiology doctorate from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health — is coy about calling herself an activist. Instead, she says, she’s an ‘advocate’, championing the importance of science to the business and policy fields.
What does that involve? One recent example: explaining the logic behind Singapore’s tight border policy to AmCham member companies amid the throes of Covid-19. “Businesses were really frustrated because they felt they needed to go out and meet customers. Then there was a period of time where those on work passes couldn’t re-enter the country,” she says.
“I would have to put my public health hat on, and explain that yes, it’s cramping your style, but we cannot have an open border because that brings disease in and leads to cases going up. A lot of people could not connect the two. In their mind, they’re thinking: I’m not sick. I see the case numbers going up, but that has nothing to do with me.”