Lifestyle

Meet your new Her World Young Woman Achiever 2014

She’s a photojournalist who gave up a secure stint at The Straits Times to document the disenfranchised in society, and managed to redefine success on her own terms. Meet this year’s newly minted Her World Young Woman Achiever!
 

Before we introduce you to your new role model, here’s what you should know about the judging benchmarks and prizes proper.

Speaking at a press conference on October 17, Ms Jennie Chua, chairperson of the judging committee, says the panel appraises the shortlisted candidates on qualities which are “universal and timeless, just to use two rather cliched words”.

When all is said and done, the Her World Young Woman Achiever award is accorded to women who are go-getters and ahead of the game; whose achievements in their working and public lives have made a mark on society; who are basically stewards of Singapore – challenging criteria, to say the least!

So yes, raise a glass to – drumroll, please – Sim Chi Yin, Her World Young Woman Achiever 2014:

SIM CHI YIN, HER WORLD YOUNG WOMAN ACHIEVER 2014: PHOTOJOURNALIST, PURSUER OF SOCIAL JUSTICE

From corporate pantsuits to the camera lens of a passionate photojournalist, meet Her World Young Woman Achiever 2014 recipient Sim Chi Yin. The 35 year old’s narrative will surely resonate with anyone who’s had to choose between conviction and a cushy career.

For one, Chi Yin’s CV reads like any employer’s consummate candidate: Brilliant academic credentials courtesy of a Masters in History of International Relations from the London School of Economics and Political Science; a promising start as a roving journalist at The Straits Times in 2001; before assuming the paper’s post as its Beijing-based China correspondent in 2007.

Then, in 2011, she decided to throw it all away. Speaking at the October 17 press conference on what must have been a gut-wrenching decision, Chi Yin says the move was a calculated choice of the riskiest order: “I thought long and hard before I handed in my resignation letter at The Straits Times, where I had a challenging but secure job as a foreign correspondent. But in the end, I went with heart over head, quitting a perfectly good job to become a freelance photographer, learning to embrace uncertainty in its many forms.”

‘‘EATING GRASS’ IN CHINA’

A calculated choice, and a choice that paid off almost immediately. The very same year she quit, Chi Yin was tapped to be part of the august American VII Photo Agency’s Mentor Program, where she was put through the ropes by renowned British photojournalist Marcus Bleasdale. Fast forward to 2014 and life’s come full circle, with Chi Yin being inducted into the VII, making her the first Asian photographer to be represented by the agency.

Along the way, Chi Yin has amassed an almost bewilderingly diverse body of accolades. To wit, and deep breath, now: The Discernment Award and the Eternal Discovery Award at the ICON de Martell Cordon Bleu Awards 2013, Singapore’s preeminent photography awards; a spot on award-winning photography magazine Photo District News’ list of 30 emerging photographers for 2013; and the British Journal of Photography’s list of 30 ‘Ones to Watch’ for 2014. Her work can now be found in prestige titles the likes of The New York Times, The New Yorker, TIME and Le Monde.

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The parade of plaudits came with its own baggage, of course, chief of which was a very Singaporean sense of parental worry: “My parents, rather horrified when I quit my secure job as a foreign correspondent for The Straits Times almost four years ago, have come around to being very supportive of the sometimes slightly crazy life I live – not least making sure I have enough cash flow for rent, and that I’m not, in my mother’s words, ‘eating grass’ in China.”

Chi Yin’s strength appears to stem from a soul-searing sense of social justice; it’s no coincidence that her most notable photo essays revolve around the shackled and subjugated, the deprived and disenfranchised. She’s documented the lives of everyone from migrant workers living in the squalid underbelly of Beijing to the very real fears and hopes of Indonesian women on the cusp of leaving their lives to become domestic workers in Singapore.    

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The riveted audience at the press conference announcing Chi Yin's win

‘A MORE MEANINGFUL WAY TO LIVE’

At the same press conference, Chi Yin told of the intimate impetus behind her search for, as she puts it, a “meaningful way to live”. Her family story, in her own words: “From my mother, I got my streak of independence and the spirit of just giving things a try. My father, who ran the library of the secondary school he taught at, brought home books and magazines like National Geographic, Time and Newsweek, which I devoured.”

“They were my first window to our vast and varied world, and extended my view well beyond our HDB flat and Singapore. They were also my introduction to journalism.”

What Chi Yin has done with this fascination with the world has been extraordinary, a transmogrification that’s perhaps the ultimate distillation of photography as art: “Today, I am still often awed and excited by what taking a picture really is: capturing that magical instant where time, light and human life intersect.”

Chi Yin is at the vanguard of the next gen of successful Singaporean women, fearless and utterly unafraid to do what they feel needs to be done. Indeed, the photojournalist herself recognises and appreciates her very unique place in history: “In Singapore, for some years now, we’ve talked about different definitions of success and of happiness. Coming out of the bread-and-butter stage of development, some of my peers have  been fortunate enough to be able to choose between different paths in life.”

Sim Chi Yin: Well worthy of being this year’s Her World Young Woman Achiever. Brava!

Find out who's the deserving champ of the Her World Woman of the Year 2014, and be sure to pick up the November issue of Her World Magazine for the full story!