They say empowered women empower women, and there’s nothing quite like learning from other successful women to guide our journeys.
Through interviews with Her World, these inspiring influential women shared some of their most important learnings that they have amassed through a wealth of experiences and trial and error. We’ve compiled their valuable advice, which proves relevant to numerous facets of our daily lives – whether navigating the workplace, managing home life, engaging in volunteer work, promoting peace, or fostering wellness and a positive body image.
Today, Chia Yong Yong is a respected advocate who has lent her expertise to a number of agencies and boards in the social service sector, to champion the equal treatment of people with disabilities in Singapore. Her interest stems from her own disability: She has peroneal muscular atrophy, a condition that damages the peripheral nerves and causes the muscle tissues in her limbs to be progressively weakened.
The practising lawyer and consultant believes that beyond building the hardware, the onus to build an inclusive society begins with each citizen. She refers to the term “social compact”, which urges people to look inwards at their own behaviour, and principles of right and wrong.
“The social compact is not a choice – it’s not akin to someone choosing to buy a handbag or phone,” explains Yong Yong. “It is an integral part of our citizenship right and obligation,” she continues. “Far from thinking that if I were involved in volunteer work today, I am doing somebody a favour – I see it in a manner in which I am only fulfilling my obligation to my fellow citizens, just as one day, hopefully, another citizen will fulfil his or her obligation towards me.”
Wu Ye-Min joined the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue (HD) in January 2022 as the regional director for South and Southeast Asia. The non-profit organisation specialises in resolving armed conflicts around the world through mediation and discreet diplomacy.
One of the tricks to a successful negotiation is warmth, she reveals. “If you’re meeting someone new, you treat the person as a human being beyond the flag or organisation they represent. Exuding warmth helps them to understand that you are also a human being, and that’s where the connection begins for diplomacy to happen.”
As the saying goes, honey catches more flies than vinegar. “After the trust has been built, that’s when you go into the more difficult and complex issues. We’re not, in any way, saying what they do is right, but we believe that dialogue can be the solution to bring peace rather than more fighting.”
Being the first to break glass ceilings is never easy. It takes grit and guts, two qualities that 31-year-old Farhanna Farid has in spades.
She has broken several world records, including the 200.5kg deadlift for the under-52kg category at the International Powerlifting Competition last year in South Africa.
However, the journey has not been easy: There were plenty of barriers to entry, including the lack of representation, lack of awareness, high costs of competing, and perceptions that this was a manly sport.
“The misconception back then was that women who go to the gym will start to look like men, and that having a bulky physique is unnatural for women. When I first started working out, I went through a transition period where I gained some muscle mass and looked a bit thicker than I was used to.
It was daunting to go from being a petite woman who weighed about 46-48kg to going beyond 50kg. However, she says that she was lucky to have a partner “who valued my physical and mental well-being above all else”.
She adds: “Despite how unnerved I was about how I looked, I felt good and strong, and that was what mattered most. It took some time to adjust to my new body, but the benefits of feeling healthy and confident far outweighed any negatives.”
No matter your profession (or inclination towards technology), there is a chance that you might have already encountered one of Camellia Chan’s inventions. The co-founder and CEO of Flexxon – a leading cybersecurity and computer memory storage solutions firm based in Singapore – is a self-taught cybersecurity expert who has developed NAND flash storage and memory devices that are encrypted with top-notch data security.
Camellia believes that the most important way to empower women in the tech industry is to lead by example.
“When I gather with other women, I always share my own experiences and the challenges I faced. I help them see that they can not only survive, but also thrive and achieve success in the tech field.
“Certainly, there are challenges in the industry, and women continue to be under-represented, especially in STEM fields. However, I see awareness growing, and more women are stepping forward into the tech field each year.
“Ultimately, what matters most is your hard work, not your gender. Your ambition, perseverance, and dedication are what make a difference in building a business that provides value,” shares Camellia.
As a child, Singapore-born Lynette Tan was fascinated with space. At the age of five, she made her first “space rocket” out of an oversized cardboard box that she found at home and spent hours playing in it, envisioning herself travelling through the cosmos and being among the stars.
In 2007, Lynette sought to bring that roadmap to life. She says: “I joined a few other space enthusiasts, who were literally pioneers of the space industry in this part of the world. Back then, there was no commercial space sector to speak of. It was the perfect opportunity to do something brave and bold.”
Together, they co-founded Singapore Space & Technology Limited (SSTL), a non-governmental space organisation based in Singapore within the aerospace industry. It was a pioneer in South-east Asia’s space sector, being one of only two local space companies to venture into a non-existent space industry in Singapore.
Lynette hopes that more women leaders in the Stem space will share their experiences to help pave the way for other women to join the industry. As for herself, she takes time out of her schedule to speak at women’s conferences. She also mentors and encourages teens who are interested in being a part of the field.
“There is a global talent crunch across virtually every industry,” she notes. “In space, that talent crunch is far more acute – several times over, in fact. For the space industry to flourish, we need to help young talent understand the opportunities available, and nurture their interest in space from as early on as possible.
“This is something that I’m deeply passionate about. Contributing a deep bench strength of great talent is one of the most critical ways that Singapore is going to be able to participate in the global space economy,” says Lynette.
Sustainability might be a trendy buzzword today, but this was not the case a decade ago when Farizan d’Avezac De Moran set up GreenA Consultants, a consultancy that advises companies on how to meet their sustainability goals.
For Farizan, meeting challenges head on is par for the course. “I perform better in a challenge,” she says. Decades of often being the first or only woman in the room, whether as an engineer or a sustainability expert, has taught her how to manage misogyny. “I don’t deal well with men’s egos,” she says.
Over the years, she’s learnt how to wield her authority: “I have this awful silence that some people say is quite scary. I sit and I listen, and then I summarise all the points in the end. Silence can [indicate] strength – when you speak, choose very carefully when you speak, and how you speak. Silence can mean many things. It keeps people on their toes.”
Professor Jackie Yi-Ru Ying’s achievements allude to her ethos: The illustrious nanobiotechnology scientist has 200 primary patents and patent applications under her belt (and counting). Throughout her 32-year career, she has been a recipient of numerous accolades, the most recent include the prestigious King Faisal Prize – the award honours outstanding individuals in service to Islam, the Arabic language and literature, science, and medicine – and, of course, Her World’s 2023 Woman of the Year award.
To date, 42 of Prof Ying’s 200 primary patents and patent applications have been licensed to multinational companies and start-ups for nanomedicine, cell and tissue engineering, medical diagnostics and energy applications. Her 391 publications have received more than 48,820 citations.
To put these achievements into perspective: The average number of patent applications per inventor is three, according to Professor Dennis Crouch from the University of Missouri School of Law, while an Institute for Scientific Information paper is considered in the top 10 per cent when it has been cited over 100 times over a 10-year period.
Working with her is akin to training for the Olympics, says Prof Ying, who has taught at Boston’s Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where she was the university’s youngest full professor in chemical engineering at the age of 35.
She likens her approach to being a coach: “For example, if you have to do this high jump, I will keep on raising the bar. It’s very difficult – if you’re not trained to a certain level, there is no Olympics for you, ever.
“I always tell my students that you have to think twice if you want to go into research, because it’s easier to study for a PhD. If you want to excel, you must be operating at a world-class level. Having a PhD is like a passport, but it’s useless if you’re not pushing boundaries and tackling significant problems. The real impact comes from addressing vital, unsolved problems.”
The world’s most successful entrepreneurs, including Steve Jobs and Arianna Huffington, are no strangers to failure. Caecilia’s story does not deviate far from their experiences. She had always worked hard in school, as her parents had taught her that being hard-working would eventually lead to success.
At 19, she secured a scholarship to The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, one of the best business schools in the world, with an alumni list that includes billionaire Warren Buffett and Google CEO Sundar Pichai.
She returned to Hong Kong upon her graduation in 2005, and worked at Citi Group’s growth capital investing division, before moving on to consulting firm McKinsey & Company, where she advised financial institutions on product and growth strategies. At McKinsey, she received another scholarship, this time to the Harvard Business School in Boston, Massachusetts for her Masters of Business Administration (MBA). The two-year MBA programme ended in 2011, and she moved back to Hong Kong soon after.
In 2012, Caecilia decided it was time to strike out on her own. She started an e-commerce business. “Up until that point, I had been a top scholar, consistently achieving good grades. I had worked in prestigious institutions and studied at two top Business Schools. Naturally, I assumed I understood business. However, when I embarked on my own venture, I realised that I actually didn’t know much,” she shares.
Eventually, she was forced to shutter the business after two years. The saturated market was a huge factor, she says, noting that she was “perhaps 20 years too late in starting an e-commerce business”. She also found that being a start-up owner meant that her Harvard and Wharton background held little weight, as compared to when she worked at McKinsey.
“This shift was incredibly humbling, and brought about a significant realisation,” she notes. “If I wanted to succeed independently, I needed to understand the value I personally brought [to the table] without relying on affiliations.”
Today, as the CEO and co-founder of Youtrip, Singapore’s first multi-currency mobile wallet, Caecilia is indeed making an impact when it comes to people’s finances, especially in the space of cross- border payments. Effectively disrupting the once opaque foreign exchange payments scene, Youtrip has transformed the way people transact when they travel. Being among the first worldwide to roll out its wallet feature, it’s also the first home-grown multi-currency mobile player in the market.
At the age of 50, Yvonne Siow boasts a decade-long tenure in philanthropy.
In 2022, as Essilor and Luxottica sealed their merger, Yvonne helped to establish the Onesight EssilorLuxottica Foundation, an expansion of the Essilor Vision Foundation. In her role as the Asean Head, Yvonne Siow oversees the philanthropic arm in Asean countries. The overarching mission of the foundation is to eliminate poor vision within a single generation by ensuring that people have access to proper vision care.
If you ask Yvonne what her decade of experience and unwavering dedication to philanthropy means to her, she’ll tell you that it’s a real calling.
She shares: “You have to love what you do, because it demands relentless effort and long hours. The rewards aren’t measured in monetary gain or social status. It’s more akin to the calling of a nurse or teacher – what you get is a sense of purpose. There’s a common misconception that philanthropy is reserved for those who are immensely wealthy. In reality, it’s about giving back, influencing for the better, and utilising one’s influence for good.”
It’s been a busy year for The Great Room co-founder and CEO Jaelle Ang. Apart from opening its sixth co-working space in Singapore, the company also launched its second outpost in Bangkok at Park Silom, and is preparing for its first space in Sydney, set to open in 2024.
For Jaelle, these decisions were in-built from the start of the brand to ensure sustainability and longevity. Unlike tech companies that have been built for impact and reach, pursuing growth instead of profit, The Great Room bucked that trend and remained steadfast in its belief that it has to make money. It turned a profit within a year of operation, and today boasts more than 3,000 members.
Jaelle borrows this philosophy from former Goldman Sachs senior partner Gus Levy, who came up with the term “long-term greedy”.
“I am not all saintly and altruistic; I am long-term greedy. I am thinking of my longer horizons as a woman, as a mother, as a force, and as a guardian of a business.
“From the onset, [my co-founders and I] were working with our money, and when it’s your money versus large institutional money, you put in good foundational habits. It’s old school, but we were very focused on profitability compared to a lot of other self-proclaimed tech companies who feel like they just want market share – it doesn’t matter if they’re bleeding.
“Labelling and calling it out as ‘long-term greedy’ helps me and my investors, because I am not saying I won’t get you your money; I am not saying that I’m sacrificing my profits for my war. I’m saying we’re going to win long and win big.”
She likens her strategy to stringing pearls: “We’re still going one location at a time. It’s slow, but eventually, you get to that beautiful string of pearls.”