The phrase “born with a silver spoon in her mouth” would be putting it mildly for Melissa Aratani Kwee. Her father Kwee Liong Tek, the chairman of Pontiac Land, owns $1billion worth of hotels in Singapore, which form just a quarter of his property portfolio.
The Ritz-Carlton Millenia, Conrad Centennial and Regent Singapore, Camden Medical Centre, several upscale residential projects and the upcoming $400-million Capella Singapore resort in Sentosa designed by world-renowned Norman Foster all bear the Kwee name.
Melissa’s Japanese-American mother Donna Naomi was born into wealth too: Melissa’s grandfather is George Aratani, the founder of Kenwood Electronics and Mikasa Chinaware empire. And home is a sprawling mansion set against lush landscaping in district 10, also designed by Foster.
Contrasted against this picture of luxury, Melissa has carved out a name for herself as a social activist championing for change in the lives of less fortunate women and youth in the region, getting her hands dirty for a cause. Among other things, she has set up the Beautiful People and Halogen Foundation to empower youths with mentoring and leadership activities.
Couple her innate noble spirit with her privileged upbringing, and it’s easy to conclude that she is one lucky girl.
But it is this very issue – her wealth – that turns her typically cheerful countenance serious. “I don’t think it has anything to do with luck. I believe that God gives everyone a different set of talents at birth. I take the gifts I have and pay it forward,” says Melissa, whose family is Christian. “To me, people are more important than things.”
The gifts that Melissa believes she’s been given? The ability to empathise with those suffering, and to inspire others to help.