Her World regional power women list 2015

Leader: Chua Sock Koong, 59
Chief executive officer, Singtel
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It has been a meteoric career for the CEO of telco giant Singtel. The accountant and chartered financial analyst started at Singtel in 1989 as treasurer, then climbed the ranks to become chief financial officer, and most recently, Group CEO – a position she’s held since 2007. It’s no surprise that she’s a constant feature on Forbes lists (she was 74th on the 2014 list of the world’s most powerful women), given that her company currently holds 47 per cent of the local mobile market share and owns subsidiaries on many continents, from Australia to Africa.

Trendsetter: Cynthia Chua, 44
Founder and managing director, Spa Esprit Group 

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This woman has the Midas touch – everything she gets her hands on grows exponentially. The lifestyle entrepreneur started out in 1996 with her first Spa Esprit outlet in Holland Village. Since then, her business has burgeoned into an empire of 18 brands, with 94 food and beverage as well as lifestyle stores like Strip and Browhaus spread across the globe. In 2010, her speciality coffee joint, 40 Hands, along with her cafe, Open Door Policy, turned the sleepy suburb of Tiong Bahru into one of the island’s hippest enclaves and earned her the Singapore Tourism Board’s title of Entrepreneur of the Year in 2012. Given that the “queen of lifestyle” now has 800 staff and an annual turnover of $70 million, you can be sure she won’t be ending her reign any time soon. 

Advocate: Denise Phua, 56
Member of Parliament and president, Autism Resource Centre

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Disability-rights activist Denise Phua gave up a 20-year career in human resources in 2005 to become a full-time special needs volunteer. The experience of raising her autistic son sparked her interest in autism research, and she co-founded the autism-focused Pathlight School in 2004. She became a Member of Parliament in 2006, and has been actively shaping initiatives to help the special-needs community in Singapore. Her five-year plan for children with special needs was adopted by the Government, making hers one of the most audible voices in this country for the rights of people who have disabilities.

Her World regional power women list 2015

Leader: Dato’ Hafsah Hashim, 58
Chief executive officer, SME Corporation Malaysia

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Dato’ Hafsah Hashim is a woman thriving in a man’s world. She rose through the ranks before taking on the role of CEO of SME Corporation Malaysia in 2005. This specialised agency was created to encourage the development of small and medium enterprises by providing infrastructure and funding, and under her leadership, contributions from the SME sector have grown to form one third of Malaysia’s total economic revenue, according to The Star Online. As CEO, she works with international SME agencies to create an international platform for local entrepreneurs and attract more women entrepreneurs by initiating programmes to nurture their skills.

Trendsetter: Low Ngai Yuen, 39
President of Kakiseni 

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An award-winning director, producer and actor, Ngai Yuen continues to play a crucial role in championing the arts scene in Malaysia. In 2010, she took the helm of arts platform Kakiseni – which aims to make the arts more accessible to the public through grants, talent-development programmes and events – and introduced an event called Women: 100, which comprised 100 hours of theatre and dance performances that focused on women. Also in 2010, she created the Kakiseni Arts Exchange Programme to facilitate collaboration between foreign directors and local artists. In partnership with the Malaysian government, Kakiseni raised RM4.4 million (S$1.64 million) in 2012 to create the Kakiseni Grants programme, which provides financial support for local artists.

Advocate: Professor Dr Adeeba Kamarulzaman, 52
Dean, Faculty of Medicine, University of Malaya and chairman, Malaysia Aids Foundation

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One name is synonymous with the fight against Aids in Malaysia: Professor Dr Adeeba Kamarulzaman. The dean of the Faculty of Medicine and professor of Medicine and Infectious Diseases from the University of Malaya, she fights for HIV prevention and care programmes for the marginalised in society, including ex-offenders and drug addicts. In 2006, she was named chair of Treat Asia (Therapeutics Research, Education, and Aids Training in Asia), giving her the opportunity to help shape anti-Aids programmes across Asia. In 2007, she established one of the few HIV research centres in the region – the Centre of Excellence for Research in Aids at the University of Malaya.

This story was first published in HerWorld magazine March 2015.