Launched in 1991, the Her World Woman of the Year award honours Singapore women who have made a positive impact on the community through their selfless dedication and unflagging spirit.

In celebration of the annual award’s 20th anniversary this year, Her World invites you on a trip down memory lane as we pay tribute to all the past winners whose passion for societal empowerment still continues to inspire today.

Here’s a look at some of the influential individuals who have been celebrated with the Woman of the Year award and how far they have come since they then.

1991: Professor Chan Heng Chee
The first Her World Woman of the Year award was presented to Professor Chan Heng Chee, who now serves as Singapore’s ambassador to the United States of America and the dean of the female diplomatic corps in Washington D.C. She is also an ardent supporter of the arts and holds regular political discussions with women’s groups and university students in Singapore.

1992: Dr Kanwaljit Soin
The first female Nominated MP and founding member of the Association of Women’s Action and Research (Aware) has long been a champion of women’s rights. Through the years, the consultant orthopedic surgeon played a key role in pushing social issues, like domestic abuse, into public awareness. Today, she is the president of Women's Initiative for Ageing Successfully (WINGS) – the non-profit education centre for women over 40 – and global ambassador of HelpAge International – a charity that assists the disadvantaged aged worldwide.

1995: Yu-Foo Yee Shoon
The current Minister of State for Community Development, Youth and Sports was the first woman to be appointed mayor in Singapore and is one of the longest serving female politicians in Singapore. Her pet causes are the struggles of local women, workers and aged. 

1998: Claire Chiang
With her acute business acumen, the co-founder and senior vice-president of luxury resort chain Banyan Tree Holdings, broke the glass ceiling when she became one of the first two women to be admitted to the all-male Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce & Industry (SCCI). The mother-of-three and one of the first women to be a Nominated MP is also an active advocate for women's rights, family life and the disadvantaged in society. These days, she’s on the hunt for the next Banyan Tree location in China.

1999: Teresa Hsu (Special Award)
As the founder of welfare service Heart to Heart and non-profit organisation Home for the Aged Sick, she’s widely known as the “Mother Teresa” of Singapore. The 113-year-old retired nurse has devoted more than 40 years to community work locally, caring for the sick, aged and destitute. Still sprightly, the yoga lover leads a simple lifestyle – eating just one vegetarian meal a day and laughing often. 

2002: Olivia Lum
With her perseverance and business-savvy, this entrepreneur transformed the water solutions company Hyflux from a three-man operation into a 2,000-strong company worth about $1.8 billion. As the chief executive of Hyflux, she’s poised to become the first woman to represent Singapore at the global competition Ernst & Young World Entrepreneur of the Year Awards in Monte Carlo in June 2011.  

2003: Halimah Yacob
As the deputy secretary general of National Union Trade Congress (NTUC), she believes a woman’s place is also in the workforce. In 2011, she hopes to find jobs for at least 3,000 women as part of the “Back to Work Women” programme in NTUC. But that’s not all. She’s also working towards creating more flexible work opportunities for women and pushing for laws to better protect domestic workers here.

2007: Dr Noeleen Heyzer
The sociologist and seasoned gender rights advocate was the first Singaporean to head the UN Development Fund for Women (Unifem) in 1994. Then, in 2007, the mother of twin daughters became the first woman to head the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (Escap), the regional development arm of the UN for Asia-Pacific. As the under-secretary-general of the United Nations (UN), she continues to strive for justice and equality, and to bring about inclusive and sustainable development in our world.

2009: Lim Hwee Hua
In April 2009, she made history when she became Singapore’s first woman minister. As the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office and Second Minister for Finance and Transport, she is no stranger to perseverance and pushing boundaries. As a leader, she believes in realistic expectations and encouraging open feedback. As a woman, wife and mother, she believes in always giving her very best. 

Also presented annually since 1999 is the Young Woman Achiever award; it recognises young women below 35, whose ages and different backgrounds have not affected their commitment towards societal good.


(from left) Kit Chan, Li Jiawei and the Singapore Everest Women's Team.

Past winners include Kit Chan (1999), Stefanie Sun (2001), Dr Wong Ting Hway (2003), Li Jiawei (2004), and the Singapore Everest Women’s Team (2009).

The complete list of winners and their profiles are found in the Her World Women of the Year 20th Anniversary Commemorative Edition booklet, available with every copy of Her World April, 2011.