From The Straits Times    |

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. 

In the early 2000s, the trained engineer had been working at a specialist engineering company in Singapore, where she was the only female partner among the other four partners, who were men. She refuses to reveal the name of the company, but notes that she faced discrimination because of her gender. Despite working just as hard, she was paid less than her male counterparts because they had the perception that she had financial security as she was married to an expat.   

While Farizan did a French aristocrat from Bordeaux, she has always been driven to succeed on her own terms. “They have a family emblem and all, and my mother-in-law thought I was marrying for money. She later realised that I didn’t care [about money],” she explains.

Together, Farizan and her husband share two sons and a daughter, all in their teens.

Farizan eventually left the company as she wanted to focus on sustainability, and also make her mark on the African subcontinent. “[The focus on] Singapore green building started in early 2005, but it was still in its infancy. The more it evolved, the more it became meaningful to me, and I started thinking more about how I could influence the built environment to be more sustainable in the future. I always had this thought that there’s so much to do, so much potential, and wondered how I could impact change,” she says. 

And so, sustainability became her second career. She set up GreenA Consultants (the A stands for Africa and Asia) in 2009, combining her engineering background with creative problem-solving, all while doing good for the planet. The consultancy started with an all-women team, and continues to be skewed towards more female engineers. 

Going to Africa with PM Lee

Today, GreenA has advised and consulted on a wide range of projects, not just limited to the built space environment. 

In Singapore, it has worked on projects including the Singapore Discovery Centre and the National Gallery, and is currently advising the new carbon-neutral PSA Port, which is moving from Keppel to Tuas. Other projects include offices for HP and Ikea. Farizan has also advised clients in the alternative protein space (Just Eat), as well as design (Ipse Ipsa Ipsum).

She has won multiple awards for her work in sustainability, including the Green Advocate of the Year for BCA-SGBC Green Building Individual Awards in 2015, and she’s a board member of the Singapore Green Building Council. In this role, she hopes to encourage more Singaporeans to think outside their geographical comfort to expand their businesses. One of her most outstanding achievements has been brokering four memorandums of understanding (MOU) between select African governments and agencies, and their Singaporean counterparts. 

“This was in 2014, 2015,” she says. “I had a global mindset and thought we should join Singapore and Africa.” 

Her efforts have paid off: In 2022, she was part of the delegation that accompanied Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on his first visit to Rwanda to attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, as well as an official bilateral visit. There’s still some work to be done in cementing Singapore’s relationship with Africa, she says, but these are promising first steps.

From modelling to sustainability

With a team of just 35 people spread across Singapore and Batam, Farizan confesses that she is a workaholic. 

“I like the feeling of accomplishment,” she says. 

“I don’t understand this work-life balance thing. Isn’t your work your life?” She throws her head back and laughs raucously, something she does throughout the conversation.

She’s chatty and easy to talk to, but her steely determination in achieving what she sets her mind to is apparent. She’s also fearless in speaking her mind – a trait that has sometimes gotten her in trouble – but she’s learning the art of diplomacy, she says with a hearty laugh. 

An unapologetic go-getter, Farizan says her incredible work ethic started when she was a teenager. The daughter of a Malay father and Chinese mother, she’s the only sister to two brothers, and was expected to take care of the men in her family. She even played the role of a mother to her younger brother, who’s 10 years younger than her.

When her father refused to pay for her tertiary education (as her brothers’ education took priority) she decided to start modelling part-time to make some extra cash, adding that it was also a form of seeking validation as she didn’t think she was pretty growing up, having faced plenty of discrimination because of her mixed heritage. 

She signed up with modelling agency Mannequin, and even enrolled in a few pageants in her early 20s. The money went towards extra certifications and courses that would enable her to study engineering technology.

Overcoming the patriarchy

For Farizan, meeting challenges head on is par for the course. “I perform better in a challenge,” she says. 

Being an Asian woman, breaking into Africa was filled with its own share of challenges. For one, there’s the issue of her gender in a deeply patriarchal society. She encountered many individuals who tend to regard Caucasian men as subject matter experts. 

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.”

Venturing into Africa

Cracking into the African subcontinent was no walk in the park. For one, there was barely any government support as it was still such a nascent market. Farizan found opportunities in Tanzania, where she met an Africa-based Indian property mogul who advised her: “If you want to make it work anywhere in the world, you have to keep coming back over and over again, and build relationships.”

This simple but life-changing advice stuck with her, and Farizan took the long and slow route of building relationships and winning contracts in Africa.

Today, she has a second home in Rwanda. She travels there via the Middle East (there are no direct flights from Singapore) every 45 to 60 days. The 17-hour journey is long and tedious, but Farizan is not one to complain. 

“If you have to do it, do it,” seems to be her mantra.   

In the past decade, Farizan has become the only Singaporean green building consultant for sustainability-related projects in East Africa, covering Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda. 

Some of the African projects include the headquarters for the Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Authority, certified mixed development projects in Uganda, and other sustainable development projects such as residential projects in countries like Tanzania and Zimbabwe.

Her frequent trips and immersion into African culture have also helped her gain an advantage. She understands its nuances, enabling her to design solutions that best fit their lifestyle.

Fighting spirit

Even in her downtime, Farizan can’t sit still. She enjoys running and hot yoga, and loves adventure sports, including diving. 

The one thing that makes Farizan slow down? The sea. We talk a few weeks before her 52nd birthday in August, and she’s mulling over how to celebrate her big day. But one thing she knows for sure is that she wants to sit by the beach with a good book – not work-related – in hand. And she deserves this break.

She’s already on track to meeting her goal for 2023: In the next few weeks, she will be part of the launch of a couple of eco-industrial parks in Singapore and Batam, something she is very excited about.

She shares: “I want to impact the manufacturing space. Real estate is not the biggest emitter, manufacturing is. So I think if I could tackle that, I would achieve a greater volume for the amount of effort I am putting in.”

Photography Lawrence Teo

Art direction Ray Ticsay

Hair Aung Apichai, using Kevin Murphy

Make-up Lasalle Lee, using Cle de Peau Beaute