As leaders, we are fascinated by the future. And I think that fascination must not be lost, because if we lose that then we are not able to rally our people towards a better vision. We must be restless for change and see challenges as opportunities to push us, to bring about change that would get us towards that future. - Anthea Ong
Jeremy Au: [00:00:00] Welcome to Brave Dynamics. This is your host, Jeremy Au. Leadership is harder than it looks. As a proven founder and Harvard MBA, I interview courageous entrepreneurs, executives and investors every week. I also share my frontline experiences, coaching insights and own professional development journey. If you're stepping up as a new leader, founding a startup, or venturing into the great unknown, this is the podcast for you.
Anthea Ong is the former Nominated Member of Parliament for the 13th Parliament of Singapore. In a term as NMP between 2018 and 2020, she spoke on behalf of youth activists and sex workers, proposed a national suicide prevention strategy, conducted a public consultation on the mental health landscape, made recommendations for closing our digital divide, and advocated for greater work injury compensation and other forms of support for migrant workers.
Anthea is also a full-time social entrepreneur, having founded and co-created several ground-up initiatives and impact businesses, including Welcome in My Backyard, Hush TeaBar, the WorkWell Leaders Workgroup, A Good Space, Playground of Joy, and Project Yoga-on-Wheels. She also served as the president of the Women's Initiative for Ageing Successfully [WINGS] from 2010 to 2017, which helps women embrace aging with confidence. She was the founding board member of Daughters of Tomorrow, a registered charity that provides individualized coaching to vulnerable women.
Prior to social entrepreneurship, Anthea held leadership roles with multinational organizations, including Pearson, New York Institute of Finance, The Terrapinn Group, and United Overseas Bank [UOB], where she expanded and solidified market leadership positions. She founded the Singapore-based education and technology consultancy Knowledge Director Group, which advised governments in developed economies on education, transformation and innovation strategies, in addition to being an inventor for an award-winning technology application.
Most recently, she was the regional managing director with Omega Performance Incorporated, a strategy consulting group for banks and financial institutions based in Washington, D.C., where she double-hatted as the Asian Lead of the Global Corporate Responsibility board for its parent company, Informa.
She is a published author for the anthology "My Story, My Life", by National Library Singapore, and author of "50 Shades of Love", a unique wood-cover book memoir with life coaching questions and trees.
Anthea graduated from the National University of Singapore, with a Bachelor's in Business Administration, Finance, and Marketing. She is also a professional certified coach with the International Coach Federation, and has served over 50 clients from all around the world. She is also a certified yoga instructor and Reiki practitioner, and an avid traveler to off-beaten tracks like Antarctica, Mount Everest Base Camp and Siberia.
Anthea, it's so good to see you.
Anthea Ong: [00:03:20] Good to see you. Thanks for having me, Jeremy.
Jeremy Au: [00:03:24] Yeah, it's so funny how the years have flown by since we were doing our radio interview together, and both of us tried to figure out how it works, and what to say.
Anthea Ong: [00:03:36] I know, right. Wow. And we're in each other's room, and communicating and connecting through Zoom. How the world has really changed.
Jeremy Au: [00:03:47] Yeah, so much. And it's interesting because I've known you through your career journey as someone who's in the social service world and as a leader in that world and as a business leader as well. And then recently, with your recent stint as Nominated Member of Parliament, now everyone's been talking about you. And it's so funny to hear the myth and the legend, Anthea, the person I know.
Anthea Ong: [00:04:14] Thank you for those kind words. That's very, very generous of you. Yeah, it's been quite a trajectory, and one that's completely unexpected, to be really honest. I definitely did not expect that I would actually be in Parliament, and be speaking up in the Chamber, so yeah, real honor actually.
Jeremy Au: [00:04:33] Yeah, definitely. For those who haven't had the pleasure of knowing you as I have, could you share a little bit more about your journey?
Anthea Ong: [00:04:42] I think it nicely breaks into three parts. As with most business school graduates, although it wasn't my first choice, but I actually joined the banking sector. I started as a corporate banker, and I think within three years I did really well. In fact, it was apparently rare, I was told by the HR manager then, that it was rare to be promoted every year, in a bank that's as large as the one that I was with. But yet, I remember very clearly one day I was looking at the organizational chart of the bank, and realized and was counting. And I counted there were 12 layers before I could get to the top. And that's not including how certain ranks, certain levels would have assistant vice president 4, 5, 6, and VP 7, 8, 9. I remember very clearly, I said, wow, maybe I really don't want to be a small fish in a big pond. It was a large bank. That I would like to be a big fish in a small pond.
And so I left. I looked for a job. I looked out of the banking sector and really wanted to travel the world, but really wanted to see the business sector in a different way, and not within such a heavy, big, almost static structure of a bank. I was a general manager. Interestingly, if you talk about my leadership journey, I was already a general manager at an international company at 24. And that company is what is now known as Terrapinn Group. And then I became a managing director for their Jakarta office at 25. Left a year later to go to Sydney to help the group MD to start up a new trading brand. Involved in a joint venture deal. Became the managing director for New York Institute of Finance for Asia, and later for Middle East. All that before I even got to 30 years old. It was a really fast and furious type of a journey. If you define leadership in the business sector then people would say that my leadership journey really started quite early, at the age of 24. If you ask me now, I would at that age call that more management experience.
And then I got into the whole e-learning thing, there was dotcom and all of that, for those of you old enough to know what that even is. Then I was asked by a mainboard-listed investment company to be the managing director of an e-learning investment that they made, because they thought the founder needed to step back. That was really interesting. I went from very large companies, including the likes of Pearson, New York Institute of Finance, to then now working for almost a start-up, although it's funded by a mainboard-listed company.
That was the tail end of the dotcom, but I actually got bitten by the bug. I became a technopreneur. I invented my own educational technology application, or product. And left the corporate sector at the peak of being a managing director and started this company called Knowledge Director. Did really well. The product was going to be part of Microsoft. Even had an undertaking for a second board listing in Malaysia. But everything came crumbling down because there's actually a personal story.
I went through a really difficult time personally. I had a broken marriage. Very broken-hearted actually. And that affected the business in some way. It was a collateral damage. The business was broken. I also got laden with financial challenges, because my ex-husband unfortunately decided that me walking out of the marriage should not be the way and turned around and actually issued six legal suits against my company. And so, I was financially really challenged. In fact, at one time, I had only $16 in the bank. And that broke me, coming from such a high place, such a illustrious journey up to that point, that's a very pivotal point in my life. I think up to that point, if we get back to the topic today about leadership, up to that point, my experience and how I show up as the leader was a very nice combination of equal part management and equal part I was still a learner, because I was young. I started really young to be a leader, to inspire and to drive very new, innovative type of business and products and teams.
After that point of the collapse, it was a very fundamental shift. That whole barrenness and brokenness, and that state of despair, really called me to go deeper into myself. From there, I dug deep to try to find a buoy. And that buoy were my values, which I think up to that point was more externally centric in my leadership journey. That allowed me to know my values very deeply, which are steeped in integrity, empathy, curiosity. That explains a lot of why I always put up my hand in my corporate career for a new office here, and a new product there. I think humility came because obviously I was completely broken. Had such a meteoric rise, if you will, in my career, that humility was almost forced upon me with that collapse.
I went back to the corporate world to rebuild myself financially, obviously. And it's not to say that it was all easy. The strengths I had allowed me to look back and connect the dots of the person, the leader I had been. It did, definitely, get me to understand very deeply how easy it is for us as leaders to think that leadership is attached to our authority and our titles, even our character attributes. From that point on, I felt that leadership really is about leading from your values, from who you are, from your center, from your core. I went back to the corporate world, became the regional managing director for an international company that focuses on strategic consulting and performance coaching for C-suite leaders at banks across the region. And then I left that.
And that, I think, was when we met, around that time, maybe a few years after. And I plunged myself from full-time into social entrepreneurship and volunteerism and also coaching. I was very much called to coaching also. And so then we are here. The last part of it. There's the business sector, or the private sector aspect of it. Then there's the people sector part of it, which I've done for 15 years now. The time when I was dealing with the collapse, having lost everything, the way I actually got myself out of it was thankfully a shift. I sought help, so for all of you who struggle out there please know that it's okay to seek help. I went to see a psychiatrist. He deemed me to be non-clinical, but clearly I was going through a lot of pain and suffering because of the sudden turn of events. It can happen to any of us.
And part of how I think I got out of it really is that shift, which I'm very thankful for, but I still don't know how that shift happened, except that it probably was because of the practice of silence, that shifted me from focusing on what I've lost and what I no longer had, to what I still had, and I still have today. And that shifted me. And what I had then, what I still have now, values, family, my social support system, my inner resources, my networks, my experience, especially in the corporate sector. I was still feeling empty, despite this realization.
And then I was called to also thinking that even at my most barren, my most broken, and my most displaced, I still had my own HDB flat, which I'm still living in now, which I moved back into after my divorce. I still have such an amazing family who supports me. But that's not what a lot of people out there who are struggling would have. And so that got me to think about just equal parts self-serving, but also driven by this realization that actually what I have a lot of people still don't have, even at my most broken. That started my whole people sector, leadership. And through all of that, I was involved on the boards of several organizations, several community agencies. I was also digging the trenches as an active volunteer across different groups. Lo and behold, you couldn't get the business, creative, needing to start something new thing out of me. I started many different community projects, including social enterprises.
And last but not least, two years ago I was called to the Parliament of Singapore when I was appointed as a Nominated Member of Parliament. These last two years have been a really interesting combination of different forms, different levels of leadership. But traversing through the people sector, public sector, and the private sector. And all the different hats that I wear.
Jeremy Au: [00:13:53] Thanks for sharing. Could you share what was it like to personally get started as a NMP? What was your reaction like when you first heard the news?
Anthea Ong: [00:14:04] Yeah, I remember very clearly actually. I don't remember date, but I remember it being a Monday. I was not at my phone. And Parliament was trying to call me. I was also not well. Finally got hold of me and told me the news, that I was appointed as Nominated Member of Parliament. And told me that the news is going to the media in about an hour or two hours' time. That was a bit strange, I must say. It was a strange juxtaposition of exhilaration, shock, can't believe that they actually selected me, because it's a relatively rigorous, onerous process. Felt a huge sense of honor and a sense of trepidation too, because there's a lot of uncertainty. I was on my couch. I always call my couch the world's best couch. I was on my world's best couch when I got the news.
Jeremy Au: [00:14:54] Why is leadership so important in the hallowed Chamber of Parliament?
Anthea Ong: [00:15:01] That's a really good question. In my role as a Nominated Member of Parliament, I would define leadership probably a little differently to how we would typically think of leadership. It's not necessarily about you leading a team who are direct reports to you, but it certainly still encapsulates this social influence you have on others, as well as also supporting others to realize their potential and their dreams even. So I see the role of leadership as really important in the Chamber because I am actually bringing and giving of myself, leading a cause that involves a entire community of people. I actually have a responsibility but also very much a privilege to speak up for, and therefore to lead, that cause, in that Chamber, in that form. And so I think leadership is important in that regard.
The other part of why leadership is important in the work that we do in Parliament is the way we bring the systemic change and influence into how strategies, in this case of course policy strategies, and changes, how these actually then affect the vision that we have for either a cause, a community, or, in my case, for Singapore. And I think that's really similar to what we typically think of leadership. Because my definition of leadership is very often about how we rally, how we bring together a group of people so it's not just my effort. My role in leadership is to also involve others, and then together we are working towards realizing a goal. In my case I typically like to see it as improving a human condition. Even in the business sector, I think that still need to come in. And so, in that way, on a much larger scale, it is the highest hall of the land, at the same level you're exercising a form of leadership, as a collective, in that Parliament, in that Chamber, to lead all the Singaporeans, including also our residents, towards a certain vision. That's a really fundamental definition of leadership, but a collective one, which I'm also part of.
Jeremy Au: [00:17:24] What hurdles did you personally face, and how did you overcome them?
Anthea Ong: [00:17:28] Well, I'm 52 this year, so definitely there've been hurdles, and I've just shared a big, colossal collapse that I had 14 years ago with you. What I'm thinking of most is less of external hurdles. What I want to share more right now in response to your question is the hurdles that we actually impose on ourselves. The ones that come from within. That I would say have been a very major part of this discovery process I have taken on myself. And if I look back, I think in the early days of my journey in leadership, and because I joined the bank immediately, very male-dominated, that was also somewhat of a different time, a different Singapore still, I think there was most definitely self-doubt as a woman. Even when I was promoted at such an early age, even after I left the bank, there was still doubt.
I remember how I would think about, oh, this is not how leaders behave, because the only benchmarks you have around you as how a leader should be, they're all male leaders, at least during my time. Now, it's so awesome, because it's so different. But then, it was like that. And I have to share this. This is a bit strange and funny. I became one of the boys, I think, in a way. I clearly remember the shoulder pads and jackets. I remember the smoking. I was a smoker. And I was hanging out with the boys at the smoking corner and stuff. I drank like a fish. That now, looking back, I don't drink at all now. I'm a teetotaler. I definitely don't smoke. Haven't smoked at all for a long time. I can blame everyone around me, and I can even blame my young and restless silly self. But I think if I really examine deeper, I think it was that. It was the need to feel like a good leader, a recognized leader, then, given that predominantly all the leaders were men, which is so silly now I think about it.
I love being a woman. I think it's awesome to be a woman. I think I've just gone the other way completely. You'll never see me wear a corporate suit. Not even in Parliament, which is probably the most serious environment you can think of. And I remember a reporter asking me that: "Do you think as a woman there were times you hit the glass ceiling?" I remember saying to her that I didn't feel like I ever hit a glass ceiling because I didn't. Because as I've shared with you the journey that I've taken, it really doesn't prove my point that you need to be a man to be able to be getting those roles. But that's why I'm talking more about myself. I think I was the one who probably had all this self-doubt, had my own assessment base in the social narrative and the people around me. And thankfully I wasn't a terrible person, despite not being myself. I'm so thankful. And I have to thank my papa and mama for just bringing up well. Showing me the right ways to be a good human being.
But I definitely was holding a lot of masculine traits because of that. That may have gotten me really successful. Maybe why. Who knows? If you want to examine that. So, that would be a major hurdle. Having said that, interestingly, after that interview I was sharing earlier about the glass ceiling interview with the reporter, very soon after I took a voluntary redundancy package with Pearson because I was upset. I did my own assessment that with the restructuring that we did, that they chose a male counterpart to take over the bigger restructured unit. And I didn't even have that opportunity to have that interview for that role. I must say to you that, that was when it was very clear that I had to say something. So I did. I actually called the group CEO and said, "what's the deal?" So maybe I did hit some glass ceiling straight after saying it, so maybe I jinxed it. Because it came after the interview actually. You just made me recall that incident. That's so strange. This is almost, how many years ago now, coming to 20 years now. Thanks for that Jeremy. Thanks for bringing that up. We just have to get better with this. More women leaders please, in all sectors.
Jeremy Au: [00:22:15] Definitely. What support or resources would you recommend for others considering a journey similar to yours?
Anthea Ong: [00:22:22] Maybe to learn how to wear multiple hats and be a mad hatter like me. My publisher, when I had my book published, the editor actually wrote a little bio about me and called me a mad hatter, which I thought was pretty cool. I never thought of that. But seriously, what support or resources? Of course, just like everyone else, I've read books, I've attended courses, and all of that. If I want to name one that has resonated particularly recently with me would be Brené Brown's works, particularly in vulnerability, and daring leadership, and all of that. Because every time I read her book, it's as if she's writing about me, with each of her books. And before that, obviously, there was all of the usual suspects of the De Bonos, and the Coveys and the like .
But I think, as much as books are important, I would not say they're a big part of my journey. I would say that observation was a big part of it. Observe rather than simply follow your leaders would have been part of how I have actually journeyed through these years. I really think that in observing and asking, and seeking mentorship where you feel that a leader embodies the values and the leadership traits that you would like to aspire towards, then really step forward and actually ask for their mentorship. Or at least have conversations with them to find out a lot more of what made them who they are, and how they do it, and what they do. And always listen. For me, I listen rather than being quick to respond to, really helps to have a more enriching leadership journey as well. I think it's really important, if you think about my journey, that's been such a big part of transforming myself so that I can transform the team, the cause, the organization that I'm asked to lead or I'm given the privilege to lead.
And I really cannot emphasize this enough. The position of leadership is a privilege. It's not an entitlement. It's a privilege, and with privilege comes also responsibility. Very close to Spiderman's famous words. Because of that, we have a responsibility to be the best human we can be, because of this responsibility and this privileged position that we have. And so, in my journey it's been so much of looking at the work I need to do on myself, and I was helped by the catastrophe that I shared earlier to really uncover in that unraveling what I need to do to be a better human and a better version of myself. I think that then translates to the leadership that I would be able to bring forth for those who entrust in me their dreams, their visions as well. that's, for me, what true leadership is, to really keep working on yourself, knowing that you must lead as yourself and not someone else.
I used to joke, and Stephen Covey and the likes of the leadership gurus won't like me, but obviously it's important to say the model of good leadership is this seven habits, or this framework, and all of that. Those are very important knowledge to acquire. Definitely these are experiences of amazing folks who have put them together. But I think it's not enough to just take that in intellectually, but to actually synthesize all of this amazing knowledge and stuff out there into what is actually going to sit with you. Once you bring all of this together, what is your special blend? I found the Anthea blend, and the Anthea blend would be a tapestry of the different things I've learned over the years. I won't be able to point it to a particular leadership guru or a leadership model that I follow. And I think that's been, for me, the most comforting as well. Because how are you going to sell if you're just being you? There's no benchmark. They can't say, if you are going to be following Covey's model, then you're not doing this, this, this right. But if I'm actually able to synthesize all of this, and internalize it, and come up with my own plan, then it's you improving and assessing against yourselves to be better. And I find that be extremely liberating, freeing, and very comforting.
I also think there's a lot of merit in also getting support in the form of whether it's coaching or mentorship, as I mentioned earlier. To help you have this facilitated, guided space to discover more of yourself. I started going on this journey of truly going deeper to understand what I bring forth in the leadership roles that I play because of the major collapse that I had. And that was a lot of pain, a lot of struggling, and I do not wish that on anyone, which is also why I was called to coaching. And so I think there is merit in coaching, to bring about re-frames and new possibilities of what we can't normally see ourselves, because we obviously have blind spots. And so there's a lot of merit in them.
I still do selective coaching engagements. Given the multiple hats I wear I don't do it full-time. But it still is such a joy, a deep, deep joy, to be able to support someone to go through that journey. And most, if not all, of my clients are leaders in their different domains and spheres. It's such a joy to see that transformation. And then to hear from them the transformation of themselves translating in the way they have transformed the people around them. And that then lead to the transformation of the larger collective, whether it be a business, or whether it be a community organization, or even part of the public service.
Jeremy Au: [00:28:31] What are some common myths or misconceptions about being in Parliament?
Anthea Ong: [00:28:41] That's a good question, misconception. I think if I just base it on my own preconceived ideas about Parliament, I had thought that there was a lot of free-flowing debate that would happen, that would be on the fly. Obviously there are moments when it's scripted, because you're reading a Bill, like the minister reads a Bill and all that. But there's not more of that. There is some of that. There is some of the free flow when we ask questions, and then after that we would actually follow up with a question. And that's when a lot of the free flow debate and the conversations will happen. But by and large, a lot of it are scripted and prepared. And I understand why. There's a need to keep to the time limit, which very strictly adhered to for good reason. Otherwise we'll just be there, because we'll just keep talking. So, that's one.
The other seems so solemn. And yes, during the proceeding there's a certain sombreness to it. It's a 200-year-old system that we have, the Westminster system. But there's also not, in the sense that there are moments when we actually just make some personal comments. So, that's one. But also what you don't see is how during the tea breaks, and when we are chatting with each other, whether it's in the Chamber or outside, it's actually pretty chill. There's quite a bit of a social element that's probably not what people think that actually happens.
And the other misconception, I would say most people think that there's a certain way to dress in Parliament. And I think there's no actual rule per se. Of course, there's the usual thing that you would just not come in flip flops and singlets and all of that. But if you look at it you would think that we have to abide to a certain code of dressing, but there isn't really that. Other than the speaker, he has to wear the robe. That's why you see sometimes our Prime Minister wearing his windbreaker. And there's the likes of me, who is just wearing my sleeveless dress to the Chamber. Those are the three that just come up to me.
Jeremy Au: [00:30:50] Amazing. What are you most proud of for advocating, in retrospect?
Anthea Ong: [00:30:55] In the role as an NMP, I would be most proud of the contribution, not to the causes, and not to the Bills, and not to the issues that I've spoken out for, but I am most proud of not saying no to communities, to groups of people who want their voices to be heard. Of actually stepping up to the causes, even some of the most difficult, uncomfortable or controversial issues and topics. The reason why I'm proud of that is because it's not an intellectual exercise to me. It's because these are real humans, real people, who genuinely are struggling and they need their voices heard. I think that would be what I'm most proud of. But good question. I never actually even really thought of that, so that was a good reflection.
Then, of course, they're the most easy to define things, like certain Bills I speak up on, and certain new ways at thinking of some of the issues that I raised. But those are really for myself. I feel proud of myself and the team that worked on that. But yeah, I think this is real. This is deep. This is real talk. Of not saying no. Because some you just thought, okay, I need to just be strong, stand encouraged, and to speak up for that.
Jeremy Au: [00:32:28] You've spoken about courage, about speaking up on all topics, for all communities. Can you share with us what it's like to be sitting down, and then standing up, and then going up to share. What's going through your mind? What are you feeling before you speak your prepared speech and your comments?
Anthea Ong: [00:32:48] It has evolved, and I think this is the great thing with courage. I'm very sure that courage is a muscle, and you can train, and it gets stronger. I remember very clearly, Jeremy, my maiden speech, which was on the Employment Act, which is perfect because I'm such an advocate for mental health. That gives me an opportunity to bring up mental health in a workplace environment. In fact, to push for changes to the Workplace Health and Safety Act to include psycho-social health and safety. But I was very, very, very called to starting that maiden speech with inviting the entire Chamber to do a breathing exercise. Actually, that moment could not have been planned better because I had essentially the Prime Minister and the two Deputy Prime Minister then, now they're Senior Ministers, some of the most important people in Cabinet. It was amazing.
But I was so much of a ball of nerves. Before that I'm like, oh my God, I wonder what rules am I flouting? Because it's clear that you should just stand up, and read your speech, and then get done with it, and the step down, go back to your seat. And here I am doing this. But I was so called to it. I can't explain why. Just some force. Until the very last minute, I was still holding my hands, and thinking should I do this. I did it anyway. I did it, and it was very well received. And it was so special to hear this Chamber for, at least, I think, 30 seconds, to be of breathing sounds, and no one talking, given that it is a Parliament. It's supposed to be just filled with sounds and people talking. That was very special for me. But I was bold enough, and then it just became easier.
The next one I remember very clearly was POFMA, which was, of course, the Protection Against Online Falsehood Bill. Not so much nerves, because this one I was a lot more confident and comfortable. I was writing the speech still up to the very last minute, because so many things were going on in that very marathon debate, if those of you remember. I was actually trying to include as many points that were mentioned, argue against that, and to make a case for, and all that. And so it was up to the last minute, I was still changing my speech.
But when I stood up, that was quite different. That was a whole different sensation of saying this is it. What I'm sharing is going against the majority of what's just been shared. It's different nerves to the one that I shared about, about my maiden speech, doing the breathing. This one was really at the crux of it. I'm actually going against the tide, and the flow, and the crux of it. That one was doing something a little bit unusual.
And the questions I asked, many are not scripted, especially if I raise my hand and it's actually someone else's speech, or it's someone else's question, but we have an opportunity to ask supplementary questions, those are not prepared. I will go through in my head how I'm actually going to form the question. Again, there's a time limit even in asking question. So you want to see to compact that. And very often I'm struggling with, okay, this is going to be a question that, again, is going to keep at the core. You want to make sure it's clear. You want to make sure that it's asked in a way that it will be given a response. And then at the same time you're thinking, okay, how is this going to be received? Is this going to be antagonistic? Is this going to be actually creating more space for discussion? All of this going on.
And it is courage. I will quote Brené Brown here. Brené Brown's definition of integrity, which resonates a lot with me, is that integrity is choosing courage over comfort. And I would add, choosing courage over comfort, convenience as well. If I want to stay and stand in integrity, to the person that I have been striving to be, and I continue to want to be, then I have to choose courage. Because that's the only thing I can stay in integrity. That's me. That's how it has been in the Chamber.
Jeremy Au: [00:36:56] Anthea, there's been a growing wave of apathy and disillusionment among societies across the world. And I myself have heard of that amongst my peers as well. What is the role of the leader in the midst of all this sensation and perception?
Anthea Ong: [00:37:15] I think a leader is really someone who, first of all, can see how things can be approved, and rallies people to move towards that better visions. I would say that as leaders, we are fascinated by the future. And I think that fascination must not be lost, because if we lose that then we are not able to rally our people towards a better vision. We must be restless for change, so we must see challenges as opportunities to push us, to bring about change that would actually get us towards that future. And that future is certainly volatile, but we must continue to be fascinated by that, to be restless for change, and to be deeply dissatisfied with the status quo. That must come about.
And leaders can play that role in these really challenging times, where there's a general sense of a bit of despair, but a sense of disenfranchisement as well. Because we must be able to see, and we can see a better future. That's why we're asked to lead, right? We can see a better future for those who we lead, as well as for the cause, including organizations that we are here to advance. And I think in doing so make a difference to improve the society at large. And so I think we must see leadership as a way of staying fascinated with the future, and to be restless for change, and to disrupt the status quo.
Jeremy Au: [00:38:45] Last question. I think there's a new generation of people who are going to be advocating and debating the future for Singapore. And we know there are going to be so many other future generations of leaders who are going to take on that mantle of responsibility. Even now, people are thinking about what to do, and how to grow. What advice would you give to those who are thinking about a future in politics and representing Singapore?
Anthea Ong: [00:39:13] Go for it. Definitely go for it. I never used to think like that, so I'm being a bit hypocritical here. I'm going to raise my hand for that. I just want to be honest. Never in my life, up till two years ago, did I ever think I would actually be in politics. Never. If you asked me what I wanted to be growing up, and all of that, never. It didn't come even close. It's so far out in the periphery. But now that I have the privilege of having been on the ground for about 14, 15 years in the people sector. On the ground working with the communities, particularly the marginalized communities. I call it the three M's: mental health, marginalized communities, and also the migrant workers. These three M's are my thing.
In your time on the ground, in the people sector particularly, but also in the private sector, you will hit the wall at some stage because there is a structural element to why you can't push through the change. And that's what I mean by it also would happen in the private sector. But in the people sector, it's very much so because there is such a lot of influence that policies have over the way we can make things work on the ground. Obviously there's still a lot of change we can do, so don't be disheartened just because you're not in politics. There's still a lot. But at some stage, there is a wall that you hit. And that's structural. That's systemic. And that needs to be changed through policy advocacy that needs to be done. Yeah, you can still do it even if you're in the civil society. But I think if you can get into politics, you are that much closer to making that change or to making that need so much more front and center for the policymakers. That was why I said yes, actually, to be honest, when I was being asked to be considered as a candidate.
But also, the other thing is, it's also the other way around. As much as we are bringing what is on the ground to the policymakers, it's also how policies are made. How legislations come about. Drafted, debated, passed, and all of that, back to the ground. That informs the ground in how they can then engage better with the public service and even the policymakers. This is where I would definitely encourage any of you who feel inclined to, it's definitely a very direct route to making that change that you want to see at a systemic and structural level. On that note, I also want to share that it is also why I said yes to NMP. Because Nominated Member of Parliament is non-partisan in Singapore. That means that I have the space, and also the responsibility, to look at issues that might at times affect votes. And that means, even the opposition parties may be concerned about bringing them up.
When I first joined, mental health was probably a big part because it was still taboo, and all of that. But now, obviously it's not, which I'm really pleased about. But migrant workers for sure. Migrant workers is definitely not a topic that will be raised as a priority only because of how it sits with majority of the electorate. But it's still such an important issue to raise. So, for someone like an NMP, who does not need votes, then, first of all, I would bring it up without any concern about anything that would affect me or my party, if I'm part of a party. But secondly, I think it then allows that moral responsibility of bringing up some of the most unpopular issues. The other I can think of is sex workers. And even the LGBTQ issues. These are issues I think that as a non-partisan member of Parliament, I have a lot more space to raise them. And so, that's also something for some of you out there who may want to be considered for NMP roles.
Please do step forward. I think it's one of the most direct way of impacting change for our society and to be part of bringing our country to the vision that we have.
Jeremy Au: [00:43:42] Thank you so much Anthea for sharing. It was a pleasure.
Anthea Ong: [00:43:46] Thanks Jeremy, bye.
Jeremy Au: [00:43:48] Bye.
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