5 Takeaways From the ‘Obama Foundation Leaders: Asia-Pacific Convening 2019’
All images by Obama Foundation.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own.

On 10 December, 200 individuals from all around the region attended the Obama Foundation Leaders: Asia-Pacific convening in Kuala Lumpur. Singapore had 15 leaders participate in this convening, representing diverse organisations like Saturday Kids, Singapore Mental Health Film Festival, SDI Academy; the list goes on. 

I came from Potato Productions, a group of companies spanning industries, working on new products and ideas to drive change. And while we’re different, we’re aligned in our goal of changing the world from a variety of angles and areas. At the same time, I also support The T Project, the first and only social service for the transgender community in Singapore.

Promoting values of humility, integrity, and stewardship, the convening gave us an opportunity to learn about values-based ethical leadership. Here were my 5 takeaways from the convening, in case you haven’t had a chancee to watch the streamed panels yourself.

1. Singapore is indeed a little red dot.

There is so much more beyond just issues in Singapore. Sure, some may say there is no free speech. But Singapore is one of the best places to live, even for a gay person like myself.

It’s incredibly safe and relatively well-run, to the point that we end up oblivious to the plight of others. We don’t see the extent to which climate change is devastating the pacific region. We don’t hear how immigrants are being ostracised from their respective societies. We don’t relate to minority races, other genders, or individuals of other social statuses, even within Singapore.

If we open ourselves to conversations beyond our social spheres, we can learn a lot about the lives of others, and appreciate our own.

2. We all need a little support.

Having a strong support system is crucial to instilling self-belief and inspiring future generations. Support does not just come from family members, friends can also be amazing sources of support.

This is something that, unfortunately, the people we serve at The T Project don’t have. Everyone has the potential to be their authentic selves and live their fairytale lives, but we all need a little support.

If you’ve had the privilege of getting the affirmation from someone else before, pay it forward to someone who needs it. Whether it is your friend, your niece, or colleague, take the time to show someone, “I see you. Your efforts are not in vain. Keep going and you will make it one day”

It can make a massive difference in someone’s life.

3. It’s alright to question your career path

When my family asks me what I do for a living, it’s difficult explaining why I chose such an unconventional careeer. Seeing your friends in a cushy job, settling down, and starting a family can make you question if you are doing the right thing.

But everyone has their own priorities. Even President and Mrs. Obama shared about how they did not follow the “natural” career paths their parents expected, but they did what was important to them.

As long as you are doing good and doing what you love, it doesn’t really matter if it takes you a little longer to get to your end goal. If you ever wonder why you should continue with your work, just know that you’re in good company.

4. Change does not happen overnight.

At both Potato Productions and The T Project, we try to provide solutions to specific problems in society. This includes education, healthcare, and in The T Project’s case, transgender social service. While we would all love a quick fix, these are huge social issues that cannot be solved in one lifetime.

Like how our ancestors worked to provide us a better life, we may not get to see the future we want to live in. Just because we don’t see the results of our efforts, it does not mean that things aren’t improving.

If you are making a positive change for your community, know that your work is making a big difference for future generations.

5. Don’t forget to plan joy.

Singapore can be a stressful place and the work we do can get exhausting. Don’t be ashamed if you have to take a step back and take some time for yourself. As Mrs Obama very eloquently highlighted in her panel with Julia Roberts, “You have to plan your joy” (47.23).

We always make plans for work, but we rarely make plans for joy. Set aside time for something that makes you smile. Your work will still be there, global warming will still exist, but you need to be in top form to take on what the world has to throw at you.

You may have heard these lessons before; maybe more than once. You may even forget them after reading this article. But if any of these resonated with you, apply it in your work and personal life.

We didn’t get the chance to share about all the amazing Singaporeans that are a part of Obama Foundation Leaders: Asia-Pacific 2019. Any mentions of individuals or organisations does not mean approval or endorsement by or for anyone. To learn about the other leaders, visit https://www.obama.org/asia-pacific-19/#meet.

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