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Among those who continue to use their influence to solve pressing philanthropic issues in Singapore, we highlight five women who have dedicated their lives to the service of others

Singapore may be a first world country but unfortunately, various communities tend to be neglected.

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In fact, despite our significant progress when it comes to women’s rights, did you know that it was only in 1995 that Singapore entered the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)? As a member state, Singapore has to submit regular reports showing that progress has been made in dealing with violence against women. 

It was just a year before that, in 1994, that Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew declared that the government had been “young, ignorant and idealistic” when it gave women equal rights.

Additionally, when it comes to the needy in Singapore, according to Singstat.gov, median monthly household income from work fell by 2.5 per cent in nominal terms in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic. This means that there are an increasing number of families in Singapore that are struggling to make ends meet.

Considering what we know, there is certainly still so much more work that we need to do to support our vulnerable communities in Singapore and to pave the way for equality and fairness. 

While the local philanthropy scene is made up of many notable people, we highlight some of the incredible women who are making waves in the industry and are featured on Tatler’s 2021 Asia’s Most Influential list which was just released.

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1. Dr Kanwaljit Soin

As a well-respected orthopaedic and hand surgeon at Mount Elizabeth Hospital, an outspoken campaigner and an active member of numerous welfare and advocacy organisations, Dr Kanwaljit Soin is certainly a force to behold despite being 79 years old.

Dr Kanwaljit, who was inducted into the Singapore Women’s Hall of Fame in 2014, is actively involved in welfare and advocacy organisations. In 1985, Dr Kanwaljit became a founding member of the Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE). She later took on the role of president in 1991 and held the position till 1993. 

Her other credentials include being founding chair of the Singapore chapter of the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), founding president of Women’s Initiative for Ageing Successfully, president of the Singapore chapter of the International Women’s Forum and global ambassador of Helpaage International. 

Dr Kanwaljit has also received many awards and recognition over the years including the Singapore Medical Association Merit Award, Singapore’s Woman of the Year, the International Women’s Forum’s Women Who Make a Difference Award and a UNIFEM Lifetime Achievement Award.

If all that isn’t enough, Dr Kanwalhit was also Singapore’s first female Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP) and she held the role from 1992 to 1996.

2. Genevieve Peggy Jeffs

As a fashion icon and a lifelong philanthropist, Genevieve Peggy Jeffs has long been an influential woman to watch. 

With her influence and dedication, Jeffs has chaired numerous fundraising gala committees with the aim of helping the underprivileged and less fortunate in society. 

She has worked with organisations such as the Singapore Red Cross, the Breast Cancer Foundation and the Muscular Dystrophy Association, among others.

The stylish socialite was also a member of Lions Club International for over 25 years and served as president of its Singapore chapter. Jeffs also served on the International Red Cross committee from 2003 to 2007 when she lived in the United Kingdom (UK). While there, she helped the Red Cross to raise funds for the work they do. 

When she returned to Singapore from the UK in 2007, she continued her efforts by chairing the Singapore Red Cross gala dinner and bazaar organising committees from 2007 to 2019.

Most recently, Jeffs was the chairperson of the Peranakan Association Singapore’s 2021 edition of the Peranakan Ball.

3. Laura Hwang

As a banker, passionate advocate of women’s rights and an avid supporter of the arts scene in Singapore, Laura Hwang has certainly made a huge impact in the philanthropy scene in Singapore. 

Ever a person to push boundaries, Hwang made waves in the local banking industry when she was named the first Singaporean managing director of international merchant bank Arbuthnot Latham Asia in 1984. In an industry that is traditionally male-dominated, this was quite the achievement. 

Passionate about women’s rights, Hwang also served as the president of the Singapore Council of Women’s Organisations and is currently Singapore’s representative to the Asean Commission on the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Women and Children.

Hwang is most notably known for successfully motivating changes to the Women’s Charte and helping to implement improved legal and support systems for divorced women and families with Maintenance Support Central.

Besides women’s rights, Hwang is also a fervent supporter of the arts scene in Singapore. She currently oversees the Singapore Dance Theatre’s fundraising efforts, which are matched to the dollar by the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth. The Singapore Dance Theatre was founded in 1987 and is the country’s first professional dance company. 

4. Durreen Shahnaz

As a skilled entrepreneur, Professor Durreen Shahnaz made her first big move in 1999 when sold her first internet company, the New York-based Onenest, an online global marketplace for hand-made goods.

A decade later, while she was teaching social innovation and entrepreneurship at the National University of Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, she was invited by The Rockefeller Foundation to a gathering in Italy—an event that motivated her to take up impact investing as a career.

In 2009, Professor Durreen launched the world’s first social stock exchange, the Singapore-based Impact Investment Exchange (IIX). This move connected investment with development and unlocked millions of dollars for high-impact enterprises.

However, it wasn’t all about accumulating wealth for Professor Durreen. Rather, IIX’s sister entity, IIX Foundation, creates opportunities for blended capital to leverage philanthropy funding to unlock investment capital.

She has been awarded the Joseph Wharton Social Impact Award, Asia Society’s Asia Game Changer Award and the Oslo Business for Peace Award for her efforts and continues to make waves as IIX’s chief executive officer (CEO)

5. Noor Quek

As one of the first female private bankers in Singapore, Noor Quek was already bursting glass ceilings for women from the get-go. 

Quek started her career at Standard Chartered Merchant Bank as assistant manager for Singapore and Malaysia in its corporate finance division in 1974.

This proved to be a springboard for her other roles and Quek later moved on to roles such as deputy managing director at Rabobank Asia, business development director for Southeast Asia at GE Capital, and business development director for Southeast Asia at Citigroup Private Bank.

In 2007, determined to do more, Quek started NQ International, a firm that provides strategies and solutions in wealth management, corporate restructuring, and mergers and acquisitions.

However, it’s not all about money and titles for Quek. In fact, she is also a heavyweight in the philanthropy scene in Singapore. In fact, she was the co-founder of Singapore’s Breast Cancer Foundation in 1997 after her mother was diagnosed with the illness and served on its executive committee for 22 years in various capacities.

She was also the former deputy co-chairperson of BoardAgender, an organisation promoting the advancement of more women into senior leadership roles and the boardroom. 

Read the full list of Asia’s Most Influential 2021 here.

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