Generation Grit duo get a chance to see Obama speak

Above: (From left) Mr Delane Lim, executive director of the Character and Leadership Academy, and Mr Wong Zi Heng, a trainee teacher, with Bank of Singapore chief executive Bahren Shaari. Mr Bahren invited the pair to hear former US president Barack
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong having dinner with Mr Obama in a photo PM Lee shared on Facebook. Mr Obama is on a week-long tour of Singapore, New Zealand, Australia and Japan.PHOTO: LEE HSIEN LOONG/FACEBOOK
Above: (From left) Mr Delane Lim, executive director of the Character and Leadership Academy, and Mr Wong Zi Heng, a trainee teacher, with Bank of Singapore chief executive Bahren Shaari. Mr Bahren invited the pair to hear former US president Barack
Mr Delane Lim, executive director of the Character and Leadership Academy, and Mr Wong Zi Heng, a trainee teacher, with Bank of Singapore chief executive Bahren Shaari. Mr Bahren invited the pair to hear former US president Barack Obama speak after reading in The Straits Times of how they overcame adversity in their lives.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

Entrepreneur Delane Lim, 32, watches speeches by former United States president Barack Obama regularly for inspiration, so listening to him speak in person yesterday was a big "wow" moment.

"It is, like, 10 times better than seeing a Korean pop star," he quipped.

Trainee teacher Wong Zi Heng, 26, said he was inspired by Mr Obama's life and achievements.

Mr Wong, who is paralysed from the chest down, said: "The thing I took away most was how he said we should have hope and how we should take action to make things happen. As a teacher in training, I believe I am in a position where I can help students fulfil their potential."

The pair had been extended an invitation by Bank of Singapore's chief executive Bahren Shaari to hear Mr Obama address 1,000 of the private bank's clients and guests from around the world at the Shangri-La Hotel.

The Bank of Singapore, a subsidiary of OCBC Bank, had previously invited other luminaries, like Nobel Prize recipients and economists Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz, to speak to its clients.

During the hour-long closed-door session, Mr Obama, 56, who served two terms as president, talked about his life's journey, topics close to his heart like climate change and broader subjects such as the role of the US as a superpower.

He also touched on how the Obama Foundation, which he and his wife Michelle set up after he left office last year, aims to empower the next generation to change their world.

The session was moderated by former Nominated MP (NMP) and communications consultant Viswa Sadasivan. Other guests spotted included veteran diplomat Tommy Koh, former NMP Fang Ai Lian and NTUC FairPrice chief executive and Member of Parliament Seah Kian Peng.

Mr Obama, who is on a week-long tour of Singapore, New Zealand, Australia and Japan, also met a group of young leaders from Asean countries to hear about what they are doing in their communities and explore how the Obama Foundation can help them "take their work to the next level", according to the foundation's website.

He also had dinner with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who posted a picture on Facebook of the two of them sharing a lighthearted moment and wrote: "Happy to hear that he (Mr Obama) is busy working with his foundation and other charities. The best part about life after the presidency - more time with family and friends!"

Mr Bahren said he had invited Mr Lim and Mr Wong as he was "very moved" after reading about how they had bounced back from major setbacks in The Straits Times' Generation Grit series, which profiles millennials who have dealt with major adversity in their lives.

"Everyone encounters obstacles and setbacks in life. It is how we pull ourselves up to overcome them that defines who we are. I hope this invitation to listen to former president Obama - who has inspired millions around the world with his optimism and never-say-die attitude - speak in person would be a boost to them and instil in them the belief that, yes, they can," Mr Bahren said, echoing Mr Obama's rallying cry.

Mr Wong became paralysed at the age of 21 after a swimming accident. Despite his disability, he completed a physics degree at the National University of Singapore and is doing a postgraduate diploma at the National Institute of Education.

Mr Lim came close to suicide after a series of health, relationship and business blows, but recovered to start a charity that teaches students how to spot signs of depression in their peers and help them.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 20, 2018, with the headline 'Generation Grit duo get a chance to see Obama speak'. Print Edition | Subscribe