Inspired by mum to honour special women

Entrepreneur seeks to laud peers who give back to society

Ms Ann Phua launched the Xtraordinary Women award to recognise female entrepreneurs who still find time for the community.
Ms Ann Phua launched the Xtraordinary Women award to recognise female entrepreneurs who still find time for the community. ST PHOTO: STEFFI KOH

SOCIAL entrepreneur Ann Phua grew up watching her mother take care of her 10 other siblings, as well as her father's extended family. They lived all under one roof after he died when she was only eight.

"She did everything herself," said Ms Phua, 63, a mother of two and grandmother of one. "She even found time to help the community by mediating in neighbourhood disputes, which I really admired."

It was partially in tribute to her that Ms Phua launched the Xtraordinary Women award to honour female entrepreneurs.

"We hope to recognise women who go the extra mile, who have a family but still manage to run a business and find a way to give back to the community. This award is a pat on the shoulder, to give them some encouragement."

The award, first given out in 2012, is presented by the International Women's Federation of Commerce and Industry (Singapore) (IWFCIS), which Ms Phua chairs. She launched the federation in 2007 after realising that many women were not financially independent.

"Many women give up careers to take care of their families, which is all right... but my stand is that, yes ladies, you have academic qualifications, so you can add value and have an income, have some savings. Because you never know what will happen," she said.

Under Ms Phua, the IWFCIS mentors female entrepreneurs through its business incubation programme, which advises them on things like legal and funding matters. It also organises networking events and workshops on topics such as sales and branding.

Some of her charges, like Ms Sharifah Fazzeleen Syed Ali, 38, have also accompanied her to give presentations at overseas business conferences. "Ann is good at identifying people's strengths and empowering them, giving them a nudge in the right direction," said Ms Sharifah, who runs organic skincare line La Maison Bio.

Ms Phua grew up in a big house in Tai Seng, now an industrial estate, where she was surrounded by pet birds and wildlife. She credits her love of nature for spurring her to start environmental non-governmental organisation the Hemispheres Foundation in 1996.

"It was challenging initially because we had to change people's mindsets about wastage, like leaving the lights on or the tap running. A lot of them would say to me: 'But this is my lifestyle, my habit'."

Eighteen years down the road, the foundation educates people about the environment not just at home, but also abroad in developing nations like Vietnam and Cambodia.

For instance, Ms Phua and her project managers set up an academy in Cambodia to teach locals English by incorporating environmental terms into the syllabus, such as "A is for Acid Rain" and "P is for Plastics".

In Singapore, the foundation also holds a yearly "No Disposables" day at primary schools, getting pupils to calculate the amount of waste they save. In January, it held an environmental youth summit, gathering 450 students from 13 countries to conduct environmental audits in 1,500 households in Clementi. Next year's edition will be held in Vietnam.

Ms Phua has focused such efforts primarily on students. "If you can even have a 10 per cent impact on them when they are young, the effect it has when they get older is tremendous."

To nominate candidates for this year's Xtraordinary Women award, go to

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