Our year: 10 newsmakers look back on 2020

1. Theseus Chan, 59

Founder of multidisciplinary design studio Work, and Designer of the Year at the inaugural President’s Design Award in 2006.


“While 2020 has the makings of an annus horribilis, it has not been all doom and gloom for the design community.

I have seen designers bonding, sharing resources and generally looking out for one another throughout 2020. If anything, it has dawned on me that as the year ends, we must all reach out to one another. We also need to celebrate our designs which I think have made great strides in the last two decades.

Moving ahead, we must continue to share Singapore’s design, designers, creations and urban culture with the rest of the world with confidence and strength."

2. Piyush Gupta, 60

Chief executive of DBS Group, which was named World’s Best Bank by financial publication Global Finance for the third consecutive year.


"We will look back at 2020 as a seminal year in three important regards.

First, a major inflection point in digital consumption, especially of services like health, education and finance.

Second, a dramatic evolution in work arrangements, with 'Zoom' and 'work from home' becoming bywords.

Finally, a recognition that tail risks do occur and attention to these is of paramount importance.

But above all, the year served to remind us that it is solidarity and the personal touch that make us a human race."

3. Joseph Schooling, 25

Olympic swimming champion who was meant to defend his 100m butterfly title at the Tokyo Games, which was eventually postponed to next year.


"2020 is a mixed bag of emotions for me. I think you can find positives out of every negative. On one hand, I am glad to have more time to prepare for Tokyo 2020. 

It gives me an extra year to get physically and mentally stronger, working on the things that can get me to where I want to be in 2021. Although we’ve had to do things a bit differently, ‘different’ doesn’t mean we can’t do other things to get me to the same spot I wanted to be in.

So I’m looking at the extra year as a positive boost for myself."

4. Ng Chee Meng, 52

Secretary-general of the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC).


"To me as the labour chief, 2020 has been about jobs, jobs and jobs – helping our workers keep their jobs; helping those who lost their jobs find jobs soonest; and upskilling those with jobs to take on higher-value roles. 

It has been a year of trepidation, with the pandemic impacting everyone worldwide. But one thing is certain in Singapore – that NTUC, unions and tripartite partners are doing all we can to save the lives and livelihoods of our workers. 

As 2020 draws to a close, I want to assure our workers that you will remain at the heart of everything we do, and NTUC will continue to do all we can to protect and care for you."

5. Zulkifli Baharudin, 61

Executive chairman of Indo-Trans Logistics Corporation, Singapore’s non-resident Ambassador to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, and former Nominated MP.


"I will remember 2020 and Covid-19 for allowing us to slow down and get to know one another in a better way.

I feel like I am closer to my fellow Singaporeans and community members, even if they are not my friends and not related to me. 

In a normal year, without any pandemic, we would all be in a rush to get things done – but this year has been abnormal, with plenty of disruptions. I’m thankful that some of those disruptions have allowed us to better understand each other.

I have no doubt that the crisis has made us stronger as a country and as a society."

6. Priscilla Shunmugam, 39

Founder and designer of Ong Shunmugam.


"I spent six months in the thick of Covid-19 in London. The closure of our first London store in March before it even opened shook us to the core. 

Two years of planning, investing and spreadsheets were gone in two calls with my lawyer and accountant. 

I’m still coming to terms with being a fashion designer and business owner in a post-pandemic world, trying to strike a balance between being reactive but not opportunistic. 

The one thought that helped me come to terms with the year is that in entrepreneurship lies risk. And in risk lies loss. In the grand scheme of relativity, I’ve had my share of good years."

7. Constance Lien, 21

Jiu-jitsu world champion and ST Athlete of the Year.


"It’s been a tough year, with all the disruption and not being able to train for an extended period. This has taught me not to take training for granted, and to learn to adapt while being responsible.

I ventured into other things to make myself a more holistic athlete. I picked up wakesurfing, which trained my balance and taught me to relax and go with the flow, which is totally different from always being tense and trying to be in control in Brazilian jiu-jitsu.

I was also able to focus more on mental and emotional health, so while it was tough, I feel that if I had not gone through all this, I would still have been a one-dimensional athlete."

8. Ron Sim, 62

Founder and executive chairman of V3 Group, whose fintech arm jointly launched a digital academy for small and medium-sized enterprises this year.


"This year has highlighted the importance of courage, conviction and creativity. These qualities will help us navigate the turbulent and uncertain times ahead so that we can emerge stronger and more resilient. 

Wherever you are in your career, I believe that the courage to make decisions, the conviction to transform and the creativity to stay ahead of the curve are critical success factors. 

When we take ownership of a situation, recognise our areas for growth and development, and come together as one community to share ideas and innovate, we will be even more prepared to tackle challenges and continue to transform for the future."

9. Iskandar Jalil, 80

Master potter and Cultural Medallion recipient who has a new exhibition at Ion Art Gallery.


"This year has been quite drastic for some people, but for me, it’s been the same thing – travelling to my workshop at Temasek Polytechnic to do pottery, and teaching a few people. I’m an educator. It’s my duty to pass on as much as my can. 

The highlight of this year was when I heard that my grandson had been accepted into Victoria School. I was from Victoria, and my son was also from Victoria. Now three of us are from the same school, keeping the tradition.

Next year, I hope I can travel again. Previously, every few months, I would disappear from Singapore – all kinds of places, just to be away."

10. Jo Tan, 38

Winner of the 2020 Life Theatre  Awards for Best Actress.


"2020 should have been a pretty good year for me, because I had most of the year filled up with work.

Then the industry that I had struggled to find a place in started falling apart, and it’s still kind of falling apart now. I just don’t know whether it’ll ever go back to normal.
My husband and I started making digital work. 

Recently, I wrote a script called Pivot, which features a bunch of digital media that artists have had to pivot to this year such as Zoom theatre, podcasts and so on. 

I was also a small part of The Good Practices In Singapore Theatre Work Group (to codify best practices and improve protection for freelancers), for which a first working draft has been created. 

Many people in the industry have been hard done by with Covid-19 magnifying inherent issues in the system, and we’re all trying to put pieces of our lives back together."