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Shirin Fozdar Programme (SFP) Board Member Ms Chan Ee Lin; Director, Lien Centre for Social Innovation Ms Christy Davis; author and international speaker Ms Margie Warrell; Ms Cassandra Chiu; Ms Melissa Chan; SFP Chairperson Ms Claire Chiang and Ms Vanessa Paranjothy at the SFP Annual Lecture 2019.
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City University

Women who are changing the world

Published on 22 November 2019

The 2019 SPF Annual Lecture highlights three inspiring women from its Connecting Dots photo exhibition and their impact on society.

The Shirin Fozdar Programme (SFP) Annual Lecture, which explores the challenges women face [link], marked its 10th anniversary this year by partnering with Women in Asia, a community that aims to bridge cultural and gender differences.

The partnership took the form of a photo story exhibition that celebrates women who have made a difference in Singapore. Titled Connecting Dots, the exhibition features more than a dozen prominent women, including SMU alumna, Paralympian Gold Medallist and youngest Nominated Member of Parliament Yip Pin Xiu; SMU alumna and Team Singapore Paralympic archer Nur Syahidah; Bollywood Veggies founder Ivy Singh; and The Food Bank co-founder Singapore Nicol Ng.

The featured women represent the bold, courageous women in Singapore who have connected the dots, so to speak, in innovative ways. “We believe women have the power to shape resilient communities with their intuitive ability to integrate industrial excellence and societal needs,” says Priyanka Shahra, SFP Advisory Board Member.

Here, we meet three of the women who turned adversity into opportunities for learning, growth and driving change.

Cassandra Chiu: Equal opportunities for all

A lecturer, psychotherapist, social advocate and author, Cassandra also manages the Safe Harbour Counselling Centre, where she helps people cope with depression and anxiety. She is also a person living with blindness. In fact, Cassandra is Singapore’s first woman guide dog handler.

She wants to change what it means to be disabled, not just for individuals, but also for society. In 2019, she published A Place For Us, which chronicled her experiences as a person living with visual impairment. The challenges she has faced, including being chased out of restaurants and yelled at by irate strangers, has only fuelled her desire to create equal opportunities for anyone with disabilities.

Melissa Chan: Supporting dementia patients and their caregivers

A health and social care innovator, Melissa has personally experienced the trials and tribulations of caring for someone with dementia — her father suffered young-onset dementia when she was only 14 years old. That gave her the impetus to work in a field where she could tackle the challenges of eldercare and dementia.

Today, she heads the community and outreach department at Homage, an on-demand home-care solution that matches seniors with trained caregivers through smart technology. Melissa is also the founder of Project We Forgot (PWF), a community for caregivers to persons with dementia.

Technology is the key in both of these endeavours. Homage’s app helps people to check in on elderly family members at home, or get help sending them to medical check-ups. Project We Forgot is a social network that provides caregivers with knowledge resources and peer support.

Melissa also serves on the steering committee for the World Young Leaders in Dementia (WYLD) Network, which works on developing innovative solutions for patients with dementia, and their families and communities.

Vanessa Paranjothy: Advocate for sustainable periods

An alumnus of SMU, Vanessa co-founded Freedom Cups with her sisters, Rebecca and Joanne. Their social enterprise is named after its star product — a silicone menstrual cup that can last up to 15 years, making this feminine hygiene product a more economical and eco-friendly option.

For every Freedom Cup sold, one is donated to a woman in an underprivileged community. This business model aims to make the product available to women in developing and developed societies, particularly in areas where women have no access to clean toilets, electricity or running water.

For her work, Vanessa was named to the Forbes 30 Under 30 list for Asia, and won a Commonwealth Youth Award. She has met with heads of state to advocate for the importance of sustainable periods. Despite initial apprehensions, Freedom Cups have been well received, and now operates in 10 countries across Asia and Africa, including Singapore, Malaysia, Cambodia, India, Nepal, Philippines and Nigeria. The sisters hope to reach out to more women and help to make a positive difference in their lives.

(From left) Ms Chan Ee Lin in conversation with Ms Cassandra Chiu, Ms Vanessa Paranjothy and Ms Melissa Chan during the question and answers panel session.
(From left) Ms Chan Ee Lin in conversation with Ms Cassandra Chiu, Ms Vanessa Paranjothy and Ms Melissa Chan during the question and answers panel session.