For years, Singapore’s Parliament has comprised largely of well-trained candidates in professional corporate environments, as opposed to candidates used to the rough-and-tumble of the startup scene.
However, that’s changing. In the recent General Election, there were many candidates fielded from the entrepreurial scene.
Far from sitting in an ivory tower, these six Singaporean politicians have set up and managed businesses of their own, and are bringing these useful experiences into politics and governance.
Here are these 6 individuals who started their own ventures before or after making their foray into politics:
Edward Chia was fielded in the General Election 2020 under the People’s Action Party’s (PAP).
His team won against the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) in the Holland-Bukit Timah GRC, acquiring 66.36 per cent of the votes alongside Vivian Balakrishnan, Christopher De Souza and Sim Ann.
Edward Chia has been a long-time entrepreneur with an especial interest in supporting and developing Singaporean music and culinary talents.
At 18, Edward founded the non-profit organisation Arts For Us All to engage youth in art-based community work.
When he was 21, he then co-founded Timbre while pursuing undergraduate studies at the National University of Singapore.
Today, the Timbre Group is one of Singapore’s most prolific social enterprises with a diversified portfolio of lifestyle and entertainment brands that include festival promotion, F&B brands and music management.
The Timbre Group operates four live music venues for local musicians to perform and grow their audience, as well as partners with organisers to launch music and arts events.
The social enterprise was the first to introduce a self-tray return system.
It also launched a Hawkerpreneur Incubation Program to encourage young Singaporeans to launch their own hawker businesses.
Worker’s Party (WP) member Raeesah Khan won against the PAP in a landmark ticket that earned WP 52.13 per cent of the vote at Sengkang GRC alongside Jamus Lim, He Ting Ru and Louis Chua.
She is the founder of the Reyna Movement, a social enterprise that empowers women from underprivileged communities through community engagement programs and upskilling opportunities.
The enterprise was founded in 2016, as a response to Rohingya refugee crisis in 2014.
In 2019, the Reyna Movement ran two projects: Kakak Dan Adik, which provides Rohingya refugees in Kuala Lumpur with aid and support, and Project Ria, which supports disempowered women in Singapore.
In 2020, Reyna’s Entrepreneurial Accelerator Program (REAP) was launched as a kick starter program for female-founded businesses, with an especial emphasis on women from underprivileged communities, in collaboration with Liyana Dhamirah, the founder of Virtual Assistants Singapore.
Teo Ser Luck
One of Singapore’s pre-eminent ministers, Teo Ser Luck has served as the Minister of State at the Ministry of Trade and Industry, Ministry of Manpower, and as the Mayor of the North East District of Singapore.
He has also served in the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports as the youngest office-bearer in government.
He played a pivotal role in the 2010 Youth Olympic Games, and represented the PAP, heading the Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC from 2006 to 2020.
Since his retirement from public office in 2017, Teo Ser Luck has built a string of ventures across sectors from education to sports and fintech.
The ex-politician is mum on the details of the ventures he has launched but revealed that he is one of several co-founders of Nufin Data.
Nufin Data’s cloud-based platform, NEMO, provides SMEs and startups with fast access to capital through secure data exchange, turning supply chain financing into a simple, secure and seamless process.
A former Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP) under the 13th Parliament of Singapore, Anthea Ong came to office in 2018 to speak on issues of social inclusion, mental health and volunteerism.
After a stint in the corporate world, Anthea embarked on a series of startup initiatives that include projects aimed at enhancing social inclusion.
That includes WIMBY, an initiative built to combat xenophobic sentiments towards migrant workers, and Playground Of Joy, which integrates mindfulness into an educational curriculum for children.
In 2014, Anthea founded the social enterprise Hush TeaBar, the first silent tea bar in Singapore.
Hush employs the deaf and those with mental health issues to raise awareness about the differently-abled, and address the epidemic of mental health issues in Singapore.
In 2017, Anthea co-founded A Good Space, a non-profit community owned co-operative nurturing collaboration and innovation among activists and changemakers.
The community has launched over 334 activities and projects for over 7,676 people in the past two years.
Rachel Ong entered politics in GE2020 as a candidate of the PAP for West Coast GRC, defeating the Progress Singapore Party (PSP) in a marginal win alongside ministers like Desmond Lee.
In 2001, Rachel founded Trybe, a social service agency that specialises in working with troubled youth.
Trybe is classed as an Institution of Public Character on the National Council of Social Services. It manages the Singapore Boys’ Hostel and offers intervention, rehabilitation and integration programs for youth.
Rachel is also the founder and acting Chief Executive Officer of ROHEI Corporation, a learning and development consultancy based in Singapore.
To date, ROHEI has partnered over 100 organisations and served over 70,000 executives across industries with a force of 60 full-time consultants.
The brand has expanded into China and has a foundation based in Manila.
Carrie Tan was elected into parliament in GE2020 under the PAP, serving as Member of Parliament for Nee Soon GRC.
Alongside ministers like K Shanmugan, Faishal Ibrahim and Derrick Goh, the team won the ticket against PSP with 61.9 per cent of the vote.
After a volunteering trip to South India in 2007, Carrie founded a social enterprise, Daughters of Tomorrow (DOT’s), incorporated in 2014.
Registered as a charity in Singapore, the organisation supports existing training agencies to underprivileged women, empowering them with the skills to support themselves.
DOT’s has impacted over 800 women through their skills training programs, enabling them to attain sustained employment and a strong social network.
The organisation provides women with access to IT literacy programs, temporary childminding, employment bridging support and other services.
The Rise Of The Entrepreneur-Politician
It’s a full time job running a country, but some of the politicians listed here have proven that you can make a change both on the national and ground level if you want it badly enough.
While ministerial candidates can claim to have invested their time towards the good of the local community, these politicians have stepped up to the plate by attempting to make social change of their own–some long before they entered the political arena.
Singapore’s economy, which also relies on smaller-scale SMEs, could benefit from having in power leaders who have built firms of their own and understand the types of concerns plaguing small businesses.
Ultimately, having an entrepreneur-politician in your back pocket not only makes for good PR–it may also make for better governance.
Featured Image Credit: Edward Chia’s Facebook / Raeesah Khan’s Facebook / A Magazine / Anthea Ong’s Facebook / Rohei / Teo Ser Luck’s Facebook