"I've learnt to always stick to my mission, especially in the face of challenges or dismay, which is inevitable.”

Ms Denise Phua, Mayor of Central Singapore District, took the stage at the inaugural You Shine Award Ceremony on 26 May to share eight valuable lessons learnt during her journey in the people sector.

Ms Phua has been a key figure in creating milestones for the special needs education sector – some of her many contributions include establishing Pathlight, the first autism-focused school in Singapore and transforming several non-profit organisations such as the Eden School.

Drawing from her personal and organisational experiences, the engaging speaker delivered the lessons she learnt in serving the public through three Ms and five Cs:

1. Motive
Ms Phua strongly advised people to revisit their motives for serving. 

“Some people who serve start with the right reasons, but they eventually succumb to the flash.   When they become mini celebrities, they quickly lose sight of the mission and eventually lose the trust and followership of those who support them.” 

 “Always be careful as you move up the career ladder.   When people start treating you like a god, you may actually start to believe that you are god. It happens even in the charity sector.”

2. Mission
“I've learnt not to give in whenever I want to give up.   I've learnt to always stick to my mission, especially in the face of challenges or dismay, which is inevitable.”

3. Model
Ms Phua borrowed a story of Mahatma Gandhi to illustrate her point on being consistent with one’s words and actions:
When a woman in India was upset that her son was eating too much sugar, she brought her son to Gandhi to seek his help.   Gandhi asked the woman to return in two weeks. 

When she and her son returned two weeks later, Gandhi advised the boy to stop his consumption of sugar.   The woman then asked Gandhi why he did not just do last time.   Gandhi smiled and said, “I was still eating sugar two weeks ago.”  

“That to me is modelling. That to me is integrity,” explained Ms Phua.

4. Character
“Everybody has some idea on how to define character. For me, it’s very simple – do the right thing, even when nobody is watching.   We all know the right thing in our conscience.”

5. Competence
Ms Phua highlighted the importance of having not just character, but also competence: “Competence is the acquisition of skills, knowledge and abilities to do one’s job proficiently.   For example, you can be a man of character, but it’s not enough if you need to operate on someone and you don’t have the confidence to.” 

 “A person without character will not be humble enough to try to acquire the competence required for the job.”

6. Compassion
She encourages everyone in the service or people sector to carry a compassionate heart continuously: “If we don’t remind ourselves to have compassion, it is actually very easy for us to have our hearts hardened.” 

“Your feelings can become numb after serving for a time. It’s really sad if we become numb to people who require our support.”

7. Conviction
“Most of us have choices in life. Just because you chose the people sector doesn’t mean you have conviction or staying power.” 

“A lot of people whom I work with choose the people sector but always look back and say, ‘I left such great things and a good life behind’.   They never look forward. That’s not conviction to me.”

8. Contribution
Ms Phua shared a lesson she learnt from her superior during her time as a young executive: “From him, I learnt that whenever I want to identify a problem, I should also try to find a solution.”

She added, “I learnt from serving on the ground that you should be part of the solution.   It is very easy to say ‘this is not good’, or ‘this is what you should do’, or get somebody else to do it without contributing yourself.”

Ms Denise Phua is Mayor of Central Singapore District. She is also the Chairman of Government Parliamentary Committee in Social and Family Development and Vice-Chairman of Government Parliamentary Committee in Education. Ms Phua is the President of the not-for-profit charity, Autism Resource Centre (Singapore) and a Board Member of the Autism Association Singapore.