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The world, their oyster
Seeing value in graphics
SO, you like drawing illustrations. Imagine if you could make use of it as a corporate tool rather than mere art. Bernie Quah, 27, has cracked that code with her graphic recording work where she is marrying her skill in drawing with the ability to synthesise information.
Graphic recording came onto the scene in Asia in the last five years or so, as a form of note-taking where information is transcribed in visual or hand-drawn form on big posters, rather than typed or written.
Ms Quah started her company, Sketch Post, in Singapore in 2013, took it to Kuala Lumpur and after a year, to Hong Kong where it's now very much a norm for financial corporations to have their boardroom or seminar proceedings encapsulated in a drawing rather than in a sheaf of notes.
She was most recently in Kobe drawing up the proceedings of the World Health Organization's Global Forum on Ageing, and she's also recorded the Singapore Summit, UN Women workshops in Bangkok and the Asean Business and Investment Forum 2015, where US President Barack Obama spoke on the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement.
Not bad for an interior design graduate who loved to draw, and had the confidence to start her own company just two years after graduation. "It was a job stint in San Francisco which gave me the confidence to start up Sketch Post when I was only 23," relates Ms Quah. Working for a creative agency there, she saw how it was alright, and even encouraged, for young people to start their own businesses, as long as they had the skills. "It's very different than in Asia. It was OK to take chances," she recalls.
In her design consultancy work experience, she'd also done "journey illustrations" to inform clients of work flow. Then she saw what graphic recorders did, and realise that she too could illustrate as long as she could draw faster, and make the sketches larger.
When she started in Singapore, graphic recording was very new and those who did it were independent freelance illustrators. The Malaysian-born Ms Quah now has three other illustrators working with her.
"In 2013, the business landscape was good and people were open to innovations like using illustrations and visuals. It wasn't seen as something childish," she explains, adding that though she was young, corporates were open to working with her. A lot of corporate personnel had also been to conferences in Europe or America and seen graphic recording there. So people grasped the value of it very quickly, she notes.
The majority of her clients are in the finance industry, such as banks and accounting firms, and she also does a fair amount of work with event companies that organise conferences.
What she does today, she's learnt on the job, says Ms Quah. "The ability to draw is a basic. But graphic recording is about listening and then synthesising and organising the information and that's learnt on the job," she elaborates.
She doesn't give a detailed record of meeting proceedings, but to create trigger points for conversation to be built upon, or for networking. Now she travels between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore for work and to Hong Kong about once a month.
"Graphic recording is a way for illustrators to create value for others. If we did art, like paintings, then it's very subjective. But graphic recording is more objective as you visualise content for others. It's a merger between the subjective and objective and very valuable to help getting the conversation going," she says.
This year, Sketch Post will publish a book which is a compilation of their graphic recording work, and Ms Quah also plans to give workshops teaching companies how to use illustrations in their work.
Reproductive issues, ethics
DID you know that if women in Singapore wanted to freeze their eggs for future use, they can't? Nor can they have their in vitro fertilised (IVF) embryos tested for chromosomal abnormalities, although the embryos can be tested for genetic diseases.
It's not the type of conversation you'd expect to have with Harpreet Bedi, who manages one of the newest hip boutique hotels in town - the 41-room Vagabond Hotel on Syed Alwi Road. It's a rare likelihood that a chit chat with the stylish lady will veer off art and lifestyle into ethical issues of assisted reproductive technology but if it does, you'd find that Ms Harpreet has deep knowledge of reproductive issues, besides the know-how of managing the family's luxury property business.
Her interest in these issues is naturally because she had to use IVF herself, for her four children, aged 18 months to 14 years old. When she did so, the now-Singapore citizen found out that despite the country's need and wish for its citizens to have a higher birthrate for population replacement, there's not a lot of clarity on the latest reproductive technology available to women. "I have the benefit of doing what I needed to do, but I realised that in Singapore, many people don't know the options that are available. I don't know who's making the policies but it seems that women in Singapore have got the short end of the stick," she points out.
Ms Harpreet had her sixth IVF done in the US, where she found out about chromosomal abnormality testing and other procedures not available in Singapore.
"There is comparatively little information on the ethics of these treatments, particularly in a Singaporean context," she notes, which is the reason she set up Belris (Bioethics Legal Research in Singapore) in 2012, a non-profit group that is dedicated to promoting research and collaborative dialogue in ethics in reproductive technology in Singapore.
Belris mainly funds studies on reproductive ethics such as an online survey to get views on elective oocyte (egg) freezing. In 2012, for example, Belris commissioned Clearstate (an Economist Intelligence Unit business) to conduct the survey, which found a positive reception among 206 respondents towards the idea.
Belris is privately funded by several donors, but she finds that very few are willing to talk about reproductive issues. "They're also afraid of being vocal of something political although Belris isn't an advocacy platform," she stresses.
She might have had her children successfully through IVF, but the trained lawyer found that reproductive issues are not things she can easily walk away from - if anything, she hopes that Belris benefits other women in similar positions.
If there is advocacy involved, it's for women's rights, as setting up Belris was necessary, she says, to fund legitimate research, because they'd be ignored by government bodies otherwise and women would be none the wiser.
Global fitness concierge service
PATTY Lee can be the poster girl for personal training (PT). She may have just joined the 40s club, but with a figure that looks a decade (or two, even) younger, it just makes you want to sign up for a personal trainer on the spot. What's heartening to know is that she had to work out to look that fit and lean - through running at first, and then through PT.
"I wasn't a very sporty person to begin with, but when I went to Shanghai for an internship in 2004, the food there got me putting on weight quickly!" admits the Hong Kong-born, Canadian-bred MBA graduate.
So she started running in her early 20s. But when she got into her 30s, all the running - even at 10km every day - didn't seem to make a difference. Her global roles soon brought her to Singapore in 2008, and in 2010, she discovered PT, and saw and felt the drastic change.
But as her work got increasingly global with frequent travelling, it began to affect her PT progress. Seeing a need for a service that would help people like her maintain their PT despite their frequent traveller schedules, she quit her global role in communications for a Swiss healthcare company and started WorldTrainer.
The "global fitness concierge service" is all about helping professionals stay committed to their fitness regime while abroad. It matches the right trainer to the traveller, and Ms Lee has also designed a system for shared information between trainers to ensure quality and consistency of training.
"This means clients can consistently work towards their fitness goals regardless of where they are or who is delivering the training session, so they're not regressing in their fitness regime," explains Ms Lee, who personally screens all the certified trainers in nine cities in Asia, six in Europe and six in North America.
Those she's selected all have the necessary qualifications, but most importantly, they must have the ability to quickly gauge and motivate clients. Technology was a major enabler for her service, naturally, as she wouldn't have been able to form a global network without it. "And with social media platforms, it's easier to reach people and have a good gauge of what they want."
She continues to travel frequently for WorldTrainer, but now is able to keep up with her PT five to six days a week, Pilates twice a week to work the little muscle stabilisers and Muay Thai once a week to help with reaction.
But leaving a corporate role to set up one's own business is a big leap as it's a big risk and requires a different mentality. "You have to believe in yourself as it's easy to get discouraged. You get a lot of positive feedback when you're in the corporate world, but with your own business, you're on your own. And I find that personal training has given me that focus. With my trainer, I'm focused on building myself, and now I'm focusing on building the service."
Mixing business, culture and lifestyle
WHILE advising investors on property projects in China and running her marketing/trading business in Singapore, Shanghai-born Jennifer Li discovered the culture of tea in Beijing, Taiwan and Hong Kong.
"When I was in Taipei, I'd visited different tea shops and found them to be soothing . . . and realised also that the tea culture comes together with the appreciation of art, floral arrangement, scents and so on. All elements of the Chinese culture come together holistically in an atmosphere that generates calmness," explains Ms Li, who's in her 40s.
Realising that this cultural practice has its philosophy behind it, Ms Li decided to delve more into the philosophy and the practice. "This was about three years ago when I got to know people in this circle and learnt from masters in the region," she shares.
Struck by the conviction that busy corporates needed a balance in their lives, which can be obtained from culture, she decided to leverage her passion and combine it with her business and corporate know-how. Ms Li took two years to lay the groundwork for Camellia-Yingcha, which opened last year as a private members club based on business networking and cultural learning.
The business graduate from the Beijing Foreign Affairs University had started her career with a public relations firm in Hong Kong. She'd decided to set up a marketing/trading business in Singapore about 15 years ago when the opportunity came along, and she also used to advise Singaporean and international investors interested in China.
The space she has furnished for Camellia-Yingcha at Waterfront Plaza is an oasis of calm in the business area, with calligraphy paintings on the walls and complete Chinese tea sets on the tables and private meeting rooms. The space is often used for networking or corporate function events and talks, and also pop-up events such as art exhibitions. Camellia Yingcha also has a Chinese physician for clinical appointments as well as a well-trained and qualified massage therapist to offer treatments for members.
"It's a platform for business but also culture and lifestyle. In Chinese culture, the idea is to achieve overall balance with lifestyle and work, and look after one's health," she says. "The good thing is, one can cultivate a wide range of cultural interests within the oriental context."
Camellia-Yingcha's core business is providing office services to companies that want to set up a presence in Singapore or the region, while Ms Li also often facilitates networking opportunities for business and corporate members. Membership is in three tiers: individual, corporate and strategic partners.
"I've helped people invest in other companies. But now I'm creating my own brand and building my own team - it's a new experience for me," says Ms Li. She sees this as a good opportunity though to take Chinese culture overseas, and even to the West, as the culture part of the business can help bring businessmen together and give them a softer focus as they network with one another.
"The cultural content is to promote creativity and we're focused on creating content - to meet the needs of our members," she adds.