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IF you don't know anyone who, at 34, seems to have it all together, then you haven't met Elaine Kim.
The daughter of MP Lily Neo is a mother to three young sons, a medical doctor at HCA Hospice Care, and an entrepreneur who still makes time for freelance writing and philanthropy. It seems like a lot to have on one plate, but she believes that the flexibility of being an entrepreneur allows her to juggle both a family and a successful career. In fact, she cheerfully tells you she was back at work just two weeks after giving birth to her third son about five months ago.
She doesn't just run one business either. Dr Kim co-founded the luxury bridal boutique Trinity Gallery as well as Trehaus Co-work - a co-working space with office facilities as well as child-minding services and enrichment classes. The latter was inspired by her passion to support other working mothers, and is also why she started CRIB, a Singapore-based social enterprise that supports female entrepreneurs.
"I grew up being taught that I could do anything I put my mind to - it's a fortunate position to be in especially in Singapore where we have many opportunities. But I realise it's not the same everywhere for everybody."
You studied to be a doctor, how did you start on that route?
My parents are both doctors, so that has always been an option for me. But I was deciding between medical and business school because I've always had an entrepreneurial side. I started my first business when I was 17. At the same time, I felt like I could make a big impact as a doctor as well. I was torn, but then I figured I could become a doctor first, and go into business later as it's harder the other way around. So medicine became my core profession.
I was interested in looking after the elderly. Towards the end of med school, my mentor said it was something that suited me. Palliative care was very new at that time, so I was hesitant. But he recommended me for a job at a hospice and I've been there ever since.
What has your experience been like in this field of medicine?
The thing is, other doctors cure, I don't. All my patients die. It was quite tough in the beginning, because I would build a relationship with a patient and they would pass away. Every day I would go in and sign death certificates. But over time, I realised the truth in what we say at HCA - it's not about adding days to life, it's about adding life to days. I found that doing palliative care allows me to help provide the right ending to people's lives. My patients are also a constant reminder to me to have the right perspectives, to live fully, and remember what really matters - loved ones and family.
What makes you passionate about women's issues?
That was a gradual thing - I noticed it in my own life as an entrepreneur. I remember one day I was having dinner with some other ladies, and my co-founder and I said, 'Let's take our boys to Universal Studios tomorrow'. The other mothers were surprised we could do that and it made me realise how lucky I am to be able to choose when to spend quality time with my kids and when to work. That flexibility lets me prioritise my family but still chase my business dreams. I want to help other women achieve this.
But it's not easy. Women-led businesses get 60 per cent of the funding male-led businesses do. Women don't have strong networks, and tend to have less confidence to go out and start their own thing.
How do you think Singapore's culture matches up with other parts of the world?
We're not too bad in the grand scheme of things. But anywhere in the world there's still some way to go. Statistics say there are less than five per cent of women on boards, and not many women in governments. Compared with places like Japan and Korea, Singapore is better off.
The government has been trying to encourage work-life initiatives, but we need to have more conversation about it, and more support. A lot of companies are still not aware or open to the idea of providing flexible work schemes despite today's technology.
What are the benefits of having women in the workplace as you mentioned?
I think women are more collaborative, so they add value to a team that way. And I think they can sometimes use a soft power to achieve what they want. Having women brings new perspectives to a workplace, or a different stance or style. Like women can be more compassionate. That's why it's important to just be authentic and do things the way you think is right instead of trying to be harder or stronger than a man.
Sounds like you've achieved a lot at 34 - do you have an end goal?
I want to continue to make a social impact in any way I can. I constantly have new ideas for new businesses, but I think there's still more impact that can be made through CRIB and Trehaus. So I probably want to keep using those as platforms for change.
It's not that we don't have a lot of female entrepreneurs, we do, but we don't hear many of their stories. I think socially it's just not really acceptable for women to talk about their successes and achievements. So giving these women a voice to inspire other women and give them more confidence - that would be a good step forward.