2020 was marked by much crisis and uncertainty, but it has also been a history-making year for women.
We’ve gained more representation in government (hello, VP-elect Kamala Harris!), brought more awareness and accountability to the #metoo movement, and in the corporate realm, we’re seeing more women joining the top rung of business leaders.
While women have never had it harder multi-tasking and navigating their way through the Covid-19 pandemic, it’s clear from this list of power players that we’ll soon be ruling the world.
The Entrepreneur: Caecilia Chu, 36
In the male-dominated landscape of fintech, Caecilia Chu stands out. The CEO and co-founder of YouTrip, a fee-free multi-currency mobile wallet linked with Mastercard is currently one of the fastest-growing fintech companies in Asia.
It raised US$26 million (S$34.6 million) in pre-Series A funding (the largest for a fintech start-up in Asia) and despite the Covid-19 pandemic, exponentially grew its business by 300 per cent vs. the same period in 2019.
YouTrip’s timing could not be more optimal, given that we’re all shopping online and preferring contactless payments. Moreover, its core premise – offering savings from hefty foreign currency and transaction fees – is one we can all appreciate.
In 2021: YouTrip will add more features like budgeting tools and planning, as well as peer-to-peer money transfers – even more reason to make YouTrip one of your go-to apps.
The Disruptors: Xuan Jiang and Xiaoyin Qu, 27
In a year that’s been spent almost entirely online, these two Facebook alums, Xuan Jiang and Xiaoyin Qu, were ahead of the curve. Where Zoom has given us a reliable way to work-and-meet remotely, it lacks novelty.
Enter Run The World's virtual experience with personalised features specifically designed to give that dopamine fix.
The platform includes the option to take group selfies, organise ticket sales, conduct social polls and the killer feature: the cocktail party, allowing individuals to randomly meet for 5-minute conversations, so a virtual meeting ends up feeling like an in-person one.
In 2021: Expect great things of this California-based start-up that includes Will Smith and Kevin Hart as investors. It’s already raised US$10.8 million in Series A funding and has clinched a partnership with TedX – perfectly timed as we’re all in need of ideas worth spreading.
The Breakout Star: Lee Joo Young, 28
As gender roles become more fluid, one unexpected genre getting “woke” is Korean dramas. Female lead roles now depict transgender individuals or ones exhibiting the strength of character, which were unheard of until recently.
One actress making waves for taking on such daring roles is Lee Joo Young. The fresh-faced, chameleon-like actress was recently awarded the 2020 Screen International Rising Star Award at the New York Asian Film Festival for her work in Baseball Girl, playing an athlete who battles chauvinism to make it into the team.
It’s not the first challenging character she’s played. In popular drama Itaewon Class, she played a transgender woman, a role she navigated with authenticity, careful thought and depth.
While Joo Young’s choice of gender-free roles is unintentional, she has been vocal about hoping to see more diverse and inclusive roles available for Korean actresses, ones she will surely be a shoo-in for.
In 2021: With more actresses like Lee Joo Young taking on more gender-fluid roles, there looks to be a sea of change happening in the Korean movie industry, one that’s long overdue.
The Beauty Queen: J.Lo, 51
It was only a matter of time before the queen of pop added a skincare line to her beauty empire – and it’s exactly what we need now.
As full makeup looks have been benched for a natural at-home appearance, it’s all the more important to sport a glowy, dewy complexion, which is something Jennifer Lopez is known for.
Set to launch on Jan 1, 2021, the 8-piece product line has been concocted along her five Ss — sleep, sunscreen, serum, supplements, and sano (Spanish for sane).
The result? A moisturiser, cleanser, serum, sheet mask, sunscreen, eye cream and complexion booster that promises to impart her J.Lo glow via its hero ingredient of olive oil (she swears by this) and other supercharged boosters like Japanese rice sake ferment, and anti-ageing peptides.
Going by J.Lo’s enviable skin, this skincare line looks to be a sell-out.
In 2021: The online and pre-order buzz is already growing and two products – the JLo Glow In a Multitasking Serum (US$79/$105) and That Blockbuster In A Nonstop Wonder Cream (US$58/S$77) – are piqued to top the pre-order list.
Singapore’s Next Olympian: Tan Sze En, 20
For the first time since 2012, Singapore will field a gymnast in the Olympic Games.
Training since she was six years old, the 1.72m-tall artistic gymnast came to the sport in an unexpected manner: her imitation of her brother doing cartwheels inspired her mother to enrol her in gymnastics classes.
Sze En’s qualification for the Olympic Games is even more impressive, taking into account a shoulder surgery undertaken in 2018, leaving her just four months to train.
Currently based in the US, training at Legacy Elite Gymnastics and studying at Stanford, her grace on the bars is the result of consistent hard work and a determined mindset: “Nothing is impossible. You can do anything you set your mind to,” she said in an interview with Youth.sg on how she became an Olympic athlete.
In 2021: While the Tokyo 2020 games had to be postponed, Tan Sze En is all set to compete in the 2021 Tokyo Summer Games where the nation will be eagerly looking and cheering her on.
The Politician: Jacinda Ardern, 40
As seasoned world leaders fumbled their way through the early days of the Covid-19 crisis, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern navigated it like a pro.
Pre-empting the virus’ highly infectious nature, she calmly shut down the country, drawing firm boundaries from the get-go, and then utilised a four-tier system to re-open the country.
She banned travellers from China in February and closed borders to all non-residents in mid-March when there was only a handful of cases.
While some viewed her measures as overly harsh, to date New Zealand has fewer than 25 Covid-related deaths and recorded fewer than 2,000 cases – this rivals the daily figures for some countries.
Praised both at home and globally for her “be strong, be kind” leadership style, Jacinda adopted a positive, reassuring manner in communicating to New Zealanders.
This not only inspired confidence, but also united the nation when it came to issues of social distancing, self-imposed quarantine and masking.
Today, as some countries go back into harsh lockdowns, New Zealanders are enjoying the summer season and making plans to celebrate Christmas together – proof that they’ve handled the crisis like a boss.
In 2021: It comes as no surprise that Jacinda Ardern was re-elected for a second term in October 2020 by a landslide. While she’ll have her work cut out for her re-building New Zealand’s economy (one highly dependent on international tourism), tackling issues of climate change and child poverty, there is no doubt she’ll rise to the occasion with empathy and action.
Racial Justice Warrior: Naomi Osaka, 23
The world number 3 doesn’t take her position as the world’s highest paid female athlete lightly. 2020 saw Naomi Osaka using her status to champion for social justice issues.
The American of Japanese and Haitian descent channeled her power where it mattered: flying to Minneapolis to join in the George Floyd protests, elaborating on her anti-racist stance through social media and in a thoughtful essay for Esquire.
At the 2020 US Open, Naomi fully leveraged her platform, donning various face masks honouring Black victims of police brutality and racial violence at the tournament, which for the record, she emerged the victor.
In 2021: Naomi Osaka’s stance of “Being ‘not racist’ is not enough. We have to be anti-racist” continues to be an inspiration for many, and going by the sold-out status of her recent Nike collaboration, it’s clear many are embracing the values she stands for.
The Streaming Mogul: Lisa Nishimura, 48
We have Netflix’s vice president of independent film and documentary features to thank for keeping us thoroughly entertained in 2020.
Lisa Nishimura is the reason we continually have a vast selection of titles to keep us glued to the screen, from comedy specials by Ali Wong and Hannah Gadsby, to binge-worthy titles like Tiger King, Wild Wild Country and Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich.
She’s also the reason heavy-hitting documentaries like Crip Camp (produced by Barack and Michelle Obama) get streaming time while simultaneously feeding our guilty pleasure viewing with cheesy rom-coms like Holidate and Kissing Booth 2.
Lisa’s talent for sniffing out projects with compelling storylines isn’t just for entertainment. Looking closely, there’s a central theme of empathy and compassion – sentiments we need more of in today’s turbulent times.
In 2021: A believer that “richer stories live in non-fiction”, Lisa Nishimura curated a roster of 2020 documentaries like Crip Camp and Athlete A, which are rumoured to be up for Oscar nominations. Notably, 2021 will also be the first year streaming titles will be eligible for the Best Picture category – so watch this space.
The Activist: Carrie Tan, 38
Fact: At any one time, there are 25,000 women struggling to bring up their children in Singapore.
The plight of marginalised women was one of the chief reasons Daughters Of Tomorrow founder (now advisor) Carrie Tan set up the charity in 2014. To date, it has helped over 800 women from the ages of 20 to 60 by providing skills training, support initiatives in IT and financial literacy, and stable employment opportunities.
Determined not to just dole out financial aid, DOT’s focus on building self-sufficiency through structured programmes and strong peer support properly equips the women with lifelong skills, and hopefully help them break out of the poverty cycle permanently.
In 2021: Expect to see more of Carrie Tan beyond DOT – she replaced outgoing Member of Parliament Lee Bee Wah in the Nee Soon GRC at the recent 2020 General Elections. The PAP politician has been vocal about championing causes for women and the sandwich generation, and she’s also in favour of adopting a more personable, empathetic style of politics.
This article was first published in Her World Online.