Chong Mien Ling, Chief Sustainability Officer, PUB, Singapore’s National Water Agency, Singapore
By Yun Xuan Poon
Women in GovTech Special Report 2020.
How do you use technology/policy to improve citizens’ lives? Tell us about your role or organisation.
Prior to my current appointment, I was heavily involved in water R&D for the past eight years in PUB’s Technology Department. Our team develops the technology roadmap, actively sources for water technologies that may be useful for PUB’s adoption, funds their testing and development and works with the operations departments to deploy the technologies when they are proven to be effective. This includes technologies that improve operational and resource efficiency, enhance water quality, and minimise waste.
I am currently leading the Policy & Planning team in PUB, and concurrently overseeing PUB’s sustainability efforts. Given the rising global focus on climate change, I am happy to be in a position where I can make a difference to Singapore’s water future and long-term sustainability.
What was the most impactful project you worked on?
I was privileged to be involved in the development of NEWater when I first joined PUB as a young engineer. While NEWater is today an established water source for Singapore, there was a lot of apprehension from both the industries and the communities in using this unconventional source of water back in the early 2000s.
The project has taught me great lessons about tenacity and the “can-do” attitude that have served me well till today. In fact, NEWater kickstarted the research journey of PUB. The systematic way that NEWater was studied and implemented also provided a tested way of introducing subsequent innovations in PUB.
What is one unexpected learning from 2020?
The pandemic really brought home the point “never say never”. For a long time, while we went about planning for business continuity and brainstorming for new ideas, we still held on to a perceived norm.
During a brainstorming session seeking research ideas on urban mobility, a point was raised that the congestion issue could be addressed by changing the way we work, such as working from home or adopting flexible working hours. At that point, no one took the comment seriously. With the pandemic, remote working has become the norm and it has challenged and debunked many assumptions about what is possible and achievable with technology.
Going through the experience of the pandemic and the implementation of the business continuity plans is also a reminder to myself that a lot of the planning we do during peacetime is not merely a paper exercise. The scenarios that we plan for should be well-thought through, and the response plans should be sufficiently robust, because they truly can happen.
What tool or technique particularly interests you for 2021?
I look forward to having more data analysis and visualisation tools that can facilitate data-driven decision making in my course of work.
What are your priorities for 2021?
While sustainability is not new to PUB, we are looking at the development of a sustainability framework and the first sustainability report in 2021. I am excited to explore various possibilities to enhance the sustainability of PUB, as well as to do our part in climate change mitigation and adaptation.
What advice would you give to women looking to start a career in GovTech?
Go for it! I personally find being in public service a fulfilling experience as it puts you in a position where you can make a difference.
Write a message for your future self.
All these shall pass, but while you are at it, make it count!