Lena Goh, Chief Marketing & Communications Officer, IDA Singapore
Women in GovTech Special Report 2015.
Tell us about your background. How did you get to where you are now?
I actually didn’t come from the public sector. I have spent the most of the last 18 years of my career working for various global multi-national companies such as Microsoft and Motorola in marketing and communication roles.
As part of my work, I was given the opportunity to work with diverse markets from the big ones like China, India and Japan to emerging ones in the North African and Middle East. The closest to heart is of course the Southeast Asian markets where I spent my early days understanding the consumer and enterprise technology and mobile landscapes.
The exposure across all the 16 different markets I worked on as well as the great visionary leaders I worked with has helped inspire me and guided me to collaborate with people from various diverse backgrounds.
My key learning across these years is to never say no to an opportunity that you can grow in, especially if it’s in an area that you are passionate about. Women tend to be more shy, and somehow lack the confidence to stand forward and say yes to a bigger job than they are used to.
Why did you decide to join the public sector?
It was always in my plans to one day go into government. Having spent so much of my time in the US and Asian markets, it was kind of like a coming home of sorts when I decided I wanted a local job and to stay in Singapore especially after I gave birth to my son a few years back.
I felt that I could contribute back to Singapore especially after learning so much from these global tech companies and I was very proud of Singapore and how we have come so far so quickly.
But in the face of global competition, I felt that Singapore had to continue to stay super competitive as we have no natural resources. And technology was the key way we could leapfrog, continue to transform and provide our next generation of kids with the great opportunities that our forefathers had the foresight to build for us.
Our Smart Nation vision that was conceptualised and announced by Prime Minister Lee last year was extremely inspiring to me. I felt that I could do my part to help share and communicate this vision to my fellow citizens and even build our standing globally.
[blockquote]"Never say no to an opportunity that you can grow in"[/blockquote]
What is the best thing you have experienced in your career?
I have many things to be thankful for in my career. I had the opportunity to experience the telecom market liberalisation in the early days in Singapore in the 1990s when I was with M1 and then SingTel.
I had the chance to work with great global leaders and mentors who gave me opportunities to keep growing and learning new things, challenging me to try new things and take on new roles
What is the toughest challenge that you have had to face and overcome in your career?
In one of my previous jobs, I had to go into some of the emerging markets to help open our office and build our brand and consumer experiences from scratch. In particular, I recall entering the Indian market to set up our assembly plant and also local office. It was challenging then as I was used to structure and adhering to plans and timelines (very Singaporean!). However, every culture has its different intricacies, and I learnt to work closely with the local team to enable our success there.
It was one of my toughest challenges as there were very few women in the office or industry then, and you just have to work doubly hard to prove your worth and deliver great results that earned their respect.
What is the most inspiring example that you have seen in your working life?
The power of mobile. When I started in my first job as a product marketing executive, I remember one of my first tasks was to promote usage of SMS. Mobile phone penetration was on the rise but everyone just wanted to make calls to talk to each other. Whenever I SMS’ed someone, they would instinctively call back! The uphill task to change the user behaviour and mindset was a journey for me as we implemented free SMSs to encourage trial and soon everyone was busting their SMS tariff plan limits.
But what was most inspiring about my journey in the mobile world was this project called Connecting the Next Billion. While we in the first world market like Singapore use phones to connect and have conversations, in emerging markets such as in the African or Indian villages, it is a means for them to make a living, to feed their families. I saw the potential of how mobile helped them check the prices of perishable goods, before transporting them to the right distributor to sell whatever fish or agricultural products that they have caught or grown in their village. This was the power of mobile phones, to provide a livelihood for people.
Another inspiring journey I had was in seeing the power of technology to help people with their lives. For example, instead of just giving money or donating stuff, in my previous company, we believe it is more important to give people a skillset to earn their living. Teaching them software or computing skills enabled them to get a good job and earn a living to feed their families so that they don’t fall back into the poverty cycle. This was way more impactful than just doling out funds.
In the public sector, I have seen the selfless roles of a lot of front-end staff who have served conscientiously with full commitment. Whether it’s in the State funeral or the Jubilee celebrations, or even in back-end environments to keep our government networks up and running, all these public servants have been selfless in helping fellow Singaporeans before themselves. These acts have totally humbled me and inspired me to serve with dedication.
What advice do you have for other women looking to succeed in GovTech?
First I think Gov Tech requires all kinds of talents – men, women and across all kinds of specialisations, not just the coders/ developers, but data scientists, ethnographers, UX designers, marketers, HR, Finance, etc. It takes a village to build a successful service network to serve our nation.
Always persevere on. Sometimes when the going gets tough, especially with family commitments, don’t give up. Find good mentors that can help guide you and speak up to share your thoughts. Be proactive in engaging to help build your network and exchange your views. You might never know what great advice you might pick up when you share your problems even with someone totally unrelated to your work.
And finally, how do you like to unwind after a long week at the office?
I love spending time with my family and I look forward to weekends when we have breakfast together, chat with each other, head out to the beach or even just chill at our favourite local kopi joint.