Celebrating BRAVE Technology Leaders & Building a Diverse Ecosystem with Alvin Tan, Nurul Hussain and Jeremy Au - E196

· Founder,Purpose,Singapore,Podcast Episodes,Thought Leaders

If we leave this to chance, you will gravitate to the natural order of things. And that is why the Codette Project is so important. And that's why I'm so happy that Jeremy and the team at Brave are also making sure that the proceeds from the book go to Nurul and the Codette Project. Because we deeply, deeply, deeply believe in this. We deeply believe that in the space ecosystem you need to have very brave astronauts, but you also need to have a diverse team of astronauts so that we can launch and we can build this ecosystem together. - Alvin Tan

Mr. Alvin Tan was elected as a Member of Parliament in July 2020, and was shortly appointed by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong as Minister of State for the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth, and the Ministry of Trade & Industry. He assumed these appointments on 1 Sep 2020. Mr. Tan has worked in the private, public and non-profit sectors. Before joining the government as Minister of State, he served as LinkedIn’s Head of Public Policy & Economics for the Asia Pacific, where he and his team help economies prepare for the rapidly changing nature of work using analytics and data solutions. Mr. Tan has been an active community leader in Singapore since 2005, serving youth, seniors and vulnerable families in both the Kreta Ayer-Kim Seng and Moulmein-Cairnhill constituencies. He was also Chair of the Kreta Ayer-Kim Seng Inter-Racial and Religious Confidence Circle (IRCC). Mr. Tan holds a First Class Honours in Economics from Sydney University and a Master in Public Policy from Harvard University. He was awarded the 2008 Tan Kah Kee Foundation Postgraduate Scholarship, and the International and Global Affairs Fellowship from the Belfer Centre of Science and International Affairs at Harvard.

Nurul Jihadah Hussain is the Founder of The Codette Project, which has been operating since 2015. The Codette Project is a non-profit ground-up initiative with a mission to improve access and opportunities for minority and Muslim women in technology. The Codette Project runs classes, workshops, panels, networking sessions and social events regularly, including Singapore’s only women’s hackathon. Nurul wants to create better communities and opportunities, and diversify what success means in society to show that anyone can be successful.

Jeremy Au: (00:32)
Hi everyone. Good to see you all on a Saturday morning. Wow. New Year, newstart. So good to see everyone here Saturday morning because I think it's just so amazing to see a community come together from such early beginnings. When I was a child, I wanted to be a vaccine researcher. And it took me years to really figure out why and what I realised was that I had always been inspired by this Time magazine Man of the Year, Dr. David Ho, who was a HIV researcher in combating the AIDS epidemic.
As a young child, I saw that, and it resonated with me so deeply that I told my parents, I said, I want to be solving this - global issues and really doing the best I can using science and tech. And it took me years and years down the road to realise that a big part of it was that this was one of the first few Asians I ever seen on the Time magazine as a child.
And I resonated with that story because I saw someone that represented a small facet of my upbringing and my background. So, coming back to Southeast Asia and Singapore after so many years in the U.S., working tech and everything, I realised that I had this hunger for stories of home, meaning Singapore, Southeast Asia, Brave. The scared, the ups, the downs.
That special space that I have felt so many times. And so in the midst of the pandemic, I set out to do something very simple, which was to record conversations of friends and acquaintances who inspired me. And I was so, so shocked by actually the depth of the conversation that I never had with my friends and acquaintances. And so many folks talk about the podcast, about it being brave, and I say, no, it's really about my personal search for bravery in Southeast Asia, in Singapore.
And I am so privileged and honoured to be the first listener of the podcast when I recorded and I get to ask the questions that I wish people asked and for everybody else, you know, I think it's a tremendous moment for everybody to be having a chance to listen in as well. And I was so surprised to see that this really resonated so many folks that more and more people will sign up, listen, subscribe and share their own story or share about how the stories they heard impacted their own lives.
And so where that came together as a team was we said, what are the best, right? You know, or the best moment, the best highlights that we really enjoy and where it came down to was we said the best is not the shiniest, it is not the biggest, is not the fastest. It is about the fact that technology's hard, changing the status quo is hard and being different in service of a greater good is hard.
And being thoughtful about that, being human and accepting that risk of the ups and the downs, the lefts and the rights, the praise and criticism means that there's something tremendously human about being and pushing for science and technology to advance our region, Singapore, our homes, our community and ourselves. So, we've put together this book, this anthology of these ten stories that really resonated with us that I think represented not just stories, not just journeys, but also backgrounds and aspirations.
And we put it together in service of a friend and a guest. Nurul The Codette Project, which is really about helping minority and Muslim women break into local technology. And I've known her for many years. And again, I was so, I think, surprised and inspired and frankly disrupted by her story that is in the book about why it’s not just the economic thing to do for representation, it's not just a brand perspective, but that is a moral duty of every person to step up to that journey for the sake of others and for the sake that we would wish others to treat us the very same way.
And so I'm very, very happy to have collaborated with the Codette Project and Nurul over the past half year to edit and create this book and that all the profits will be donated to the Codette Project so that many more will be able to be represented in the days ahead. On that note, I want to again thank everybody for coming down and dedicating some time, some space and some humanity this morning.
And I wish you all a pleasant, inspiring and, at some level, hopefully, provoking moments in the day ahead. Thank you so much.
 

Nurul Hussain: (05:44)
Welcome. So hi everyone I'm Nurul from the Codette Project. Some of you may know me, many of you won't and that's totally fine. And I'll talk a bit about why representation and you not knowing me is okay.
Thank you all for coming here today to support the Brave book launch. The profits from the book will go to the Codette Project. And I'm also here to say that we're very happy to accept donations. So if any of you feel so inspired by it, please do. I founded the Codette Project in 2015, and what we're trying to do is create a long term economic impact for minority Muslim women by providing better access and opportunities in the tech industry.
So firstly, why tech? We really believe that tech is the most level playing field for economic opportunities right now, because for anyone, at any level, whether you're a student, you're a professional, you're a stay at home mom, you're someone that's been out of work for a while. You're someone that's really, you know, just thinking about where to go next.
There's something that you can do in tech to get to the next level of success as defined by you, whether that's taking an online course, learning how to, you know, do an ad on Facebook, learning how to negotiate for your next career move. These are all things that you can do to get to where you want to be.
So we do this at the Codette Project through three main pillars one skill development, which is pretty straightforward. It's providing training and opportunities to learn. Two, community building, which is to provide a safe and welcoming space for women to achieve success. And three, to reclaim narratives of success and to redefine what success is. To make sure that all of us believe that success can and should look like all of us.
We are the first people to run an all women hackathon in Singapore, the first possibly globally, to create a set of stock photos that imagine what more diverse workplaces would look like. And the first to launch a physical exhibition that celebrates diverse stories of successful minority and Muslim women in the tech industry. And that's why it's important for me that even if you don't know me, you should know someone that doesn't look like you, who is successful.
You should know this person, and you should be an ally in whatever way you can to amplify the kind of access, opportunity and success that you have had so that all of us can be more successful and better. We're able to do this work because of allies who genuinely believe that access and opportunities should be distributed equally amongst all communities.
And a lot of that is by doing the hard work of making sure that access and opportunities are redistributed, like simple things like this. For me to stand on the stage and tell you what is it that we do? For me to be able to say, look, you know, the question we're asking is not just should we believe in diversity, it's understanding that fundamentally, if you believe that everyone is equal, you believe in things that are more diverse, in a more committed, actual, concrete way, and to make that success real for more people.
And I'm really looking forward to working with more of you to make this a reality. And I really want to thank the Brave team who came to us to say, we want to support you, we want to fund you, we want to do this with you. It's not been easy, I think, for all of us, those of you that were here early in the morning, I think sets the stress level, I think for many of us, this is also our first in-person event in a long time.
So I want to say thank you to everyone who's been believing in us so far. And I also want to say thank you to those of you that helped us take this to the next level. Have fun today, everyone. See you.
 

Moderator: (09:12)
Next up is Minister Alvin Tan with his keynote speech
 

Minister Alvin Tan: (09:30)
Hi. Good morning, everyone. It's really a pleasure to be here on a Saturday morning. I was just sharing with Jeremy and Nurul that you talk about taking time. This is important enough, I only have seven events after this, but this is the most important thing, This is important for many, many different reasons. First of all, that it's the launch of the Brave ten anthology, as it were.
And as I was preparing the speech, and I was preparing like, well, what do I say about this? A few things came to mind. The first thing that came to mind is we are launching something in the tech ecosystem. And every time if many of you are in the tech space at a tech start-up space and we talk about rocket ships, we talk about launching, we talk about the ecosystem.
So I thought I'd describe it in a few different ways. The first is about building. Building your your individual tech start-ups and then building an ecosystem around it. Then second is to have brave people that help to drive these rocket ships. And then the third is on bridging, which is what Nurul talked about earlier on bridging.
So the first is building and how are we doing thus far? First, the landscape. How does this ecosystem look like? In Singapore we have about 3800 tech start-ups close to about 4000 right now. And if you look at it, about 25 home based tech start-ups that have attained unicorn status and 2/5 of Southeast Asian unicorns are based here in Singapore.
So, you know, by all accounts, maybe quite good, but, you know, I'm always never satisfied. I think we have a lot of headroom to go further. Now, how about the ecosystem that is supporting the Start-Ups? Again, it could do better, but let me just give you a few numbers. We have about 220 or so, 200 accelerators, both global and local, supporting these start-ups and about 220.
And that's about if you think about five years ago, we had about 120. We have about 220 VCs, angel investors around them, supporting them, funding them. So again, these are just the numbers. I think we can grow them. We can do much better. Specifically, how is government supporting this? I'm trying to drive it alongside all of my government counterparts coming from the tech sector, coming right here and then discussing with Shi Yan earlier on, how do we pull the different threads together to make it even easier for you to launch for the ecosystem, the ground crew.
So government has done a few different things. Many of you may have heard about Start-Up SG. Start-Up SG has helped do mentorship and to connect start-ups to help you effectively to launch. We have the Start-Up SG. Founders Programme and two years ago we changed or updated the Start-Up SG equity's programme to be a fund of funds to help to draw investors into the ecosystem.
Then that is just locally. We also have global innovation alliances. Now these are to allow for Start-Ups to then connect to the world. We currently have, I think, about 15 nodes in 11 countries, including Germany, including the Philippines, including other places in Europe. What that does is to help when you are a start-up, you are then able to tap on to this global innovation alliance to connect to innovation nodes across the world.
I was in Mexico recently and we have a leap for LatAm programme. We're connecting Start-Ups from Singapore to all the way to Latin America. And I met with many of the start-ups that they are all along the same equatorial lines. There is much to learn from one another. I've challenged the team for us to then by 2025, expand these nodes from 15 to 25. 25 nodes around the world so that you have even more spaces to launch and to lend.
So that's effectively what the government is doing. But we also know that you also need funding and you need to crowd in funding to the ecosystem. And so we are also trying to attract many of the angel investors, the VCs to come. We are trying to catalyse about over $150 million worth of investments into deep tech, in areas of advanced manufacturing, in areas of health, biomedical sciences, urban solutions and sustainability.
So from a government perspective, what we are trying to do is to make sure that your ground crew is there to support you as you launch. So this is what government is doing. This is what we are building. The second thing is then braving and many of the many of the contributors to your podcasts, these are the Brave ten and it is not easy to brave the storms and the early vicissitudes of a Start-Up.
Many of you may not know that I come from a tech sector, but in 2004 I tried to launch a Start-Up. Yeah, and it was a marketplace Start-Up. When I speak about it, I said, if I had launched it in a better timing, I would have been the next Carousel. Like how? How? I said, Well, we're in 2004, we only had the laptop. We didn't have good connectivity and computers were not here. So it's a little bit more difficult and so was timing and was funding. And then of course, Carousel took off and I'm a big fan, so yeah, but it's sometimes it's timing. It's sometimes the timing of where you are in the world, the timing of where you are in technology.
Technology caught up and then you ride the wave and then you go off and you launch. So and many of that journey is difficult. And I acknowledge, you know, you have Yiping, you have Sandhya, you have Nurul contributing to this, John. You've all contributed to Brave ten. And I think these are just examples and ideas and stories, Jeremy, as you mentioned, to inspire the next generation of astronauts.
Finally then we have bridging, and Nurul, you know me from back in 2015, you know, and she was one of the 112, one of only 112 in our Facebook Community Leadership programme. I remember we were working with Ellis at that time and I was so proud because she was one of 112. We supported you. That was when I was back in Facebook.
And now, you know, it's seven years, time flies and you're bridging making sure that Muslim making sure that women all have a voice and all are able to participate in this. You are the bridge. And just to share with you coming into government, I really sincerely believe in that. When in government I also know to sometimes the committees, the groups that we put together may not adequately have those minority representation or women representation.
So if many of you who are in government with me now, you will know that I always ask how many women are on the committee, how many minorities on the committee? In fact, about two weeks ago, when we launched the Harmony Circles, which is the revamp of the inter-racial and religious confidence circles. One of the questions I kept asking the team as we started to build this Harmony circles is how many youths do we have?
How many women do we have? If you ask my good friend Fatima, that's the main question I ask. That means that we constantly have to look at it. If we leave this to chance, you will gravitate to the natural order of things. And that is why the Codette Project is so important. And that's why I'm so happy that Jeremy and the team at Brave are also making sure that the proceeds from the book go to Nurul and the Codette Project.
Because we deeply, deeply, deeply believe in this. We deeply believe that in the space ecosystem you need to have very brave astronauts, but you also need to have a diverse team of astronauts so that we can launch and we can build this ecosystem together. So finally, just as a wrap up, we need to build a very strong ecosystem. We need to have very brave astronauts. And we also need to make sure that we can bridge to have as diverse a community as possible. So I know you say this, Jeremy, but stay Brave and thank you, everyone.