It was a wet and overcast Saturday when we met Ms Yeo Wan Ling but the PAP Member of Parliament in Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC was her usual bubbly self.
Quite a feat, really, if you consider the plethora of responsibilities that Ms Yeo has on her plate.
Aside from her MP duties, Ms Yeo also works hard as a Grassroots Adviser to Pasir-Ris Grassroots Organisation, Vice-Chairman of the North-East Community Development Council, Director of both U SME and U Women and Family at the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC), Advisor to the National Taxi Association and the National Private Hire Vehicles Association, and Chairperson of both the Tripartite Cluster on Retail Trade and Tripartite Cluster on Food Services.
She is also a member of the Future Economy Council Advanced Manufacturing and TradeSub-Committee, a member of the Advisory Committee on Platform Workers, and an alternate member of National Wages Council representing NTUC.
Phew, that’s exhausting to go through. Where does she find the time to do all these?
“I think it’s just making time for things that are important,” Ms Yeo said.
“And I think it’s important that you don’t see things as a zero sum game, as a sacrifice, you know? You must always see it as a choice.”
And taking on all these responsibilities is a choice that she does not make lightly.
“To me, all the things that I do — whether it’s at the party side, the union side, the job that I do, talking to the constituents and all that — I think it is important for me to understand why I need to do it, and also, love doing it.”
It’s a gusto and devotion that has remained unabated since the first-term MP took office in 2020. Ms Yeo very candidly revealed that there was one thing about the role that took her by surprise: The very heartwarming experience of having little kids recognise her with and without a mask.
“It’s very heartwarming, you know, to have little ones run up to you, hug you, and call you ‘Auntie Wan Ling’ and tell you about their day.”
Ms Yeo’s constituents and volunteers are her main motivation in her MP work. Many of them are very game to engage with her and even film social media videos together:
Being a bright light during dark times
Over the past two years, Ms Yeo’s experience on the ground has reinforced her understanding of what it truly means to make a difference in people’s lives.
More than just solving issues, making a difference as an MP means touching the hearts of residents — investing in the “heartware” if you will.
“Sometimes I can see, some of my constituents really have very tired eyes. But when you give them a nice big smile, a lot of the constituents, a lot of the residents feel very reassured. It’s about you passing positive energy to our residents.”
We don’t have to go too far back to recall times when we were in need of positive energy one way or another.
Two dark years of the Covid-19 pandemic have been branded into our collective consciousness. Remember the empty streets, the daily reports of new clusters, the men and women in hazmat suits? Remember how scary that was?
It was terrifying for Ms Yeo’s volunteers and residents, she said, adding that it is very important for MPs to go beyond and be a “bright light” for their residents during such times.
“It’s really important to make sure that you will not only lead and guide your constituents out of a dark spot. You are really someone who gives them comfort and gives them reassurance, because it isn’t just about solving issues.
It’s also about touching the hearts of people and making sure that they are happy, confident.”
A movement of kindness and tolerance
Spreading positive vibes also extends to being kind and understanding towards those around us — and Ms Yeo has quite a bit to say about this, when we asked what is one policy she would introduce if she were Prime Minister.
“Actually, I would say it’s an anti-policy. It’s actually a movement. And it’s a movement that has always been with us for years and years and years…It’s about being kind, it’s about being tolerant, it’s about, you know, accepting other people’s ways of life.”
And there’s a reason why encouraging kindness in Singaporeans can’t be a policy, according to Ms Yeo. Kindness, you see, is a way of life.
“It’s very different if you have to legislate something, versus something that you do out of your own beliefs and values,” she explained, adding that it’s very important if we want to co-exist in a multi-cultural and multi-religious place like Singapore.
Does she find that it’s increasingly difficult to be kind today, especially in the online space?
“I don’t think it’s harder. But I think that there are a lot more opportunities for you to vent in ways that you might not expect to hurt people.”
In Ms Yeo’s eyes, it’s particularly troubling for those who grow up in Internet culture and are exposed to all kinds of content and unfiltered interactions. It can be quite damaging to their confidence and sense of resilience.
In a sense then, it’s all the more important to spread values like kindness and compassion today.
“If we were to get everybody in Singapore to be kind, compassionate, think good, do good, say good things, I think a lot of issues would be resolved and we do not need to resort to policing and all that.”
A new way of communicating
Working as a PAP MP for two years now and being intimately involved with the party, is there a particular area that the PAP should improve?
Ms Yeo thought for a moment and said that having visited all 203 HDB blocks (and several condominiums) in her constituency, there’s one thing that she has noticed consistently — many residents aren’t aware of the slew of measures and avenues of help that are available to them.
It was surprising, she said, that a lot of residents didn’t know about U-Save or the range of the town council rebates that are available to those struggling with the rising cost of living.
“I wish that sometimes, our party would be able to have better ways to disseminate this information,” she said.
Of course, while the Party has always been working with major media publications to reach the masses, the issue today is that the way people consume information has changed drastically.
“It comes to them in a feed, and when you set up a feed, you don’t talk about the brands. You talk about what your interest areas are. I think it’s important for us to truly understand how our communities out there actually access information. And it might not be in the same way that we’ve always been doing it.”
Supporting women who want to return to the workplace
There’s another issue that Ms Yeo is particularly passionate about: Helping women return to the workplace.
As part of NTUC’s #EveryWorkerMatters conversations with people on the ground, Ms Yeo had heard from many women who experienced difficulties accessing jobs after taking a hiatus. Some were not familiar with the networks to join, others faced slight discrimination from employers.
“But the one that really makes me very sad is that there’s a lot of good qualified females with interesting backgrounds, who have no confidence,” said the MP.
The key is to recognise that every female worker’s career journey is different. Some might choose to take a hiatus for a year to help their children prepare for an important national examination. Others might prefer to take up a flexible work arrangement to spend more time with their family.
The phrase “different strokes for different folks” has been bandied around so much that it’s practically a cliche. But applying this principle to the workforce means that employers and society don’t impose a fixed career path on female workers.
Instead, there should be safety nets and networks that can support these women in whatever career option they choose.
“If they decide to leave the formal workforce, and they still need to make a living, maybe we can provide more home-based business opportunities. If they decide to come back to work after a while, we must make sure there’s upskilling opportunities for them. We must make sure that we have confidence-building and mentorships.”
As we wrapped up our conversation, we asked Ms Yeo if there’s anything she would tell her 2020 self.
Nope, there’s nothing she would want to tell her past self, she replied.
“I’m a person who would embrace everything that comes along my way. I’m someone who lives without much regret because I really, really try my best in any situation, or any task that is put to me. So I don’t really have something that I would tell myself, like two years ago. But I will continue to do my best in everything that is given to me.”