“Singapore is a wealthy country and that offers plenty of opportunity,” she says. “But we are also in a region where we are surrounded by a lot of inequalities where these same opportunities available to us don’t exist for others like us.”
Anna began to think about this contrast on a trip to Indonesia as a child. From a private car, she found herself face to face with a girl not much younger than herself staring at her through the window that separated them, their worlds, and their futures. The girl was frantically chasing the bus and trying to hawk some wares, while Anna sat in the comfort of an air-conditioned car with a private tour guide to drive them around the island. In that brief encounter, she experienced privilege.
“For various reasons after that I continued to travel and live with poorer communities in places like Cambodia, Vietnam, Myanmar, Philippines, and Nepal, all while I was a teenager,” she says. “I found myself coming back to the same question of “Why am I in this privileged position?” If I had been born in a different country, I could have had a very different life.”
Partly, at least she knows she is in Singapore because of her grandfather, who moved to the city-state as a young man from Borneo to work as a mechanic.
“If he had not done that, I would have been brought up in a very different world,” she says.
An interest in understanding the ‘economics of poverty’ and designing sustainable businesses led her to study Economics and Business Management at Singapore Management University.
“I wanted to learn how to design something huge for impact,” she says. “To create my own microfinance institution or something similar that would improve socio-economic equity and empower disadvantaged communities in Asia.”
While studying she worked pro bono for Conjunct Consulting – a socially progressive non-profit organisation that crafts strategy and service delivery for leading NGOs.
“It was here that I learned how to apply my skills to reimagining strategy and solving complex problems,” she says. This idea – tackling complex challenges using a highly-effective combination of tools and mindsets is at the heart of what ThinkPlace does.
During her university years, Anna made an unconventional move by Singaporean standards of taking a gap year to design her future life in a way that would make the most positive impact on the world. In that year, she helped to develop a start-up, worked on another start-up idea, travelled solo for the first time, and learnt about design thinking and agile methodologies.
“I felt like I had found what I wanted to do when I experienced design thinking,” she says. “I felt totally in my zone. And it was almost like, “Why didn’t I know about this earlier?”
It was the dynamism of design that captured her soul. “To truly understand people and work with them to bring something from concept to reality, and to know that it is something that the people affected by the change will actually want. That’s powerful.”
Her path in design eventually led her to ThinkPlace and her current role as an Experience Designer.
“For me this is connecting all of my skills in a really exciting way,” she says. “Experience design transcends the layer of the medium or technology you choose. It doesn’t matter if you are designing a digital platform, a physical space, a service… whatever it is. It’s about the experience and the person who will experience it. It’s about the human.”
Anna is excited about the possibilities ahead in Singapore, where an ambitious agenda of digital transformation has been handed down by government, along with a prescription for a liberal dose of human-centred design.
“There is huge demand now for these approaches to be part of how we make change,” she says. “As a country we are learning as we go. We have so much potential in Singapore and – with the right opportunities for development – in the region more generally. It’s an exciting time to be here.”
She sees her role as helping to bridge the worlds of business and design.
“Implementation matters,” she says. “Many designs get stuck at the idea stage. A lot of strategies are never successfully implemented because the different worlds don’t talk to each other. I feel I can use my strengths to help organisations and leaders come together and move from talking about the design to successfully implementing the design.”
Get in touch with Anna or the Singapore team for your next big design project.
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