Inspiring Stories | International Women’s Day 2022: How Cheryl Ou and Eileen Yap #BreakTheBias
15 March 2022

Celebrating the successes and strides that women have achieved, we’re taking this International Women’s Day to speak to two inspiring women to get their take on what it means to #BreakTheBias as they create new paths and ways of working, bringing about meaningful change to the world.  

Cheryl Ou | Co-founder of The Nail Social and The Social Space 

  1. Tell us a bit about yourself and what you do. 

“My name is Cheryl, and I’m the co-founder of The Nail Social and The Social Space which are social enterprises in Singapore, established with the aim of providing a platform for individuals who face high barriers to employment opportunities due to circumstances that are beyond their control.” 

  1. What makes your brand special?  

“The Social Space is unique as it consists of multi-concept spaces with the intention of championing positive social action and creating an economy for good. At the same time, we saw this as an opportunity to build a platform that allows differently-abled individuals to acquire skills and dignified employment. All in all, The Social Space aspires to inspire the community to live more consciously on the daily.” 

  1. What got you started in your business?  

“My husband and I were actually in Bali, where we saw first-hand how socially conscious businesses were mainstream and made a real impact in the community. Inspired by our days living in the island paradise, we brought home a determination to raise the bar for the social enterprise scene in Singapore and that was how The Social Space was born.” 

  1. Why did you decide to open at Marina One and how long have you been here? 

“We were first introduced to Marina One in 2018 when we attended the Festival for Good event organised by the Singapore Centre for Social Enterprises (raiSE). This was when we learnt that the developers of Marina One were huge advocates of sustainability and were keen to support socially conscious businesses. We first set up shop at Marina One in 2019 as a pop-up, and with much support from Marina One and the public, we have extended and are now in our fourth year in this space!”  

  1. Have you faced any barriers in your career due to being a woman? If so, how did you overcome them?  

“It’s definitely tough being an entrepreneur, but I don’t feel that gender has anything to do with it. My experience might have been different if I decided to pursue a corporate career, but when you’re running your own business, you get to set your own rules. Right now, I’m surrounded by amazing, passionate and accomplished female entrepreneurs who are all holding their own and showing the world that it can be done.” 

  1. What’s the most important piece of advice you’ve been given?  

“Always remember why you started. When the going gets tough, and it’s going to, remembering why you embarked on this journey in the first place will be the motivation that keeps you going.” 

  1. What advice would you give to women who are also pursuing entrepreneurship?  

“The road to entrepreneurship is a hard road intended for those who create their own opportunities. The only limits are those that you impose on yourself.” 

  1. How can we encourage more women to pursue entrepreneurship or leadership roles in their career? 

“I believe it starts with encouraging young women in their formative years through mentorship, resources and providing them with opportunities to get more involved in their communities. Empowering women from a young age will allow them to grow up believing they are in a position to make an impact, and foster a more proactive, creative and resilient mindset.” 

  1. Who are some women that you admire and why?  

“I have the most respect for my staff – these women joined my social enterprise as ‘beneficiaries’, but they have really taught me more than I could ever teach them. For example, some of them are women who found the courage to leave an abusive husband and single-handedly raise their children; or women caring for children with special needs. They are truly some of the strongest women I know, and they inspire me everyday.” 

  1. What does this year’s International Women’s Day theme – #BreakTheBias. Imagine a gender equal world – mean to you?  

“It means a world free of bias, stereotypes and discrimination. A world where differences are celebrated and valued rather than judged.” 

  1. How do you think we can continue to work towards that in Singapore?  

“The Social Space’s motto is “Celebrating Differences, Embracing Imperfections, Igniting Change,” written on our website and on our walls. I strongly believe we are all responsible for our own thoughts and actions, and while we will not be able to control the way others behave, we can consciously break our own biases and make change in our own lives, companies and communities, and lead by example.” 

Eileen Yap | CEO & Founder of Food for a Social Cause  

  1. Tell us a bit about yourself and what you do.  

“My name is Eileen, and I am the founder of Food for a Social Cause and Fashion for a Social Cause, both movements under Singapore Fashion Runway (SFR). As a collective social enterprise, we nurture youths and families with special needs by equipping them with fashion, performing arts, entrepreneurship and F&B skills. Altogether we have three separate stores, one retail in Esplanade, a crafts-store in People’s Park and an eatery at Marina One – all of which are largely run by the youths and caregivers of special needs families.” 

  1. What makes your brand special?  

“We like to think that what makes us stand out is the fact that we are an inclusive brand. As long as a youth with special needs is open to being nurtured in their talents, we are more than happy to invite them to join us and be part of our community. This is where we help identify their talents and give them the attention and support that they need to thrive in the areas they are passionate about.” 

  1. What got you started in your business?  

“Starting out as a personal project, I came up with SG50 Singapore Fashion Runway which gathered people from the community to come design and produce clothes for people to wear and strut around in on the runway. I wanted to use this to impact lives in some way, which led to the formation of Fashion for a Social Cause and Food for a Social Cause, where I got to see how youths and families with special needs could be empowered to shine when provided with the opportunity to do so!” 

  1. Why did you decide to open at Marina One and how long have you been here?  

“Back in 2019, we had a fashion show here at Marina One on the topic of sustainable fashion. It was a fun collaboration as the Marina One community donated their old fabric and clothes which we used for the sewing workshops we conducted at Marina One. We got to see different departments from different companies come together during lunch, to learn how to sew, and bring new life to these old materials. Fast forward to 2021, it was on my heart to do more for the youths and families I had connected with and came up with the idea of having an F&B store. Especially since many of the youths I had worked with had an interest in the area as well. With this, I approached Marina One and so the story of Food for a Social Cause began.” 

  1. Have you faced any barriers in your career due to being a woman? If so, how did you overcome them? 

“I think I’m blessed to not have faced much discrimination as a woman. Perhaps when I was younger, people were less likely to take me as seriously, and I also lacked the experience to manage people and entire teams. However, after becoming a mother, I do feel that I have grown in patience and have become more nurturing as well. And after working with the youths and families with special needs, I’ve learnt to value every milestone accomplished, no matter how small they may be.” 

  1. What’s the most important piece of advice you’ve been given?  

“To do what your heart desires. As a Christian, I believe that God knows what’s on my heart and that He gives me the desire to do certain things for a reason too.” 

  1. What advice would you give to women who are also pursuing entrepreneurship?  

“To not jump into it without having a backup plan and without having done your sums. Not every plan will work and it’ll always be a process of learning. I’ve had failed businesses, and even today, not everyday is a profitable day for me. There are no shortcuts to entrepreneurship, but with tenacity, hard work and passion, your efforts will reap its fruits.” 

  1. How can we encourage more women to pursue entrepreneurship or leadership roles in their career?  

“I think it comes with having the courage to take the first step. Pilot your idea – it could even be with an interest group as a testbed – and see where it brings you.” 

  1. Who are some women that you admire and why?  

“In many of the families that I interact with, I really admire the mothers and sisters of the youths with special needs, for the hope and positivity that they carry in their daily lives amidst the challenges they face. In SFR, these are the women that run our stores too. To see them relentless in their pursuit of making the best of their situation and making a difference in their own lives as well as the lives of others is truly inspiring to me.” 

  1. What does this year’s International Women’s Day theme – #BreakTheBias. Imagine a gender equal world – mean to you?  

“I think it comes with recognising the contribution of women in the world. But of course, not disregarding the men as well, with everyone having a fair share in making the world that little bit better, whether it’s in the family, workplace and every aspect of life.” 

  1. How do you think we can continue to work towards that in Singapore?  

“It takes everyone to make our society a better place, so I think it comes with celebrating togetherness, family and unity, leaving no one behind.”