At 17, she spent nearly two years in a Nepalese village working as an intern and English teacher, which gave her a closer look at what small, impoverished communities had to suffer daily. She joined volunteers in raising funds for flood victims and to save the Malaysian rainforests. When she found time to return to Singapore, she’d visit teenagers at the then Woodbridge Hospital, reading to them to help lift them out of their depression. She did all this before she enrolled at Harvard University to read social anthropology.
In 2002 she was appointed president of UN women (formerly Unifem Singapore) and led a team to tackle demand for child sex tourism and human trafficking through advocacy, empowerment education for migrant workers and the strengthening of local and regional networks.
According to an award citation by the World Business journal last year, she “initiated ground-breaking projects against commercial sexual exploitation of women and for financial education for migrant women workers”.
In 2005, Ms Kwee created a movement called Beautiful People, which links women professionals with troubled teen girls in residential rehabilitation, offering them healthy mentors. “I noticed there was a rising trend in girl gangs and teenage pregnancies, and not many programmes focused on girls. The idea is to reach out to them not as social workers, but as people who can be their role models.”
The women, called “Big Sisters”, visit girls’ homes once a week to chat with them and to help them with their homework. They also conduct camps and workshops, inviting gynaecologists to talk about how the girls can take care of their bodies. More importantly, it gives these girls a chance to meet women in jobs that are less known but which they might find inspiring, like aerospace engineers.
She set up the Beautiful People and Halogen Foundation in 2006 which conducts mentoring and leadership education workshops in local schools to empower youths; it reached out to 10,000 children alone that year. For her efforts, she won the Singapore Youth Award.
Despite being born to a wealthy family, she earns her own income from business corporations who consult her on community engagement strategies.
Moreover, the organisations she runs for are not for profit. Which is why raising funds and encouraging volunteerism are a big part of her life.
In March 2007, she visited India to meet the youth alumni of Halogen’s regional programme, One Degree Asia, which she also initiated, to bring together regional social innovators from different sectors to “share ideas and sow seeds for future collaboration” to solve social problems.
In April, together with a few friends, she started The Kindness Exchange, to create an online marketplace for matching pro bono professional skills. It allows charities and social causes to find skilled volunteers and vice versa.
She has also served on several non-profit and government boards including those of the United World College of Southeast Asia, National Arts Council, Singapore Repertory Theatre, and the National Youth Council. She has also helped found several community based initiatives including Beautiful People - Mentoring Programme for Girls, The Kind Exchange and Art Outreach.
In the private sector, she has also been actively involved in the protection and social integration of migrant workers in the hospitality business. She presently serves in her family business, Pontiac Land Group, as chairman of the investment firm for Capella Singapore and is Vice President, Human Capital.
She has been recognised with the 30 Under 30 Award by World Business and both the ASEAN and Singapore Youth Awards. She was formerly the vice-president of human capital at family-owned Pontiac Land Group.