First female career ambassador
Jayalekshmi (Jaya) Mohideen became Singapore’s first female career ambassador in 1989 when she was appointed Ambassador to Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, the European Union and the Holy See.
When she joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) in 1976, it was meant to be a two-year assignment to help lay the organisational foundations for a professional Foreign Service. Jaya had by then spent 10 years in the Administrative Service, working at the Defence Ministry and the Public Service Commission (PSC) where she was head of recruitment and scholarships. Her job at MFA was to look after human resources, finance, properties, security and information technology, and the Singapore Cooperation Programme. Her PSC experience proved invaluable as she set out to recruit bright young men and women to be trained as foreign service officers.
The two-year MFA assignment became an 18-year diplomatic career that was to see Jaya being awarded in 1992 the City of Rotterdam’s highest honour, the Wolfert Van Borselen Medal. The following year she was made a ‘Commandeur’ in the Order of Orange-Nassau by Queen
Beatrix for her work in promoting trade and investment between Singapore and the Netherlands.
Apart from her diplomatic work, Jaya has made important contributions in the social services sector. She was from 2003 to 2009 president of the Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore (MINDS), which caters to the needs of intellectually disabled people. Jaya used her experience with managing organisational change to establish policies and processes that put MINDS, one of largest voluntary welfare organisations in Singapore, at the forefront of good corporate governance. She continues to be an advisor to MINDS.
Writing about Jaya in MINDS’ newsletter in 2010, the organisation’s chief executive officer Mr Keh Eng Soon said her contributions had been “numerous and significant and we look up to her as an agent of change – someone who studies the present, envisions the future, and makes a positive difference every day”.
Jaya was also a member of the steering committee for the Enabling Masterplan which charted the development of programmes and services for the disability sector for 2007 to 2011. She served on the Board of Trustees of the Singapore Indian Development Association (SINDA) from 1997 to 2005, and was Honorary Treasurer of the Singapore Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry from 1996 to 2000 and the chamber’s vice-chairwoman from 2000 to 2002.
At the end of 1992, after her five-year stint as an Ambassador, Jaya returned to Singapore where she was appointed MFA Deputy Secretary (Management). When Philip Yeo, then Chairman of the Economic Development Board (EDB), decided to establish the EDB Consulting Group he asked for Jaya to be seconded as Senior Consultant. Her role was to provide consulting advice on behalf of Singapore to other governments and international bodies such as the World Bank.
She later served as the non-resident ambassador to the Czech Republic from 2000 to 2006, and is currently the non-resident ambassador to Finland. Jaya received the Public Administration Medal in 1981 and the Public Service Star in 2009.
Her retirement from the Administrative Service allowed Jaya to pursue her interest in the arts. She is managing director of Galerie Belvedere which promotes the work of local artists. Jaya continues to serve as a Patron in the Tanjong Pagar GRC.