Singapore's most influential people

Singapore’s most influential people

Any list of people claiming to be this or that is bound to be fairly subjective. This is particularly the case when considering those people who have been most influential on the development of Singapore. After all, this tally is potentially very long and open to a great deal of personal bias. However, it is safe to say there are certain names that would be fairly universal.

One name that should feature is Dr Kanwaljit Soin, who became a much-needed female member of parliament when she was nominated in 1992. After holding her political position for four years, she has since continued to work tirelessly to raise awareness of female issues. While serving as president of the Association of Women for Action and Research in the 1990s she became one of Singapore's most widely-respected commentators on women's issues.

Two individuals who have certainly left a permanent mark on Singapore's landscape are Wong Mun Summ and Richard Hassell. These Singapore-based architects are known for a variety of eye-catching designs, ranging from tall, ultra-contemporary condominium buildings, to a grandiose churches. Equally at home when designing properties for railway stations or for holiday resorts, this dynamic duo's work features in Singapore, Bali, Bangkok and China.

The arts have flourished in this particular corner of South East Asia for a considerable time. Foremost amongst the influential Singaporeans who have focused on local tastes is Philip Cheah. In the 1980s, Singapore was regarded as something of a cultural backwater, with little to inspire the creatively-minded. Together with his brother Michael, Philip embarked on creating the ‘BigO', a magazine that championed local talent amongst musicians and artists of all shades. While he was director of the Singapore International film Festival in the 1990s, Cheah placed the spotlight on dynamic young Singaporean filmmakers, single-handedly rejuvenating the local movie industry.

Prior to his death in 2008 at the grand old age of 82, J B Jeyaretnam (or JBJ as he was affectionately nicknamed) was a tireless campaigner for Singapore democracy. His son Kenneth said: “My father demonstrated that democracy means the right to change government if you are not satisfied with it”. His dignified approach to the city state's politics won him the respect of colleagues and political opponents in equal measures.