Lawyer Jessie Ho-Thong has just spent the last couple of minutes talking not about herself, but about Xavier Tan, the 21-year-old behind Unik Apparel, a label founded as a platform for youth to express their thoughts and feelings through design.
“His is my favourite story,” she says of the lad who counts Credit Suisse and Deutsche Bank as clients, and who once received a bump in sales when singer Sam Smith posted a link to his collection on Instagram. She met Tan when he was just 16 and a participant of Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE). A global entrepreneurship programme for youth in low-income communities, it is administered in Singapore by the Halogen Foundation, whose board she serves on.
“That is an example of how bright the future can be for our youth,” she says.
Halogen Foundation Founded in 2003, Halogen Foundation is a values-based not-for-profit Institution of a Public Character charity that believes every young person has the innate potential to influence and lead, and become a positive change agent. Beyond programmes that equip youth with mindsets and skillsets to prepare them for the future, it also administers the National Young Leader Award. halogen.sg
A mum to two sons aged 22 and 16, Ho-Thong champions the youth cause because “they represent what tomorrow will bring, cliché as it may sound”. With her law practice focused on both conveyancing and family law, the former Convent girl — she speaks fondly of being taught the values of “to whom much is given, much is expected” — also has a unique window to the divide between the haves and have-nots and the impact marital breakups can have on children.
“Once I started helping out at Halogen Foundation and participating in its programmes, I realised the change it brought about was intergenerational. It changes not just a youth’s life but also gives him the capacity to improve his parent’s life and influence his own generation and his children’s generation,” she shares. “If we can set a youth on the right trajectory early, the difference we can make becomes amplified as he moves through the arc of his life.”
Once [youths] can envision themselves as the CEO or leader of a company, they change their thought process. It transcends every aspect of their lives.”Jessie Ho-Thong
Ho-Thong’s journey with Halogen Foundation began in 2013, after she was introduced to the youth leadership non-profit by its founder Martin Tan, who she had served alongside at the Ministry of Social and Family Development’s Families for Life council.
Certified as an NFTE trainer in 2017, she speaks of the entrepreneurship programme, in particular, as one that is a driver for “internal DNA change”.
“Once they can envision themselves as the CEO or leader of a company, they change their thought process. It transcends every aspect of their lives. They see a reason to improve their studies, to learn math. A very shy child also realises that to raise funds, he’d need to make business pitches, so he’s going to work on his spoken English.”
Ho-Thong says her Christmas gift came early this year. By that, she means seeing Halogen’s young charges participate in last month’s NFTE Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge 2020, where six finalists made business pitches to a VIP panel. Halogen has also released its 17th anniversary book project Entrepreneurship Unlimited, a compilation of local entrepreneurs’ life stories.
“It makes a great Christmas present to pay forward some entrepreneurial perspective and inspiration to the youth around us. And it’s a great read!” she says.