Nadia Ahmad Samdin knows what it’s like to feel out of place. The 30-year-old has had her fair share of situations where she was the only woman, or the only Malay-Muslim, in a room. It’s why the lawyer and Member of Parliament (MP) for Ang Mo Kio GRC champions organisations that help women and youths — she wants to empower them and ensure their voices are heard in every avenue of society.
Says Nadia: “The Singaporean life is so varied…I am conscious that representation matters because when decisions are being made, you want to make sure that different perspectives are being heard.”
Before entering politics, she held numerous roles in various voluntary organisations, most recently as a council member at National Youth Council, where she’d started as a youth volunteer at 15. She was also a committee member of Singapore Council of Women’s Organisations, as well as a district councillor at South East Community Development Council — the youngest when she was appointed at 24. “Bursaries and financial assistance got me through school, which also made me realise that an important thing I can give to others is time.”
One of Nadia’s most significant initiatives was the Lembaga Biasiswa Kenangan Maulud Top-Up Fund, which she initiated in 2019. Every month, volunteers from the organisation meet with its beneficiaries, who are students in primary and secondary school, to add money to their public transport cards or to purchase for them new concession tickets. This allows the youngsters to get to school every day.
The impetus for the fund came when Nadia received an early-morning call from a girl she’d been mentoring at the time. “She said, ‘Sister, can you come send me to school? I have a test today.’” As it turned out, both the girl’s parents were in prison and her EZ-link card had run out of money.
“Youths account for 25 percent of the resident population today, but they make up 100 percent of the future,” says Nadia, who also served as a Panel Adviser in the Youth Courts, where she advised judges on appropriate orders for cases involving children and youths.
Though she’s stepped down from her various committee roles since becoming a parliamentarian, she says she “keeps a close eye” in an unofficial capacity.
“I don’t think my advocacy stops because I’ve stepped down, I think it evolves.” As an MP, Nadia now works with vulnerable students and their families in her constituency to build support structures for them.
“I hope to be able to bring up issues that may not otherwise be discussed in Parliament, or to suggest new ways of looking at a policy,” she explains. “Diversity is really about enlarging the middle ground and bringing in more views — and I hope that mine will be useful.”
This story first appeared in the October 2020 issue of A Magazine.