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Lumen Winter 2007 Issue
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Singapore's Woman of the Year

Lim Soo Hoon graduated from the University of Adelaide with a Bachelor of Economics in 1980. The Colombo Plan Scholar is Singapore's first female Permanent Secretary, working in the Public Service Division of the Prime Minister's Office.

Like many civil servants of her generation, 48-year-old Lim Soo Hoon is a good soldier.

"You tell us where to go, and we'll go," she says of her 26 years in Singapore's public service.

Over the years Ms Lim has held many high-profile jobs, starting with the Ministry of Trade and Industry, before moving on to various postings in Transport, Manpower, Community Development, Youth and Sports.

Her current role as Permanent Secretary of the Public Service Division in Singapore carries some heavy responsibilities, but they are borne with grace and enthusiasm.

"I love the work I do because it involves issues that affect the nation," she says. "Working on the big picture is an exciting challenge. We want to be a first-class public service that is based on integrity, meritocracy and incorruptibility.

"Leadership is the key to achieving these goals and, to this end, the Singapore Government puts a lot of emphasis on leadership training."

Ms Lim's various government postings have resulted in an accumulation of different skills and experience, resulting in an impressive body of policies over the years.

She was a key policy officer in the Ministry of Transport when Singapore launched its Mass Rapid Transit System, a rail network considered one of the most modern in the world.

"I also helped develop the Civil Service College in its infant years, with particular emphasis on training public sector leaders."

While working in the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports, she helped shift the focus from custodial to rehabilitative care for juvenile delinquents.

Her own background reflects a commitment to excellence and service, both in the professional and personal domain.

As well as her Adelaide qualifications, Ms Lim has a Masters in Public Administration from Harvard University and is Chairman of the National Library Board and the Civil Service College Board in Singapore.

Married with two teenage sons, she is a strong advocate of work-life balance, dedicated to her work, family and her faith.

Her faith was tested back in 2004 when her then 14-year-old son Samuel was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Disease, resulting in a year-long battle. Sam was in remission but suffered a relapse in January 2007. He is currently undergoing treatment.

"That was a reality check for me. I was forced to look at what is really important to me and not to take things for granted. My faith in God was what sustained me in that journey, just as it is sustaining me now even as Sam is being treated."

The experience resulted in her writing a book-SAM: A Mother's Journey of Faith-which gave Singaporeans a glimpse of the parent behind the public servant.

"I wrote it from the perspective of a mother whose child was undergoing treatment for cancer. Many people have told me they were touched and inspired by the book, so I am glad it was able to make a difference in other people's lives."

Although she underplays her status as a role model for Singaporean women, insisting that gender does not come into play in the public service, there is no doubt Ms Lim has made her mark.

Last year Singapore's best-selling women's magazine, Her World, named Soo Hoon Lim "Woman of the Year" in recognition of her achievements.

"At the end of the day it's not just one individual or one small group of people, but always the combined effort of a team that makes things work," she says.■


Lim Soo Hoon

Lim Soo Hoon

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