Fair Game: Ho Ren Hua

Close Up

February 29, 2016 | BY Melissa Gail Sing

Roots for gender equality run deep for Ho Ren Hua, and home is where it all begins, as he tells Melissa Gail Sing.

PHILANTHROPY

Many men might find it awkward, even unsettling, to be in a boardroom surrounded by a group of formidable intellectual women. Not so for Ho Ren Hua. The first and only man on the executive committee of the Singapore Committee for UN Women says, “If you truly believe in gender equality and the idea of diversity and inclusion, there shouldn’t be any awkward moments. While I had never been on an all-women board before this, I find the dynamics and energy level refreshing.” 

He was already a supporter of UN Women’s initiatives when Trina Liang-Lin, the president of UN Women here, invited him to join the organisation’s executive committee. Ren Hua didn’t have to think twice. Says Trina, “He was the perfect choice. He wasn’t at all intimidated at being the only man on an all-women board. He voices his opinions openly and really speaks for the male point of view, which is vital when we craft our campaigns and policy work. He also walks the talk in a professional capacity in his company and on a personal level, and is very supportive of women’s rights in Singapore.” 

Ren Hua joins other notable male champions of the global “HeForShe” campaign, including US president Barack Obama, UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon and actor Matt Damon, who support and champion women in different arenas such as the workplace, social entrepreneurship, education and politics. 

The aim of the movement is to engage men as change agents in the strife for a world free of discrimination against women and girls — not because the male perspective or voice is stronger, but because women’s inequality issues are not their battle alone but everyone’s.

A firm advocate for greater rights to education and employment, Ren Hua has been involved in Project Inspire, which promotes women empowerment and social entrepreneurship. He also feels strongly about gender-based violence, whether it’s domestic violence or gender discrimination. “These are things we need to deal with as a world,” he says emphatically.

The eldest child of Banyan Tree Holdings’ power couple Claire Chiang and Ho Kwon Ping, Ren Hua spent five years in Shanghai helming the company’s regional headquarters and established the brand as a leading luxury hospitality name in China. He moved to Bangkok last September and is now CEO of Thai Wah Group, a starch and consumer foods company founded by his paternal grandfather. 

His mother Claire is a former president of the Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware) and Nominated Member of Parliament. She broke tradition when in 1995, she became one of two women to be admitted to the council of the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce & Industry, which up till then had always been all-male. 

“I was very young then, about 10, but her activist work exposed me to certain things,” says Ren Hua. “My mum always believed in respect for diversity of views, so growing up, appreciating that diversity of views was a very natural thing. And that, I feel, is one of the anchors of gender equality. Instilling the right attitude towards gender diversity and inclusion starts at home.”

The 33-year-old is married to screenwriter and playwright Teh Su Ching, and they have a 10-month-old baby boy Kang Peng, affectionately known as Rocket. Two months ago, the trio had their first three-generational family holiday—first with Teh’s family, then with Ren Hua’s parents in London where his younger brother Ren Chun is studying at the University of Cambridge.

“As a new young parent, you’re sleep deprived but you’re constantly learning all the joys of having a little baby in your midst. The day my son was born was very, very powerful. From that point, everything changed: I realised that my life is not my own, but I have to create something better, more sustainable and more meaningful for the next generation, be it at home, for the business or for the community.”

Apart from UN Women Singapore, the alumnus of University of Pennsylvania and Hwa Chong Institution is also a volunteer with the Singapore Prison Service befriending programme and a mentor with the Kairos Asean society, an invitation-only community of new generation leaders across the region who are changing the world through high-impact ventures. 

The avid sportsman recently “retired” from doing triathlons because of the greater demands of his new roles at work and at home, choosing instead sporting pursuits that are less time-consuming like yoga and tennis. 

Change, it seems, is inevitable—and necessary. Ren Hua would agree: “Someone once told me, ‘Change yourself and the world will change with you.’” 

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