Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Women's Economic Empowerment and Counterterrorism

On 20th November I was given the opportunity of a lifetime and an amazing platform to do an opening introduction of President Obama at the Young Southeast Asian Leaders’ Initiative Town Hall session in Kuala Lumpur. 

In the same week, Beirut and Paris came under terrorist attacks that shook the world, and the issues it opened up led to a new discovery and insight into how Daughters Of Tomorrow’s work in enabling underprivileged mothers into jobs fit into the larger picture of things.

What has the economic upliftment of women got to do with world peace?

The link became obvious when I read the article “The Mothers Of ISIS” on Huffington Post, and gained insight into how radicalism preys on youths who grow up in broken and impoverished families in Europe. Support groups have sprouted up for the mothers of young people who have turned to extremism and joined ISIS.  All this is great, but somewhat belated and reactive in my opinion.

What if we could prevent poverty from turning into hotbeds for radicalism?  By increasing income to these families by enabling mothers to work? By nipping resentment arising from marginalization in its bud as countries and economies develop, through leveling the playing field by helping struggling families gain access to skills, opportunities and jobs?

Isolating the issue of counterterrorism to the realm of politics and national security is ignoring our role to play, and relinquishing the control we have over shaping the safety and stability of our communities. Private sector and civil society have equal parts to play. Are we sensitized to the challenges and barriers faced by the poor? Are there ways we can provide opportunities for their uplift-ment? Can we as educated, resourceful and well-connected men and women do something in our own lives to provide connectedness, access and opportunities for the underprivileged amongst us?

Such an insight provides renewed impetus and increases the urgency for the work we do at Daughters Of Tomorrow.  If you lead a corporation who believes in inclusion and access to opportunities as a safeguard for the stability of our communities, get in touch at to make a difference. Make a donation to help us scale our work in bringing opportunities, skills, and jobs to mothers so that families can thrive.

Below is a transcript of my opening address at President Obama’s Town Hall. The video can be viewed here:



Ladies and gentlemen, fellow young leaders, friends, distinguished guests, good afternoon. What an honor to be here.

My name is Carrie Tan, I am the Founder, and Executive Director of a non-profit in Singapore called Daughters of Tomorrow, working to enable the financial self-sufficiency of underprivileged mothers.

Less than 2 months ago, I left my sunny city-state for the journey of a lifetime called the YSEALI program in Washington DC, looking forward to expanding my perspectives as a community leader. Beyond expanded perspectives, I gained knowledge, tools, resources, as well as something a lot more special, I made an unlikely friend. My best friend from the program turned out to be Archie Anugrah from Indonesia, who is as different from me as night and day. Every day that we were working together in the same host organization, I would give him grief about the haze situation in Singapore, saying “Archie, please fix it.” And being the good-natured guy that he is, he would patiently explain to me the complexities of tackling the issue.

Archie works with youths, and I with women, but somehow, we managed to bond over the topic of the environment. In much the same way, many of us fellows bonded over shared experiences, some as fellow parents, fellow spouses, employees, entrepreneurs, activists, or civil service. We bonded, over our shared experience of missing our favorite and familiar foods. Most of all, we bonded over a common endeavor, to understand and learn from one another, in the pursuit of our aspirations to make the world better. There is nothing more gratifying, and this is the magic of the program, than a group of people from diverse backgrounds coming together, in the spirit of partaking in something bigger and larger than themselves.


However today, just 1 week after returning from DC, I woke up to a different world. I woke up to stories proliferating on social media, about terror, tragedies, fear, distrust, in the aftermath of the Beirut and Paris attacks. What a different world it is, from the one I was just immersed in the past 6 weeks – one of camaraderie, friendship, openness and dialogue. It saddens me, and made me realize how precious it is.

How precious it is, that we have a platform such as the YSEALI, for people to come together, for voices to be heard, for participation, and for the building of trust, to underpin how we as young leaders, shape the future of our societies, countries, our region and our world.

How precious it is, that no matter where we come from, how rich or poor, the color of our skin, or what religious beliefs we hold, that if we have taken real and positive action to better our communities, we can be enabled and empowered to do more.

Today, in the midst of increasing challenges and vulnerabilities facing our generation, we are gathered here because someone believes in the importance of openness, of dialogue, and collaboration.

Today, we are gathered here, 500 young leaders from Southeast Asia, because someone believes in the power of our dreams, the power of us, and the power of friendship, to make positive changes in the world.

Without further ado, let us welcome, the man who put these beliefs into action, who created the YSEALI program and gave us wings for our dreams, the President of the United States, Barack Obama!


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