A Message from our Co-Chairs

Bill Padfield & Aaron Maniam

This message was extracted from our Annual Report 2022. Read more about our journey in youth development over the past two decades in the full report.

Co-Chairs Bill Padfield and Aaron Maniam seated.

Since our appointment as Co-Chairs of the Halogen Board in 2023, we have often been asked why we’ve chosen to give time and energy to the cause of youth leadership. It’s not always easy to discern an answer, since both of us have been involved with Halogen for so many years that our work with it seems as natural as a heartbeat. Bill was a long-standing board member and valued advisor who took a break and then returned; Aaron was the leader of several partner organisations and always enthusiastic about youth development.

When we dig deep, one reason that emerges is how critical leadership is becoming, both in Singapore and globally. In many ways, leadership is a “cause of causes”; done well, it enables the leaders of other causes to do well and bring their best selves to their work. Such a positive multiplier effect is particularly critical as Singapore goes through a period of transition in political leadership: as global leadership feels increasingly necessary in a world destabilised by US-China rivalry, conflict in the Ukraine, and disruptions to supply chains, and where societies and economies are still dealing with the aftershocks of the COVID-19 pandemic. We often feel like the world is reinforcing a lesson that our Upper Secondary students learn during Social Studies lessons – how “Leadership is Key” is rightly one of the core principles of governance on which most policies in Singapore are based.

When we dig deeper, we realise how notions of leadership are both deepening and broadening at the same time. Our work with Halogen provides a wonderful vantage point to witness, and occasionally to share, this evolution. Leadership now has to involve not just heroic individuals, but collaboration within and among teams. Leadership is no longer purely hierarchical, exercised at the apex of organisations — instead, we need leadership at all levels, exercised by everyone. Leadership is no longer predominantly about hard cognitive issues, but increasingly encompasses emotion, wellness, and other dimensions previously perceived (wrongly) as “soft” and somehow less rigorous. Leadership is no longer only about technical issues and “getting things done” – but about complex, adaptive work that accounts for the interdependencies among people and variables.

Digging even deeper, it has become more obvious to us that if Singapore and the world are to meet these challenges, then leadership training and development has to start earlier. Too much is at stake to wait till students enter the workforce, or even university, to train them in leadership and the subtle influencing it entails. We need to start in schools, providing models and mental scaffolds for the leadership lessons that will inevitably come in classrooms, teenage friendship dynamics, on the sports field, or in managing clubs and societies.

This, we think, is why we and other volunteers keep returning to Halogen. We hope we are meeting a need of the times, and ensuring that this need is met for as many students as possible, not just those in schools fortunate enough to enjoy access to resources. We also want to do this in a human way, dealing with the formation of character so critical in good leadership, and not stopping at imbuing knowledge, skills, and expertise. To paraphrase a Ministry of Education tagline, we want to engage potential leaders’ hearts and hands, not just their heads.

As we do all this, we want to live out the leadership principles and philosophies we teach. Leaders cannot act alone, and neither can we as board chairs; we rely extensively on the generosity, goodwill, and good humour of a great many people. Our partners and donors are critical in enabling Halogen’s work to reach as many students as possible – we are keen to grow our relationship with you, especially as Halogen embarks on its third decade. Our fellow board members and the Halogen team are treasured fellow travellers in this effort, and it is a genuine privilege to lead and be led by their energy and enthusiasm.