From an occupational therapist at AWWA, J R KARTHIKEYAN worked his way up to be AWWA’s new CEO. mosAIC chats with him on his new plans for AWWA and where he draws his inspiration from.
What was your earliest exposure to the healthcare/social care/Community Care sectors?
I joined AWWA’s Community Integration Service (formerly known as TEACH ME) as an Occupational Therapist in 2007. That was my first exposure to the sector. I learnt about disability services and worked with my team to integrate children and youth in mainstream schools and the community.
Over the years, I’ve worn many hats in AWWA as I helped with the expansion of our disability continuum. Some of the programmes I was involved in included the expansion of early intervention services, the setting up of Singapore’s first inclusive preschool – Kindle Garden, setting up of home personal care services for adults with physical and multiple disabilities and the formation of AWWA’s Therapy Hub. The hub provides professional and qualitative intervention to the different AWWA services as well as external ones in the social service, healthcare and education sectors.
What was your previous work experience before you joined AWWA in 2007?
I’ve always had a passion for active teaching and learning. Before I joined AWWA, I taught at the National University of Malaysia and the Universiti Teknologi MARA System. I also worked as a consultant with Malaysia’s Ministry of Health, teaching trained medical professionals on early intervention for children.
I am still passionate about teaching. I now teach short courses at the National Institute of Education (NIE) Singapore.
What are some of the new plans you have for AWWA?
AWWA has grown from strength to strength in the past 49 years by sticking to its values and working towards empowering the disadvantaged. We are fortunate to have passionate, driven staff to serve more than 10,000 clients across our Continuum of Care (Disability) and Continuum of Service (Family and Senior Care).
I don’t intend to reinvent the wheel. Instead, I’m going to work with my leadership team and focus on strengthening and enhancing our four main strategic thrusts.
● First, we will focus on empowering persons with additional needs, as well as families and seniors with psycho-social and health needs.
● Second, we will work on delivering effective high-quality programmes that impact sector practices.
● Third, we aim to enhance efficiency with creative sustainable solutions that are transparent and under good governance.
● Fourth, we hope to develop exemplary social leaders and practising professionals to be active advocates for our clients and the sector’s evolving needs.
Beyond that, we are also an organisation that seeks to innovate. We are looking to create a service hub in Ang Mo Kio, where many of our Senior Care services are located. We believe in providing holistic care for our clients, and with a service hub, we can offer a comprehensive suite of services that range from personal care to mental health, all under one roof.
Tell us about a book or leader you draw inspiration from, in your role as CEO.
I’m a voracious reader, so I draw my inspiration from the books I’ve read. Two books that made the most impact on me are The Monk and the Riddleand Engine of Impact.
The first book talks about the interdependent relationship between work and life. It taught me about how work is not just about money, but also to gain meaningful experiences, satisfaction and happiness too. The second book touches on strategic leadership in the non-profit sector. This is especially relevant for me, acting as a reminder for me to constantly think about whether AWWA’s mission is clear and our path to get there.
Mahatma Gandhi once said, “I know the path. It is straight and narrow. It is like the edge of a sword. I rejoice to walk on it.”
His quote resonated with me. Although I’ve had walked many paths filled with obstacles, I have never been deterred from continuing my journey. Being a CEO may bring many challenges, but it also offers many opportunities for growth as I get to work with people from all walks of life.
I know my path, and I relish everything it brings.