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Empowering Women: Kay & Elena’s Journey at The Immigration People

If I had to define the plights of women in the course of history, I would refer to this quote by esteemed author, Maya Angelou: “We may encounter many defeats, but we will not be defeated”. On 8 March 2024, women worldwide will celebrate International Women’s Day — a day dedicated to looking back on all the adversities women have had to overcome to be seen and treated as equals. The road to the present has been littered with oppression, double standards and disproportionate opportunities. But thanks to a generation of courageous women who pioneered the wave of female empowerment, we’ve made significant and unparalleled progress.

One of the biggest achievements made by the movement has been the inclusion of women in the workplace. From being refused and denied jobs to women becoming CEOs of their own multimillion-dollar companies, it’s safe to say that we have made gargantuan progress. Even in Singapore, countless women are juggling huge responsibilities in the office and their personal lives – that is no easy feat.  

One example of women leaving their marks in a trade that initially barred them entry is Kay Cheong and Elena Kwa, the co-founders of The Immigration People (TIP), a company dedicated to helping immigrants find their permanent homes in Singapore. In conjunction with International Women’s Day, I had the privilege of interviewing and picking at the brains of both these trailblazers to understand how they handle owning a thriving business as women. 

The birth and life of The Immigration People (TIP)

Empowering Women: Kay & Elena's Journey at The Immigration People: The birth and life of The Immigration People (TIP)
Elena and Kay are the co-founders of The Immigration People, dedicated to helping attain their PR Status

I have always found the topic of immigration challenging to discuss. Funnily enough, I feel it takes more focus to fill out immigration papers than defusing a bomb. As a Singaporean citizen, I’ve never needed to concern myself with immigration – all I knew about it was: that it’s a pretty tiring process. The constant rejection is bound to take a toll on a person. 

While scrolling through TIP’s Instagram page, I came across this post about a Chinese national who lived in Singapore for nine years and faced two rejections for PR status in Singapore. I can’t even begin to imagine the turmoil he went through – that’s coming from the person who failed her driving test twice, and is already on the verge of giving up. Thankfully for him, he stumbled upon TIP and finally secured that PR status after a year! 

Feeling a pang of empathy for individuals like the one mentioned in TIP’s post, I sought to understand the intricacies of immigration more deeply and how agencies like TIP sought to rescue those who feel stranded in the Kafkaesque process. 

“In 2017, Elena and I identified the market gap between what the clients really wanted VS what the industry is offering. Hence, we started TIP [in 2019] to provide more transparency in the industry.” Kay shared. She continued, “We want consumers to be able to make an informed decision when it comes to choosing the right partner to work with for an important agenda in life, such as getting that PR status.”

Essentially, Kay and Elena saw a big issue in the immigration industry, prompting them to pull up their socks and tackle the problem head-on – which I find wildly admirable. Of course, the journey to success was not an easy one. 

Margaret Thatcher once said, “If you want something said, ask a man; if you want something done, ask a woman.” Kay and Elena are the epitome of this. Upon recognising the issues that plague the immigration industry, they took action and got to work, never stopping even in the face of adversity.

I firmly believe that if there’s a will, there’s a way – which is precisely the traits Kay and Elena showed while running their business. Never backing down, even when they were looking down the barrel of a gun, has proven to have its own benefits, with the two co-founders reaping what they sow from all their hard work.

When asked what their proudest milestone has been in the journey with TIP, Elena cited the empowerment of individuals and families as an achievement she’s proud of. “We take great pride in assisting individuals and families in navigating the complexities of immigration procedures and settling in Singapore.”

Female Leadership

Empowering Women: Kay & Elena's Journey at The Immigration People: Female Leadership
Literal girl bosses!

Despite the progress made, there is still a significant disproportion between male and female representation in leadership roles. But the impact of Kay and Elena’s female leadership has had a positive effect on the culture and the success of their business.  It’s no surprise that women are more emotionally expressive than men, and they are no different, with both co-founders remarking, “Our leadership as a woman likely brings a unique perspective and approach to The Immigration People.”

With their empathetic approach to their work, they have promoted a diverse and inclusive culture at TIP where every employee feels valued and empowered to pursue leadership roles as well. But they don’t stop there. 

Kay and Elena have used their platform to advocate for women through two avenues. Both of them have helped foster the spirit of leadership among their female employees. Kay explains that the company supports and mentors women within the organisation to help provide opportunities for professional growth and advancement.

Their advocacy of women seeps into their collaborations and partnerships as well. They actively collaborate with international and local organisations and initiatives dedicated to gender equality and women’s rights. “By joining forces with like-minded partners, we can achieve greater impact and support collective efforts towards gender parity.”, added Kay.

When asked what advice they had for women aspiring to become entrepreneurs, Elena mentioned that it is vital for women to burst through the yellow tape that might stop them from achieving their dreams.

“Aspiring women entrepreneurs should embrace this era of inclusivity and empowerment to pursue their passions and aspirations. Women have the power to shape their destinies and create meaningful impact. Instead of being constrained by gender norms or societal expectations, women today have the freedom to carve out their own paths and define success on their own terms.” said Elena, who spoke with such passion about female empowerment that it could put the Spice Girls to shame.

Balancing Motherhood and Entrepreneurship

Empowering Women: Kay & Elena's Journey at The Immigration People: Balancing Mothership
Kay and Elena are both mothers, on top of their very demanding work responsibilities!

Being a mother has to be one of the toughest roles out there. It’s never-ending; you can never clock out and take a break from being a mom. So, could you fathom juggling the responsibilities of being a mother and an entrepreneur? I surely couldn’t! As a mother of two young children, Elena thanked Kay – who is also a mother to a young boy – for being such an understanding business partner. 

“During the initial phase, when the demands of expressing or pumping breast milk in the office, (having an) effective schedule coordination, especially for in-person meetings, were crucial,” Elena explains. As mothers, Kay and Elena were both empathetic and understanding towards their business partner’s responsibilities as an entrepreneur and parent.

One aspect of motherhood that seems to be swept under the rug is “mom guilt”. If you’re not familiar with what this term means: “Mom guilt” refers to the feeling of shame when people don’t feel like they live up to expectations in their role as parents. As busy entrepreneurs, Kay and Elena may not always have had all the free time to spend with their families. 

To overcome this “mom guilt”, Elena shared, “We’ve embraced self-reflection, sought support from loved ones, and set clear boundaries. Recognising that it’s normal to feel mom guilt, having a strong support system, and prioritising self-care have been crucial.” 

After years of juggling their motherhood and entrepreneurial roles, Kay and Elena have learnt a few tips and tricks that they’d like to extend to other working mothers who find it challenging to manage their time. Kay offered her pearls of wisdom: “One of my top tips for managing motherhood and entrepreneurship is prioritising. I figure out what’s most important at home and in my business, then focus on those things first. I delegate tasks, group similar activities together, and use technology to stay organised.” — some wise words!

Although being a working mother can be difficult, the struggle of the balancing act became fulfilling when Kay and Elena remembered that they were setting great examples for their children. Elena shared that she hopes her kids can learn the importance of taking action.

“It’s not enough to simply talk about our goals and aspirations; we must take concrete steps towards achieving them.” 

This, coming from the woman who got her hands dirty while trying to clean up the immigration industry, instead of sitting back and keeping silent.

Elena also hopes her children will learn the importance of humility, regardless of success. She said, “No matter how well our businesses may be doing, it’s essential to remain grounded and humble. Arrogance can hinder growth and relationships with your employees, stakeholders, clients, and many more, while humility fosters openness to learning and collaboration.” 

In celebration of International Women’s Day, we reflect on the indomitable spirit of women throughout history, exemplified by Kay Cheong and Elena Kwa, co-founders of TIP. Their journey encapsulates the resilience and determination of women breaking barriers in entrepreneurship.

Despite facing formidable challenges in the immigration industry, Kay and Elena haven’t only succeeded but also championed gender equality and empowerment within their company. To keep up with their amazing stories and the impact of their work, be sure to check out The Immigration People’s Instagram profile!

Let’s celebrate the achievements of Kay, Elena, and women everywhere as we strive for a world of equal opportunities and empowerment. Happy International Women’s Day!

Visuals courtesy of The Immigration People.

Jillian Metta Lau

Bookworm by day, concert maven by night, and an avid dreamer longing to trade pages for passports and explore the globe's symphony of cultures.

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