“As the Communications Manager at ISCOS, my role is to help raise the organisation’s profile so that hopefully more people will know about what we do to help ex-offenders in Singapore. We help them reintegrate into society, and we provide support to their children and families as well.

I’m actually an accountant by training and started off my professional career as an external auditor. However, after four years of working in an audit firm, I realised that a career in the financial accounting sector was not an option I would be keen to pursue.

Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that I enjoy interacting with people more than being in a deskbound, nine-to-five job.

When I chanced upon investor relations in 2008, I saw it as a wonderful way of marrying my financial knowledge with communications, took a leap of faith to make the career switch, and the rest is history.

Being a communications professional was fun and dynamic, but after 10 years in different communications roles working with different people, I started to question the purpose of my work.

In the initial years of a person’s career, we tend to go for the more obvious goals such as promotion and better pay, but as I reached a certain point in life, got married and had kids, I wanted to find greater meaning in life.

When I had my first child, I decided to take a break from the hectic life in the commercial sector to focus on family.

When it was time to go back to full-time work, I intentionally looked for jobs that are more meaningful, and that’s when I found out about ISCOS. That marked my first foray into the non-profit sector, three years ago.

One of the interesting parts about my job here is working with sponsors to raise funds for the organisation. Since ISCOS is not funded by the government, how do I make people understand that helping ex-offenders is something worth contributing to?

And when reaching out to the public through the media, how can we relate to the public in such a way that they could possibly understand the plight of those in need and become more empathetic and accepting towards ex-offenders?

It’s not easy. Helping ex-offenders is a very complex issue because of the stigma and discrimination they face; there are many people who still may not identify with our cause.  

With that being said, when we do get funding, it’s very heartening to know that every dollar we receive will eventually be put to good use.

One programme that really touched my heart is the Fairy Godparent Programme which targets children and families of ex-offenders.

When I had the opportunity to speak with some families, I realised that when a person goes to jail, their family suffers too, especially the children. They are the ones who are suffering in silence.

How can we help them? If offering support to these kids can up their chances of having a brighter future and being in a better place, why shouldn’t we do it?

I also really admire my colleagues on the front lines because they are the ones who actually go to all these different neighbourhoods to talk to people, understand their struggles and see how they could render help. It is a thankless job, yet can be so rewarding when lives are impacted.

When I was an auditor working in the CBD, I remember admiring the nicely groomed grass patches and high-rise buildings as soon as I walked out of Raffles Place MRT station.

Everyone around me was very well-dressed and looked super confident as they walked to offices with coffee cups in their hands. There was a ‘feel good’ vibe in the air.

But once the initial excitement wears off, one may realise that there’s more to life than just a glamorous job, driving fancy cars and wearing well-pressed suits. If you’re stuck in that environment for too long, there is this danger of getting blindsided and caught up in material things.

Worse still, one may develop the false impression that the whole of Singapore is as fine and glamorous, but the truth of the matter is, there is a different side to this country that we do not know exists unless we go out of our way to find it.

This is why I truly value my role at ISCOS. Personally, it fits my quest to find meaning and balance in my life. I get to see the different realities in Singapore and meet people whom I may not have met in my normal course of life.

All these experiences kept me grounded and appreciative of what I have, and that in itself is a revelation that I can do so much more for the community. As a mother, I hope to impart similar beliefs to my children so that they will grow up to be individuals with compassion and empathy as well.

Yes, I do know that there’s no such thing as a utopia with zero suffering. In the real world, there will always be underprivileged people who are struggling every day.

But where ex-offenders and their children are concerned, I think there is a need for a change in how the community perceives them, and I’m glad to know that we are at least having more conversations now about helping them in Singapore, as compared to many years ago.” – Jo-Anne, 36

Interview by: Arman Shah

Looi Jo-Anne is a staff of ISCOS.

Humans of ISCOS is a collaboration between The Everyday People and ISCOS, a co-operative that helps ex-offenders in Singapore. Read more here.