I Am Her: TEDxSingapore Curator Vivian Lim On Building Communities

Sharing ideas is key to understanding

Our “I Am Her” series features the female movers and shakers of the industry to learn how femininity and power coincide beautifully and seamlessly together.

We’re surrounded by things that started as an idea. The device you’re reading this article from, what you’re sitting or lying on, the music you’re listening to were all just once a proverbial spark in someone’s head. Ideas are essential to life, and it’s important that we continue to share them with each other. This is where Vivian Lim’s life’s work revolves around.

In a world where we can be trapped in our own social bubbles and echo chambers, Vivian is one of those that strive to foster conversations. As the current lead curator for TEDxSingapore and co-founder of TEDxNTU, she organises events that bring different personalities and perspectives together. Even in the midst of the pandemic, Vivian and her TEDxSingapore team were able to launch “To Boldly__”, a virtual event that touched on some topics that are not talked about in mainstream discourse like one mother’s struggle with homelessness in “crazy rich Singapore” and the pursuit of saving mangrove forests.

But make no mistake, Vivian is not just an “idea woman” — she’s a woman of action. Women In Asia, a community that Vivian co-founded, has been actively spotlighting the hidden stories, struggles and unsung triumphs of women in our region. “I found my calling in community engagement,” she said. “Curating ideas, having a pulse of the community and conversations that are important to the community have since become a crucial part of my life, and it’s what brings me joy, develops me as a person and keeps me going every day.”

Women in Asia’s annual ‘Portraits of Women’ exhibition.

Read on as we get to know more about Vivian, the life lessons she learned from being a curator, and her thoughts on work-life balance.

Vivian Lim TEDxSingapore Lead Curator Smiling Leaning On Brick Wall

Fill in the blank: I'm a woman, a community builder and _________.

A cultural curator who is inspired to uncover hidden stories and ideas to inspire the local community.

You studied mechanical and aerospace engineering, what motivated you to pursue another path?

About 10 years ago, I was inspired by TED Talks. I always wondered if there were other people like me who were enthralled with these ideas and wanted to meet a community who are just as curious about “Ideas Worth Spreading”. I found a group of students who shared the same vision and fell in love with the idea of conceptualising meaningful events and inviting people from various backgrounds, industries and cultures who love and value ideas to spark in-depth conversations with other like-minded individuals.

Our founding team then started out by holding a series of TEDxNTU talks at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. This was the spark that motivated me to pursue a career in community building.

What are the life lessons that you've learned from years of being a curator for independent TED events (TEDxNTU and TEDxSingapore)?

I learnt that people are naturally drawn towards the power of ideas and we want to learn, grow, and find a future that we believe in. This insight motivated us to tailor our events to ensure that they can bring about a positive impact in the community. Through our events, we want people to discover unexpected insights and get inspired when listening to people and ideas outside their field and life experiences.

Vivian Lim at TEDxSingaporeWomen event smiling while holding microphone

Vivian Lim at TEDxSingaporeWomen event.

A life lesson that I learned from my days volunteering at TEDxNTU is the importance of being continuously plugged in and engaged with the local community — listening to voices on the ground, understanding what people are talking about and seeing how the community wants to drive events. Using this approach, we’ve successfully built events that strongly resonate with the community and bring people together to discuss conversations that matter to them.

You've built communities that served as platforms for ideas. In your opinion, what is the key to translating these ideas into actions?

Besides hosting regular TEDx Talks, I believe that it’s important to have meaningful on-ground activations that allow the public to proactively exchange and engage with these ideas.

For instance, we created an art installation at Marina One called ‘To Boldly___’ to invite Singaporeans to challenge themselves to think about how they can boldly go, dream, build, believe and live their everyday lives.

The installation features art displays from the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts and local artists who have come together and interpreted the theme in their own ways. As part of the installation, the public can express their creativity by participating in the ‘To Boldly Build’ installation where they can create their own designs with LEGO. We are also hosting curator-led tours to continue the conversation with the community.

Through these activations, we hope to connect people who love and value ideas to trigger thought-provoking conversations.

Who's the woman you're inspired by the most? How did this person inspire you to be the person you are today?

There is an African proverb that says, “It takes a village to raise a child.” There isn’t just one woman who has inspired me the most. Perhaps, one of my biggest inspirations is Elim Chew, who is my mentor and founder of the local streetwear brand 77th street. Her efforts towards helping youths realise their dreams by providing them with an outlet to connect with like-minded people and share their ideas motivated me to explore a career in volunteering.

Elim Chew.

I’ve also had the privilege of working with various TEDx women speakers in the community, who inspire me to keep doing what I do. Many of them remain my close allies and sounding board who inspire the work that I do.

There are also incredible women within our TEDxSingapore team who are the unsung heroes who contribute to the work that we do as a community. I find myself learning a lot from listening to their stories and working closely with them.

What do you think about the concept of work-life balance? Do you think it's something that's attainable for busy women such as yourself? How do you manage your time wisely?

I think that it’s important that we remember we don’t have to strive to have a perfect balance all the time. I read about an interview with an author and one piece of advice stuck with me. The author mentioned that the key to juggling multiple tasks is knowing that some of the balls that you have are made out of plastic and some are made out of glass.

What resonated with me was the importance of setting priorities and not being too hard on ourselves when things do not go as planned. We will have bad days where we fall behind, but it is crucial to know that it is alright to let some plastic balls drop. Setting priorities can help us focus on things that energise us. It is also a reminder that priorities shift and it is okay to take a step back and re-prioritise from time to time.

What empowers you every day?

I’m driven by trying new things and venturing beyond my horizon. Besides TEDxSingapore, I’m also actively involved in other causes that are close to my heart such as Women in Asia where I help to build communities with the goal of bridging gender and cultural differences. I’m also inspired by the conversations that I have with the community, where I’m constantly learning about the world and hearing from changemakers who are inspiring a better future through their novel ideas and actions.

Share with us your Clozette essentials.

A big part of my work is being responsible for the ideas that our team curates for the community. This also translates to the habits that I try to instil in my life. After curating numerous talks on conservationism and climate action, and meeting local entrepreneurs, I do as much as I can to walk the talk. Inspired by the local community, I try to support local designers where possible. I am drawn towards brands that champion a good cause and show strong support for the community.

Most days I put on my TEDxSingapore t-shirt and jeans, accompanied by a recyclable cotton tote bag. Recently, my co-founder Divya and I started doing clothes swap amongst ourselves. I would describe my style as minimalistic because functionality is most important to me — like having proper pockets in all my daily wear!

Inspired? Check out stories of other exceptional women here.

Comments, questions or feedback? Email us at [email protected].

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