Ms Joyce Ling, 38, is a certified counsellor and published author who runs businesses providing professional counselling for corporate clients as well as manpower staffing. In the face of few employers willing to employ people living with mental afflictions, Ling took it upon herself to tackle the situation and fight the stigma and discrimination attached to those coping with mental illness and disabilities. As the CEO of Life Group International, a group of companies that contribute to the business landscape in Singapore, she has employed hundreds of employees and made contributions in progressive ways to many different groups who are often left behind or forgotten.
I felt that if I started LAE , I would be able to search for those tutors; and those tutors I feel would be perfect for any child.. as they wouldn’t undermine the self esteem of the child in the pursuit for better grades.
She is also a mother of two young children, one of whom is diagnosed with dyslexia and language disorder, meaning her own personal struggles coming to terms with her son’s condition has helped her to empathise with other parents fighting the same battle. She is strong in her belief that every child has potential to shine in an area of specialisation and interest of their own that may not necessarily be academic in nature; and in Life Architects Education which she has recently founded, she is intent on driving each child to reach their full potential.
LadyBoss caught up with Ling to hear about her business model and her passion for helping those who may face employment struggles in adult life.
From college teacher and counsellor for 13 years to building a million dollar business empire with Life Group International – tell us how it all began. What particular experiences with mental health spurred you on to do something bigger on a socially progressive scale and help people who´d otherwise find it difficult to get a job?
In the first few years of being a corporate counsellor for statutory boards (10,000 employees in total) and ex-offenders I came across many persons who were suffering from undiagnosed mental health issues. They were suffering; so were their families, due to lack of education and knowledge. After they were diagnosed, they often were laid off/ retrenched/ as they would pose as “ threats” or “ nuisances” and my heart goes out to this group as I felt that mental affliction is something I wouldn’t wish on anyone. And no one purposely gets ill in this manner. Mental affliction also receives the least sympathy as many in the community has the concept that they can help themselves to get well, its all in the mind. Indeed,some have recovered and have success stories to tell, often though, many are on the road to recovery and it can take years.
Mental affliction also receives the least sympathy as many in the community has the concept that they can help themselves to get well, its all in the mind.
Tell us a little about the early developments of Life Group International to where the business is now? Can you fill us in on the recent launch of Life Builders and Landscapes?
Life Group International came into being when we were awarded a million dollar contract by the Singapore Prison Service to rehabilitate ex- offenders.
Life Builders and Landscapes is now in the “ infant stage”. We have signed an MOU with a landscape company (Develco Landscaping Pte Ltd; another inspiring ladyboss, but she’s shy) that has 20 years of experience in Singapore serving clients like HDB in landscaping works. The MOU includes their training my beneficiaries in simple gardening skills and they will provide back up support in more challenging landscape works. This counsellor is so glad that I found them and convinced them to help me, as I love building lives, but don’t have green fingers.
You said in a recent Straits Times article that “there are only so many employers willing to employ people living with mental afflictions… so I thought I should do something.” What is the general attitude to mental health problems in Singapore, on both a personal level and in a professional environment?
Well, there is still a lot of stigma surrounding the employment of persons living with mental afflictions. Often media has exacerbated the stigma, due to lots of reports of seemingly “crazy” persons doing irrational things in this world, most recently in Nice. However, I am confident I can use media to slowly reduce the stigma as well.
Your staff all work from home, and all report directly to you without working with each other, is that right? The idea is that it reduces lots of “office politics” which to anyone can be stressful, but do you think this could have its cons too?
Well, I can’t think of anything negative about the current arrangement. It has worked very well for me for the past 3 years. Its simple , straightforward. Every staff is given specific KPIS and know exactly what to do, and they are rewarded directly by me. I have many employees who are mothers with kids, and who like to spend more time with their kids ; so the arrangement where they can work from home suits them perfectly. Persons living with mental afflictions also thrive in “work from home” type of arrangements.
How has motherhood, especially with nurturing one child who has dyslexia and a language disorder, impacted your business? Was it being a mother that inspired Life Architects Education?
Yes, Life Architects Education is inspired by many factors. Ever since my son was diagnosed I was given the challenge of what type of help I could give him in terms of sustainable help outside of school. I am still searching for the right mix of tutors who have the heart, the patience and the skills to assist him. Most of the tuition centers out there are aimed at producing results; which isn’t suitable for him as he is already struggling with just getting the basics right. Therefore, I felt that if I started LAE , I would be able to search for those tutors; and those tutors I feel would be perfect for any child.. as they wouldn’t undermine the self esteem of the child in the pursuit for better grades. There are a few tutors I know who are living with mental afflictions and giving tuition for the past few years to maintain a respectable income. I wanted them to be properly represented. There are also teachers who have triumphed over dyslexia and have carved successful teaching careers and now are embarking on being tutors.
What is your number 1 business challenge?
Reducing stigma of employers towards the employment of persons living with mental afflictions.
Where do you see the future of Life Group International?
A sustainable organisation in terms of revenue generation and doing good in the community at the same time.
You´re also a published author with “Don’t Call Us Crazy.” How was the reception and support of the book? Do you have plans for anymore written works on mental health?
The book is available only in Mindset Pop Up Store in CityLink Mall, where proceeds of the book go to supporting persons living with mental afflictions. Their home- made craft is sold there. Thus far, it has sold 200 copies since May, a pretty respectable number I think. Apparently many aspiring counsellors are reading it to get a basic grasp about mental afflictions. The next book will be on the topic of developmental disorders that affect children. It is inspired by my experiences with my son. Topics like autism, dyslexia, ADHD will be simply explained in the style of my first book. It will be co- written with an educational psychologist, as I am not an authority in this topic, unlike mental health. I will contribute a chapter or two on emotional health of children and my own experiences navigating the “system” in Singapore for a child diagnosed with learning needs.