By Jasmine Tiong
Jason Thian (NBS/2010) considers himself very fortunate. His parents earned enough to cover the family’s necessities and his school fees throughout his education journey. Today, he has a stable career as a financial consultant and is married to his NTU classmate and good friend, Carynl Wong (NBS/2010). They have a three-year-old son and a daughter who was born in April this year.
After reading a book on inequality that influenced his views profoundly, Jason decided to play his part in bridging the inequality gap by helping needy students. “I believe that education is one of the best ways to break out of the poverty cycle,” he said. “And in this time of COVID, there are a lot more people who need financial aid” With his wife’s support, Jason established the Thian Tai Loke & Cheak Seok Noi Bursary with a pledge of S$150,000. “I named the fund after my parents because it’s a nice way to always remember them,” he said.
Months later, Jason and his wife Carynl chanced upon a Facebook post on alumnus Alan Lim who established a bursary fund to assist financially needy NTU students. Carynl encouraged Jason to also tell his giving story. “By sharing my story, I hope I can inspire more people to give,” said Jason, who leads a team of financial consultants in Credence, a group representing Great Eastern Financial Advisers Private Limited.
A lightbulb moment
Associate Professor Teo You Yenn holds the Provost’s Chair in Sociology and is the Head of Sociology at NTU. Her book, This is What Inequality Looks Like, was shortlisted for the Singapore Literature Prize 2020 (Creative Nonfiction) by the Singapore Book Council.
“Prof Teo’s book, This Is What Inequality Looks Like, was my motivation to establish the Bursary”, said Jason, now 36. “My friend and mentor from NTU, who was a sociology student taught by Prof Teo, introduced me to that book, which left a deep impression on me.”
In her book, Prof Teo wrote that “We who have the power to make choices disproportionately shape outcomes and limit options for people who don’t have the power to make choices.”
“When those of us who have the means maximize our own children’s and our own families’ advantages, we are contributing to strengthening norms about achievement, success/failure, that undermine our fellow citizens’ well-being.”
Jason said he felt perplexed and conflicted after reading that passage and went on to discuss the book with his mentor. “As a parent, it is only natural to work hard and give the very best to my child, yet the book tells me otherwise,” he said. His mentor explained to him that, indeed, he could continue to provide his best for his children but at the same time offer opportunities to other children.
This reply was his lightbulb moment. Inspired by Prof Teo’s book, Jason explored ways to establish a bursary to help more students. He also bought 15 copies of the book and gave them away on social media last year.
“NTU was the easiest choice”
“Giving is important and should play a big part in our lives,” said Jason. “When I explored my options to give back to my alma maters, NTU was the easiest choice because they have an office ready to guide me through the whole process.” Recalling the insights in Prof Teo’s book, he decided to establish a bursary to assist NBS undergraduates with family members who are unwell and requiring long-term care. Jason hopes that by providing needy juniors with timely financial support, they will have the time and opportunities to participate in additional University activities that can help in their professional development.
A career that adds value and gives back
A financial consultant for over ten years, Jason says he never fails to gain immense satisfaction from the work he does. “I enjoy this part of my life journey a lot because my career allows me to have meaningful connections with new people and add value to their lives,” he said. He feels that the challenge, however, is the difficulty in showing the impact and value of the work financial consultants do, which may take a few years to come to fruition. Nonetheless, Jason always encourages his colleagues to persevere and have faith in what they do.
An advocate for giving back to the community, Jason regularly organises Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) activities at work. For many years, his team works closely with Jalan Kukoh Residents’ Committee to provide care packs for residents who stay in one-room flats.
When Black Panther actor Chadwick Boseman passed away in 2020, actress Lupita Nyong’o used the hashtag “take your time but don’t waste your time” in her tribute to him on social media. “This quote resonated with me a lot”, Jason said. “Progression is usually not achieved overnight, and we are all different. People can take their time, but they should not waste their time."
In repeating this quote, Jason hopes that his juniors will think about pacing themselves as they step out of their comfort zones. He adds: “My encouragement for juniors who are facing difficult circumstances is to have the courage to look for opportunities to grow, even if they’re unconventional, because times do change.”