Hernaikh Singh: Founder president of Young Sikh Association, Singapore

The founding president of Young Sikh Association (Singapore) was also instumental in setting-up Institute of South Asian Studies

| Singapore | 8 Jan 2017 | Asia Samachar |
Hernaikh Singh

A filial son, a supportive husband, a doting father, an affable uncle, a caring brother, Head of the South Asia and Southeast Asia Desks at Singapore Management University (SMU), a pioneer member of Young Sikh Association (Singapore) [YSA] – these are just a few of the many roles that Mr Hernaikh Singh currently has on his personal and professional resumè.

The youngest son amongst four children, Hernaikh grew up in a humble household – a village in the vicinity of Kampung Glam. Having lost his father at a young age, his siblings and he had a difficult childhood. Despite the challenges, he vividly remembers that some of his fondest memories were from his early years.

Contrary to his achievements in life, Hernaikh was a late starter. In his early years, he was more athletically inclined and actively participated in his schools’ hockey and football teams. However, he seriously began to focus on his studies when he had to contend with a Sikh teacher in secondary school – Mr Harbhajan Singh Loomba. Not only was Mr Loomba his form teacher, he was also the school’s disciplinary teacher. He was strict and ensured that Hernaikh did not slip behind in his studies. Today, they are good friends and often joke about the good old days.

SEE ALSO: Harbhajan Singh Loomba: Singapore’s hockey maestro

Upon completing his ‘A’ Levels in Jurong Junior College, Hernaikh went on to pursue his Bachelor of Arts and, subsequently, his Master of Arts (Southeast Asian Studies) from the National University of Singapore (NUS), where he received the Dr Benjamin Batson gold medal for being the top student in his cohort.

Hernaikh started his career with the then-Trade Development Board (TDB) in 1989 and moved on to fulfilling various roles at the Singapore International Foundation (SIF) from 1994 to 2004. Thereafter, he started his stint with the Institute of South Asian Studies (ISAS), an experience that he considers the most wonderful of his working life.

ISAS was set up in July 2004 and Hernaikh was effectively its first employee. Being new, ISAS had to measure up fast with the other established institutes. Less than six months after its formation, the Institute had a new logo, corporate literature, website and newsletter. It then held its inaugural signature conference where it was also officially launched. Hernaikh vividly remembers burning the midnight oil to ensure that the Institute started on the most promising footing. It has come a long way since its beginning and is now a known brand in the academic fraternity locally and in South Asia. Hernaikh played a key role in its development in the five years that he was there. His former colleague, Professor Ishtiaq Ahmed, probably best sums up Hernaikh’s role in ISAS’ growth when he said in his book that he is “greatly indebted to Hernaikh Singh. He was the bedrock of the ISAS Administration.”

In 2010, Hernaikh bid adieu to ISAS and took on the role of the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Singapore Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SICCI) – the first Sikh CEO of the 86-year old institution. At SICCI, he set about revamping its corporate image to make it more relevant to its members. He came up with a newly-designed newsletter, revamped the website, refined the corporate logo, designed the logos for each of the subsidiaries and re-presented the Annual Report. Almost immediately, the corporate image of SICCI underwent a transformational change. Hernaikh also had to shift his attention to internal policies. He spent much time focusing on improving employee welfare. He introduced a number of staff benefits, including a comprehensive employee booklet, organised events and trips to encourage team bonding and, played a hands on role at SICCI’s events. His outlook on staff welfare: “Once you succeed winning over the staff, it becomes easy meeting the needs of clients and constituents” proved to be his winning formula and SICCI witnessed a sea change under his tenure.

Hernaikh left SICCI to join SMU in late 2012 and he is currently Head of the South Asia and Southeast Asia Desks at the International Office. Here, he is instrumental in developing SMU’s brand name in the two regions through partnerships with academic institutions and corporates.

There is little doubt that his professional stints at TDB, SIF, ISAS, SICCI and SMU played a significant part in Hernaikh’s contributions to the country – locally and internationally. However, his greatest contribution to the national landscape was perhaps borne out of his passion in wanting to serve the community and the less fortunate. It was this passion that propelled his group of committed friends and him to launch YSA, a non-profit organisation dedicated to fulfilling the aspirations of young Singaporeans. He was elected the founding president and remained in this position till 2012.

He was instrumental for what YSA has become today – an integral part of the Sikh community and youth landscape in Singapore.

Over the last decade, YSA planned, executed and delivered a myriad of events and activities to get youth involved in the Sikh community and on the national stage. Under his term, YSA initiated, or was directly involved in, more than 120 activities or programmes. This amounted to approximately one event per month, a phenomenal feat given that the activities and programmes were spearheaded by YSA’s Executive Committee, comprising entirely of volunteers.

Under Hernaikh’s leadership, YSA can be credited with many firsts. It initiated the Ministerial Dialogue to provide the opportunity for young Singaporeans to engage Singapore ministers in frank and open discussions. It also launched the Khwaish Lecture series in which eminent local and international personalities are invited to share their views on local and international developments.

SEE ALSO: Young Singaporeans commended for voluntary work in Punjab

YSA is the only Sikh organisation in Singapore that has undertaken community service projects in India annually. The much-lauded Khwaish projects are in their 15th year. The Khwaish projects have not only received tremendous support and recognition from the Sikh community and youth organisations but also from Singapore’s Prime Minister. Through the annual Sikh Graduates Tea Reception, YSA initiated the practice of celebrating the educational achievements of young Sikhs. It also started the ‘Racial Harmony’ football tournament to foster better understanding across the ethnic groups through fun and sport.

I have known Hernaikh for around two decades now. We worked closely when he was with SIF, promoting Singapore’s internationalisation efforts. We continued our working relationship when I became Chairman of Mercy Relief. Hernaikh has a strong sense of service to his community and Singapore society. He has been actively participating in various national-level initiatives.
When he decided to set up YSA, it came as no surprise to me really! He strongly believed that young Sikhs needed to plug into national discourse so that they not only contribute actively to Singapore society but also benefit professionally and personally from their participation. He has been able to make a telling contribution to the national landscape through YSA as well as in his professional capacity over the years.
– Mr Zulkifli Baharudin Singapore’s Non-Resident Ambassador to Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, and Former Nominated Member of Parliament, Singapore

Singapore played host to a Regional Bhangra Competition for the first time when YSA organised a major multi-ethnic regional competition involving six top bhangra dance teams from across Australia, India, Malaysia and Singapore. YSA also took bhangra to the heartlands of Singapore through Bhangra Bonanza to showcase the rich, vibrant and colourful Punjabi culture and tradition to the wider Singapore society. The less fortunate has always been a key pre-occupation of YSA under Hernaikh’s tenure. It organised charity events such as visits to children and aged homes, fund-raising for needy Singaporeans as well as for victims of disasters overseas, and refurbishing and painting the homes of low-income families.

Apart from YSA, Hernaikh has also contributed to community and public service in several other notable ways. Unknown to many, he was Aide-de-camp to both President S R Nathan and President Ong Teng Cheong – a special honour he holds dear. He was also a member of the Feedback Groups on Community Development and Political Development; the Programme Quality Resource Panel of OLI 96.8 FM of the Radio Corporation of Singapore; and the Economic Planning Committee (Ministry of Trade and Industry). At the same time, he was a member of the Taxpayer Feedback Panel of the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore; the Youth Network Committee (National Youth Council); and the Singapore Youth Award Selection Panel on Entrepreneurship). Currently, he keeps his association with ISAS through his appointment as an Associate Member.

Hernaikh’s passion and drive to never stop learning and to continually give back to his community and society have created a sweet recipe for success for him. A down-to-earth individual, his humility comes as a breath of fresh air, as he explains animatedly how his favourite thing is to “spend time with my stress relievers (my children).” However, on a more serious note, his rationale for contribution to the Sikh community and Singapore society is that he wants to leave the world a better place for his children’s generation and beyond.

final-sg50-book[This article is courtesy of SINGAPORE AT 50: 50 SIKHS AND THEIR CONTRIBUTIONS, a book published in 2005 by the Young Sikh Association, Singapore (YSA) in conjunction with Singapore’s 50th birthday]


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