April 26, 2019

I grew up in Switzerland, one of four children, blessed with warm and loving parents who were high school sweethearts. We spent long hours playing in the garden and embarked on numerous travels around the globe. My eldest brother, who was 2 years older than me, was always a little odd even as a child—yet he was also beautifully sensitive, handsome and deeply intelligent.

At 14, he was diagnosed with severe personality disorder as he suffered immensely from voices in his head. He rarely went out to meet friends, and refused to leave his room because nothing was ever straightforward. Finding a place where he could live peacefully was very difficult. We tried everything to alleviate his misery but he always rebelled against every initiative that my parents had tirelessly put together. Life on earth was hell for him. As an empath, I felt his pain and anxieties for years even after his passing without the power to help him, which gradually made me particularly sensitive to people’s suffering.

Having witnessed my brother go from psychiatric hospitals to prisons (a story for another day), I encountered a spectrum of people: the ill, the poor, the crazy and those who suffered from social injustices. During my prison visits, there were times when I would speak to my brother behind a glass window and on special occasions like Christmas, we could huddle together in a room behind bars. I never once felt comfortable being under the watchful eye of prison guards—and it was revealed later in the media that the guards were often guilty of mistreating and displaying violence towards the prisoners.

If it wasn’t for my brother, I wouldn’t have met these supposed outcasts who at first glance, seemed strange, scary and foreign. But once I started to hear their stories and battles, it struck me that they were just like me in many ways; we all had hopes and dreams, fears and flaws wrapped up inside of us. One day, my brother asked me if one of his fellow inmates could write me, and I said “yes”—feeling like I could finally do something to ease his plight. In reality, my brother never met him in person and communicated with him through a hole in the wall between their respective cells.

At that time, I was living a beautiful life in New York City, one of the most extraordinary places in the world, while my penpal and my brother were in a grey Swiss prison—a stark contrast that made me appreciative of my freedom both mentally and physically. To this day, I still have all his letters in my Singapore apartment as a reminder of how unpredictable and fragile life is.

In 2011, my penpal died in prison from asphyxiation. A year later, at 27, my brother (after spending 6 years in prison) committed suicide in his cell out of despair. As devastated as I was, I did not blame him.

The reason why I’m sharing this story is because I have healed from the loss and strongly believe that we can fully recover from anything. I also made a promise to myself after my brother’s passing that I would focus on transforming darkness into light, illness into health, pollution into clean air by connecting and supporting like-minded individuals who are on the same journey of change. People who march to the beat of their own drum. People who stand up for what they believe in. A reality where the only way forward is a path of purpose, impact, passion, joy and (sometimes sadness too).

At various periods of my life, I got the opportunity to work for the Clinton Foundation, Ashoka founded by maverick Bill Drayton who was credited for the words “social entrepreneur”, Acumen led by Jacqueline Novogratz who was the first person to talk about “patient capital”, start-up accelerator Techstars, and was also a founding team member for a big data software business called Big Data for Humans. All these experiences have strengthened my belief that with a strong support group and ecosystem, we can propel bold initiatives forward.

Techstars flourished in the US and other parts of the world because it was part of a broader ecosystem to incentivise tech entrepreneurs to make the leap and get funded. Despite the controversial work of the Clinton Foundation, it made waves because Bill Clinton and his network were their supporters. A project can only take off if you are surrounded by people who support and believe in you. And of course, the timing has to be right.

It took me a while to get to this juncture of launching my new venture, Stage 6, and our first phase is to build our community—a group of individuals who are interested in creating more social and environmental impact on the world. We organise gatherings by application only where we connect beyond labels and invite conscious leaders from different industries to share their personal stories. Soon we will be launching a Stage 6 Summit, and come next year, we will debut our first hotel and co-living space in Singapore where people can live together and get the necessary support to become the best version of themselves.