Clara Koh, Head of Public Policy, Singapore & ASEAN, Meta

In this edition of Breaking Barriers, Aditi Sharma Kalra speaks to Clara Koh, Head of Public Policy, Singapore & ASEAN, Meta (formerly known as Facebook), who is in a role integral to the policy, safety, and security work done across Meta’s platforms, and leads the company’s engagement with the government and stakeholders around policy issues on technology, economy, and society.

Koh is also leading Meta’s commitment to making its platforms safer for women, which includes proposing policies and engaging with experts to help tackle online harms. She is part of the Sunlight Alliance for Action (AfA), which is led by Senior Minister of State Sim Ann, to tackle online harms targeted at women and girls.

In this interview, we find out what her daily work looks like in safety planning for technology, her perspective on being a female leader in tech, and some of her recent work in safety developments and preventing online harms.

Q What an interesting role! Tell us a little about what you do, and some of the affirmative action you and your team at Meta have taken to make the cyberworld a safer place for women.

As Meta’s Head of Public Policy for Singapore and ASEAN, I lead the company’s engagement with government and other stakeholders from the academic and civil society sectors around policy issues relating to technology, the economy and society.

At Meta, as we give people power to build community and bring the world closer together, the safety of our users is a priority, and we take a multifaceted approach to ensure that people feel safe on our platforms. This includes writing clear policies, engaging with experts to inform our policies and product development, and developing cutting-edge technology to help prevent abuse from happening in the first place. My role in all of this is to ensure that we are addressing local safety concerns in Singapore and working with stakeholders here to provide input to Meta’s internal policies and processes.

When it comes to women’s safety, we know that women have unique experiences and while we continue to work hard to prevent and remove abuse from our platforms, we are also working with a range of external partners to address this issue in Singapore.

For example, I’m a member of the Sunlight Alliance for Action (AfA), led by Senior Minister of State Sim Ann and Parliamentary Secretary Rahayu Mahzam, to tackle online harms especially those affecting women and girls. An aspect of my work in the alliance is to support public education on the various safety tips and features built into our apps, such as a recent webinar for parents in February 2022 for Safer Internet Day. During the session, we discussed how to protect our young, especially women and girls, from technology-facilitated harassment issues such as sexting, online grooming and pornography. 

Q Apart from your core job, you've taken on several roles such as at Sunlight Alliance for Action (AfA) for online safety and security. What typically are the major challenges you're tackling across the community/society, and what national/policy level solutions do you think will be most impactful?

There are several aspects to the challenges related to technology in Singapore that we seek to play a positive role in to address.

On the one hand, there is the issue of technology access and literacy. We saw, for example, during the COVID-19 pandemic that some families did not have access to devices, and this put them at a disadvantage, as we shifted to home-based learning and work-from-home. And, generally, we were reminded that access to devices needs to be accompanied by skills – not only on how to operate devices and software, but also how to operate online safely and securely.

On the other hand, there is the issue of digital adoption and upskilling in our business and talent ecosystem.

Apart from the work that we do, my team also works to design and implement programmes to address these issues, in collaboration with partners in the community. For example, during the pandemic, we partnered with TOUCH Community Services to donate 1,000 laptops to lower income families and provide digital literacy workshops for parents and their children.

In another example, we partnered with SGTech and several government agencies i.e., DISG, IMDA and ESG, to launch our largest training initiative, Upskill with Facebook Singapore last year, aimed at providing people and small businesses with training and certification programs on digital marketing. We worked with the polytechnics and universities, but also organisations like the Codette Project and Mums@Work support women and mid-career professionals who were looking to return to work and/or switch careers.

I think partnerships like these and also the Sunlight AfA are important to make sure we understand a challenge holistically and are developing solutions that are relevant and reach the people who need it most.

Q What drives you? Are there any personal beliefs/people from whom you draw strength?

I am driven every day by the meaningful work that we are doing at Meta – working at the cutting edge of technology and its implications for society and working out partnerships and solutions to challenges in Singapore. The culturally and cognitively diverse talent within the company also inspires me. I also enjoy collaboration and this work necessarily requires different parts of Meta and society working together.

Q Having served as First Secretary at Singapore's embassy in Washington, DC, what are some lessons in negotiation, stakeholder management and relationship building that you can share with women leaders, from your experience?

In the stakeholder management business of diplomacy and even in what I do today at Meta, I feel it is important to take a long-term view of relationships. In that sense, I see it as useful to build relationships on a broader set of interests and issues, than a singular one. This will allow you to better manage and navigate the ups and downs, and the occasional inevitable tensions that arise in any relationship.

It also means always being respectful even in tough negotiations - and I feel that one can be tough and also respectful.

I think each of us will need to find our own style in all of this and be opened to feedback. As women, we don’t have to emulate the ideals of male leadership, but equally shouldn’t feel we need to box ourselves into gender stereotypes of leadership. It is finding your own style and voice, and to be authentically you, and building a community around you who can keep you honest and provide hard truths. I count myself fortunate to be working at a company like Meta, where we have an open culture and people can bring their authentic selves to work and be open and respectful with their feedback.

Q What would you define as your leadership style? What are some things about leading others that you'll always hold dear, no matter what the situation or context?

Landing on my leadership style has been a journey, and I am constantly learning new things about myself and areas I need to continue to grow. At the very basic level, I seek to always be respectful, even when I disagree, and to be inclusive of people and respect their different points of view.

I see leadership as not just leading from the front but leading with. It is about knowing when and who to consult, and the hard work of building bridges where there are differences and bringing people on the journey with you. For me, the path taken is just as important as the destination, and in some cases more so.

In this brand-new series of interviews, titled Breaking BarriersHRO speaks to women leaders globally who have forged their paths and made a mark in their career of choice, doing what they love best — living out their passions and uplifting others to go further and faster. Read all our Breaking Barriers interviews here

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