Anju Cawthra: Leading and Connecting Expat Women in A Positive, Non-Judgmental Space

Seasoned Singapore Expat Women (SSEW) is a vibrant and supportive community of women who have lived in Singapore for at least three years, and who share their experiences, insights, and advice on various aspects of expat life. Whether it is finding a job, starting a business, raising a family, or exploring the culture, SSEW has something for everyone.

Led by its current Director Anju Cawthra, SSEW makes a difference in the lives of thousands of women in the Lion City. Anju is not a typical expat. She has lived in Singapore for 14 years, embracing the culture, the opportunities, and the challenges of life in the Lion City. As the director of Seasoned Singapore Expat Women (SSEW), a Facebook group with over 15,000 members, she is passionate about connecting, sharing, and helping other women who have made Singapore their home. In this exclusive interview, we chat with Anju about her journey from London to Singapore, her role at SSEW, and her tips for living a fulfilling and balanced expat life.

Give a brief overview of your professional journey. What made you choose your current industry?

I have always been interested in arts; theatre, design, craft, fashion, music, and film. I studied graphic design and worked in boutique design agencies in London, where I enjoyed copywriting, designing, and solving clients’ briefs. I moved to Singapore 14 years ago and became a freelance designer, working with various clients and projects.

I joined Seasoned Singapore Expat Women (SSEW) as a member and later as a volunteer, working closely with the founder for one year. I took over the director role three years ago and have been leading the group ever since. I have always followed what I enjoy doing and now I can utilize the combination of skills that I have learned along the way and combine them with my passion for design, enjoyment of problem-solving, and desire to contribute and serve the community.

Describe your working style in a few words. How would others define your communication style?

When it comes to working, I go with my gut and trust my instincts. I feel the needs of the community and respond directly to them. For example, I started monthly supper clubs post covid, because I felt that larger events can be impersonal and overwhelming. Smaller events mean you have to get past the small talk and make friends. They have been hugely successful and well-received by the members.

As for my communication style, I asked my team and they described me as confident, a good listener, a motivator, friendly, efficient, and positive. I think these are important qualities for a leader and a collaborator. I always try to communicate clearly, respectfully, and constructively with everyone I work with.

Brief us about your current role. What unique or fresh ideas have you introduced in your capacity?

I always keep coming up with unique event concepts and ways for members to connect. I have a new initiative in the pipeline that will allow members to share/exchange expertise/time/company.

Brief us about the services provided by your company. How does your company uphold its uniqueness in the market?

SSEW is more than just an organization. It is a home away from home for women who have lived in Singapore for at least three years. It is a forum for the exchange of support, where members can ask questions, share tips, and offer help to each other. It is a trusted information resource, where members can find reliable and relevant answers to their queries. Some members even say that it is “better than Google”. It is also a platform for advertising, where members can promote their businesses, services, and events to a large and engaged audience.

What makes SSEW unique is that it is the only group for seasoned long-term expats in Singapore. It has a cozy vibe, a closer-knit community, and a respectful culture. It is a place where members can trust each other, learn from each other, and have fun with each other.

What is the biggest challenge you have faced in your career? How did you overcome it and what did you learn from it?

When my predecessor asked if I would consider taking over her position, I had two reservations:

  1. How will I have the time to do my job AND her job?
  2. Can I be ‘the face’ of SSEW?

When I started working at SSEW I was so green, I didn’t own a laptop or know the first thing about spreadsheets. I spent one year learning the ropes with a can-do attitude and my passion propelled me forward.

The bigger challenge was how to come out from ‘behind the curtain’ and step into my predecessor’s shoes as a community leader, presenter, and host. I would have to find a voice, proffer an opinion, AND look good doing it. Just who was I to stand in front of a camera and put myself in front of all these people, anyway?

I decided to take up the position, and there was no going back. I rationalized that it was part of the job and I had to grow into the role. I didn’t have a plan – I felt it was best to just ‘be me’. I trusted my gut and did whatever I thought was best for the lovely ladies in our community.
Today, people are eager to share how the community feels different from when it started, that I’ve “put my own stamp on it – in a good way”, and that they really appreciate the warmth and strength shared by the members. I think it all turned out pretty well!

What do you see as the biggest trends in your industry for the next 5 years, and how do you plan to prepare your organization for them?

I believe that change is a constant and that SSEW has to adapt to the evolving needs and preferences of its members. I foresee the emergence of ever more niche sub-community groups, each with their own identities and needs. I also plan to commercialize SSEW through ads, subscriptions, and add-on resources, to generate revenue and sustain the group’s growth.

To prepare the organization for these changes, I have a three-pronged strategy:
First, I will keep abreast of new tech and use it to enhance the online experience and engagement of the members.

Second, I will respect all viewpoints and keep an open mind and heart. I understand that we are all different but also all the same. I will build a diverse team that understands the needs of the subgroups and can cater to them effectively.

Third, I will continue to always deliver value and quality to the members, by providing useful information, relevant events, and supportive networks.

What, according to you, are the challenges hindering the progress of your industry and the potential solutions?

One of the challenges in the industry is the overflow of information and the difficulty of maintaining cut-through. To overcome this challenge, I keep connecting with the audience, identifying their needs, and delivering value. I also use creative and engaging ways to communicate my message and stand out from the crowd.

Another challenge is the negative messaging that social media is bad and harmful. To counter this challenge, I offer value to the members and ensure that they have a positive and rewarding experience on the platform. I also promote the benefits of social media, such as networking, learning, and sharing, and highlight the success stories of the members.

What is that one quote you live by or find helpful?

“Be the person you decide to be”