Ex-actress aims to get public to clean up their act

Public Hygiene Council's new chief Wong Li Lin brimming with ideas on how to keep S'pore clean
Jose Hong Straits Times 20 Oct 17;

In her role as Inspector Elaine Tay in police drama Triple Nine, she used to clear the streets of criminals. Now, in her new job, former actress Wong Li Lin will help clean up Singapore's streets - literally.

She is the new executive director of the Public Hygiene Council (PHC), the latest incarnation for the 45-year-old, who was once a professional ballerina, a pilates instructor, the boss of a media start-up and a deputy director at a medical firm.

In the five weeks since she took up the job of running the PHC secretariat at the National Environment Agency, she has not only been learning the ropes, but also had to deal with curious and excited colleagues.

"I still get photographed, with people telling me 'I remember you in Triple Nine' or asking me 'When are you going back to TV?'," she told The Straits Times in an interview yesterday.

Ms Wong said she found out about the job opening through her professional network around January, and met the council members to see if she would be a good fit for the role. She was then with the Thomson Medical group.

After going through several interviews, she accepted the offer from PHC, which was launched in 2011 to promote good hygiene practices and improve personal and public hygiene standards in Singapore.

Ms Wong said she has no academic or work experience in the area of public hygiene, but does not see it as a problem. She said all her jobs, including this one, involve her three passions of educating, promoting wellness and media.

"From the policymaker's standpoint, regulation is put in place to keep Singapore clean. But there has to be a connecting point on the ground with the community, to be able to nudge and shift behaviour in that direction. That's where we come in," said the mother of two children - daughter Sage, 13, and son Jonas, 11. Already, she said she has many ideas for the new role, though she recognises it is still early days.

First on her mind is streamlining and simplifying the process to organise cleanups around the island.

She wants to create a one-stop online portal where organisations, such as companies and societies, can access and view the areas in Singapore available for cleanups.

For now, Ms Wong plans to start the pilot project at the beaches as they are quite popular, with the PHC receiving about 20 to 30 requests to clean them monthly.

Second, Ms Wong wants to strengthen the use of social "nudges" - an idea from behavioural economics - to understand people's habits and subconsciously encourage them to keep their surroundings clean.

Finally, she hopes to raise public awareness about what the PHC does. Here is where her public profile, and knowledge of social media, might come in handy. "I have always tried to underplay my profile, but I realise that I am still recognisable. It has only been in the past few years that I have begun to see how it can be put to some use."