Denise Phua

Denise Phua Lay Peng (Chinese: 潘丽萍; pinyin: Pān Lìpíng,[2] born 9 December 1959[1]) is a Singaporean politician and disability rights activist. After a successful corporate career spanning two decades, she gave up her corporate career to become a full-time special needs volunteer. She became the president of the Autism Resource Centre (Singapore) and co-founded Pathlight School.

Denise Phua
Mayor of Central Singapore District
Assumed office
27 May 2014
Preceded bySam Tan
Member of Parliament
Assumed office
6 May 2006
PresidentHalimah Yacob
Tony Tan
Prime MinisterLee Hsien Loong
ConstituencyJalan Besar GRC (2015-present, 2006-2011)
Moulmein–Kallang GRC (2011-2015)
Personal details
Born (1959-12-09) 9 December 1959 (age 60)
Political partyPeople's Action Party
Alma materNational University of Singapore, Golden Gate University

She is currently a Member of Parliament (MP) representing the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) in Jalan Besar GRC (Moulmein–Kallang GRC from formation in 7 May 2011 to dissolution in 24 August 2015). As an MP, she has focused on developing programmes for the disabled and special needs communities in Singapore. She currently chairs the Government Parliamentary Committee (GPC) for Education and is a member of the GPC for Social and Family Development. She is also the Mayor of the Central Singapore District .

Early years and corporate career

Phua studied at Balestier Girls' Primary School,[3] Raffles Girls' School and Hwa Chong Junior College.[2] She graduated from the National University of Singapore with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and earned a Master of Business Administration degree from Golden Gate University.[2][4] In a career spanning two decades, she held management positions at Hewlett-Packard and the Wuthelam Group. She then founded a regional leadership training firm, the Centre of Effective Leadership.[2]

Volunteer work

Her son was diagnosed with autism at the age of three.[5][6] As Phua consulted professionals and did research on how to help him,[5][6] she thought about how she could help other autistic children.[7] She subsequently founded WeCAN, a charity which helps caregivers of autistic people and offers early intervention programmes for autistic preschoolers.[4][8]

In 2005, Phua left the corporate world to be a full-time special needs volunteer.[3][4] She and her partners sold the Centre of Effective Leadership to Right Management, a Manpower Inc. subsidiary.[2] Phua then became president of the Autism Resource Centre.[3][9] She often wrote to newspapers and government agencies on issues affecting the special needs community.[6][10] Phua is best known for her advocacy for those who are at risk of being left behind in Singapore, and frequently speaks up for the disabled and Singaporeans with low-skilled and low-income backgrounds. She is one of the key architects behind three 5-year Enabling Masterplans for the Disabled in Singapore.[11]

Phua is also the co-founder[12] and former acting principal[9] of Pathlight School, the first special school for autistic children in Singapore.[9] The school offers mainstream curriculum and life skills education to its students.[8][13] A believer in helping autistic people realise their potential and integrate into society,[8][14] Phua helped develop many of the school's programmes.[15] These include employability skills training through a student-run café,[16] specialised vocational training,[14] and satellite classes where Pathlight students mix with mainstream students.[15] In four years, enrolment increased tenfold[17] and the school attracted media attention for its impact on students.[13][14]

Continuing her volunteer efforts, Phua continues to supervise two charities – Autism Resource Centre (Singapore) and Autism Association (Singapore), and two special schools – Pathlight School and Eden School.[11]

Political career

Phua joined the ruling PAP's Jalan Besar branch in 2004.[12] The following year, she was appointed to the Feedback Supervisory Panel, which leads the government's Feedback Unit.[10] In the 2006 general election, she was fielded as a PAP candidate in Jalan Besar GRC, which was contested by the Singapore Democratic Alliance.[18] During the election campaign, she promised to make Singapore a more inclusive society by representing the disabled and special needs communities.[7][19] The PAP team won Jalan Besar GRC with 69.26% of the vote.[18]

In July 2006, the PAP formed a workgroup, headed by Phua, to explore initiatives to improve the financial security of disabled and special needs children.[20] Phua also led a committee that drew up a five-year plan to improve services for special needs children.[21] The PAP studied their proposals and later implemented some, such as a National non-profit Special Needs Trust Fund.[22] Laws were also drafted to prohibit abuse of the mentally disabled and to allow parents to appoint someone to look after their special needs children after they die.[23]

Non-political career

Phua was appointed Mayor of Central Singapore District in 2014 for a three-year term,[24] and was reappointed for the following term in 2017.[25] As Mayor, Phua has initiated many projects to meet the needs of her residents. These include a suite of more than 50 community programmes by the Central Singapore Community Development Council to help residents live a better life, and build a do-good district. Among them are:

  • Nurture, a 40-week programme to develop confident and self-directed learners in communications and problem solving;[26]
  • In Search of Purpose talk series, to spur residents on in finding their bigger purpose in life;[27]
  • Silver Friends, a platform to bring volunteers and partners to serve the seniors through a series of silver programmes;[28] and
  • The Purple Symphony, Singapore’s largest inclusive orchestra comprising musicians with and without special needs.[29]


  1. ^ a b "Member's CV". Archived from the original on 11 July 2012. Retrieved 11 December 2018.
  2. ^ a b c d e "Denise Phua Lay Peng", Candidate Profiles, People's Action Party, Retrieved on 28 October 2008. Archived 10 December 2006 at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ a b c "Why would Ah Beng vote for you?", The New Paper, 25 March 2006.
  4. ^ a b c Jasmine Yin, "She's one for the underdogs", TODAY, 24 March 2006.
  5. ^ a b "Small Victories are Sweet Archived 23 March 2008 at the Wayback Machine",, Retrieved on 28 October 2008.
  6. ^ a b c Chi Yin, "An advocate for kids with special needs", The Straits Times, 24 March 2006.
  7. ^ a b "Interview with Denise Phua Archived 24 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine", Passion People, 938LIVE, 4 January 2007, Retrieved on 28 October 2008.
  8. ^ a b c Chuah Yii Wen, "Lighting new path for autistic children", The Straits Times, 10 February 2007.
  9. ^ a b c "Volunteer Denise Phua one of new PAP candidates", Channel NewsAsia, 23 March 2006.
  10. ^ a b Chia Sue-Ann, "14 new faces on feedback panel", The Straits Times, 22 June 2005.
  11. ^ a b Denise Phua | Singapore Tatler, Retrieved 4 March 2019.
  12. ^ a b Clarence Chang, "It's about remaking lives", The New Paper, 18 March 2006.
  13. ^ a b "This special school is mainstream too", The Straits Times, 5 August 2006.
  14. ^ a b c "An early start for a child with autism", The Straits Times, 4 July 2007.
  15. ^ a b Loh Chee Keong, "From dread to delight", TODAY, 23 July 2007.
  16. ^ Teo Xuan Wei, "Autistic students run café", TODAY, 20 January 2006.
  17. ^ "Pathlight School to get new S$33m home next year", Channel NewsAsia, 2 April 2008.
  18. ^ a b "2006 Parliamentary General Election Results", Singapore Elections Department, 11 September 2006, Retrieved on 1 January 2009.
  19. ^ Ansley Ng, "Ready to disagree, ready to serve", TODAY, 24 March 2006.
  20. ^ Tan Hui Leng, "Need for a net", TODAY, 20 July 2006.
  21. ^ Sarah Ng, "Masterplan to improve lives of disabled", The Sunday Times, 3 September 2006.
  22. ^ "MCYS studies proposal on enhancing financial security of special needs persons", Channel NewsAsia, 25 October 2006.
  23. ^ Radha Basu, "Parents of special-needs kids applaud draft law", The Straits Times, 15 August 2007.
  24. ^ Neo Chai Chin, "CDCs should keep exploring ways to serve changing population: PM", TODAY, 21 June 2014.
  25. ^ Danson Cheong, "CDCs can help Singaporeans navigate economic changes, stay united as a society: PM Lee", The Straits Times, 24 May 2017.
  26. ^ "Nurture". Central Singapore CDC.
  27. ^ "In Search Of Purpose Talks". Central Singapore CDC.
  28. ^ "Silver Friends". Central Singapore CDC.
  29. ^ "The Purple Symphony". Central Singapore CDC.

External links

Parliament of Singapore
Preceded by
Loh Meng See
Member of Parliament for
Jalan Besar GRC (Kampong Glam)

2006 – 2011
Constituency abolished
New constituency Member of Parliament for
Moulmein–Kallang GRC (Kampong Glam)

2011 – 2015
Constituency abolished
New constituency Member of Parliament for
Jalan Besar GRC (Kampong Glam)

2015 – present
Government offices
Preceded by
Sam Tan
Mayor of Central Singapore district
27 May 2014 – present