Break the mould, don’t be afraid to dream big.

By 7am, Dr Roland Yeow is up and running, making his rounds at Boys’ Town with affable ease upon reaching the campus and greeting everyone in his team by name. It is a simple gesture that means much to him as he acknowledges his thanks to these unsung heroes who work alongside him to keep this tight ship he runs, alive.

At night, Roland teaches at Kaplan (a private tertiary institution) or at Social Service Institute, a role he finds fulfilling as he gets to practice and teach leadership, management and social services – topics close to his heart. His weekends are not spared either as he fills them with non-profit related engagements.

“Every day I wake up, I ask myself, what difference can I make today? A true non-profit (NPO) leader must be able to inspire, make decisions and improve their staff and clients’ lives for the better. That’s how I know I can sleep better every night.”

DR ROLAND YEOW, Executive Director (Designate) of Boys’ Town

Happily married with two children, an eight-year-old daughter and a three-year-old son, with their support, Roland even managed to travel overseas for executive educations. The first, from Georgetown University where he received his Executive Certificate in Non-Profit Management as a Toteboard Overseas Scholar; and later from Harvard Business School, Programme for Leadership Development. He also completed the Social Leadership Singapore programme (SLS) funded by NVPC.

A young Roland wouldn’t have imagined a life like this.

Not the typical A-student, bored and aimless, he dropped out of secondary school and started hanging out with the wrong crowd. At a loss and worried for Roland’s future, his well-intentioned parents enrolled him in Boys’ Town – a tough decision which thankfully paid off. The structure and discipline transformed him and gave him a chance to learn, ultimately presenting him a second chance in life.

14 years later, he returned to Boys’ Town again, this time as a youth worker, helping troubled and disadvantaged youths. “Those whom the world rejects, must move you the most,” a Boy’s Town motto initiated by St Louis Marie de Montfort (Founding Saint of the Brothers of St. Gabriel) is also one that Roland firmly subscribes to. Armed with his first-hand awareness on concerns faced by his charges and his conviction in giving back as a past-beneficiary, Roland achieved his PhD while working his way up the organisation and is now its Executive Director (Designate).

But when asked if he’d like to change in his past, Roland replied almost instantly with his trademark grin and a resounding no that he is completely satisfied. By being able to accept himself fully while knowing his personal journey, transformed and shaped him into being the NPO leader he is today.

Part and parcel of being a leader of mature non-profit, with a legacy that spans 70 years, Roland faces the daily challenge of ensuring its relevancy in the NPO scene. His other predicament stems from the moral dilemma of deciding whether to help youths with deep behavioural and psychological issues–how can the organisation ensure that they’ll continue to do everything they can and never having to face the possibility of turning away anyone in need?

Formerly known as an institution for troubled boys, Boys’ Town has since rebranded and increased its services beyond residential care and prioritising deeper interventions, which include clinical services, youth outreach, fostering and adventure programmes. To keep up with an everchanging society, he believes that NPO leaders need to move beyond merely being good tactically. There is need to be able to communicate their reason for doing what they do and to inspire.

Such is Roland’s deep drive and passion for his work–aligning mission with burgeoning needs while caring for his team and “his kids”.

“Staff have to believe that they can participate in the organisation’s mission. When your team can’t, they won’t stay. Whatever the work they choose, they want to be able to make a difference. Committed ones eventually become leaders,” imparts Roland.

He offers the following tips on growing potential leaders:

  1. Select the leaders who can perform at their jobs right now.
  2. Identify individuals with leadership potential. They must be able to lead and be comfortable to work with people. Essentially, being comfortable with the uncomfortable.
  3. Find the leaders who can take the organisation to the next level. They need to understand that bringing the organisation to the next level takes precedence over ‘just performing well’.

“In the NPO sector, having a good heart isn’t enough, you need a strong one.”

DR ROLAND YEOW, Executive Director (Designate) of Boys’ Town

His pride for his people shows in his demeanour, his actions and his constant show of gratitude and affection for his team. While acknowledging that staff retention in the NPO sector is an issue, he is also devoting efforts in building a strong and committed leadership team to continue the legacy of the founders, religious, strong ethos and model of care.

“I don’t want to be a leader where my staff fall apart without me. They’ve to be able to function even when I’m not around. For that, you need to trust and give flexibility to them.”

Beyond his day-job, night-job, side-engagements and family commitments, Roland has also recently stepped up to be a member of NVPC / CNPL’s Leadership Alumni working group, to spearhead its direction.

“What do we owe to the non-profit world in Singapore? Good leaders. We have the duty to build a strong and committed leaders and the only way to do that, is to start from us. Only then, they can build a new generation of good leaders.”

DR ROLAND YEOW, Executive Director (Designate) of Boys’ Town


Overcoming roadblocks

Never imagine you’re fighting a war alone. As a leader, you need to capitalise your strengths and build your allies.

Most important life lesson

Be aware of your limitations. That’s authenticity. Build on your strengths.

From a leader to another leader

Never be lost. With reference from Alice in Wonderland, “If you don’t know where you’re going, it doesn’t matter where you are going.” All leaders need to know where they’re headed.

For young leaders today

Go ahead and be selfish. Build success for people. Eventually, their successes will become yours.

One meal with any leader in the world

Barack Obama

One power to change the world

Grace. The world lacks it.