By Sng Ler Jun
Beauty pageants can be challenging and stressful but for 23-year-old Carissa Yap, her repping Singapore at the 71st Miss Universe pageant earlier this year is nothing but an exhilarating adventure. “There is stress but it’s a good kind of stress,” she says of her experience in New Orleans, Louisiana. “That adrenaline made me want to perform better.”
Interestingly, Carissa, who studies finance and economics at the National University of Singapore (NUS), did not announce her intention to sign up for the competition to most of her family members and friends. She had initially wanted a platform to develop herself. “I wanted to step out of my comfort zone, and saw this as a chance to hone my public speaking skills,” she tells NUS’ BIZBeat. “One of my goals was also to find purpose in what I do, and I felt that this would be a good platform to champion the causes I believe in.”
It was only after she emerged as Miss Universe Singapore 2022 that most of them caught wind of the good news. In an interview with Mothership, she revealed that she took the leap of faith after witnessing her former Raffles Institution school mate Nandita Banna’s transformation from being “shy and reserved” to becoming “confident” and “not afraid of sharing her own personal stories”. Nandita became one of the top 16 contestants in the pageant the year prior.
Growing up in a single-parent family, Carissa has always looked up to her mother as a pillar of support and motivation. For Carissa, her mother embodies the value of resilience – synonymous with what Singapore’s national flower, the Vanda Miss Joaquim, stands for. And perhaps this was why she was the perfect candidate of choice to wear this year’s national costume: a scarlet sequin jumpsuit adorned with several almost organic-like, veiny petals, printed from 3D technology, that surround her torso and waist as several Vanda Miss Joaquims of different sizes. This costume is the brainchild of two esteemed local couturiers Frederick Lee and Baëlf Design.
In another, she dons on a swimsuit cape, also in red, designed by a network of stay-at-home mothers and residents from social enterprise MINDSville that empowers persons with intellectual disabilities (PIDs). Beyond championing the plight of PIDs or volunteering her time at MINDSville, Carissa is also championing women who are underbanked. “The term refers to when someone not having equitable access to resources, even though these resources are there for them to utilise. For example, underbanked women can comprise stay-at-home mothers and foreign domestic workers,” she explains.
Read our exclusive interview with Carissa Yap on her experience as Miss Universe Singapore 2022 and how she uses her platform to advocate for causes that matter to her.
Sng Ler Jun: Do you have a figure you draw inspiration from or who are you most thankful for?
Carissa Yap: I find inspiration from the people I interact with daily. I make an effort to remember the best points that I come across whenever I interact with them. I am most thankful for my mother. I grew up in a single parent family and we are really close. I am immensely grateful for her support for everything that I do, even for joining this competition.
Sng Ler Jun: Who is Carissa Yap off the camera?
Carissa Yap: Off camera, I like to try out many different things. I am into hot yoga recently. I have done Taekwondo and ballet. I am also picking up reading and journaling too.
Sng Ler Jun: Who is Carissa Yap in front of the camera then?
Carissa Yap: From the different shoots I have done, I think I'm an adventurous soul. Being in front of the camera allows me to try out many different things and I think that was quite fun, besides taking part in the competition.
Sng Ler Jun: Take us through the entire journey to becoming Miss Universe Singapore 2022. How has it been? What is it like to represent Singapore?
Carissa Yap: It was fun, stressful and refreshing! It was my first time to United States. It may have been a 10-day long competition, but everything was a whirl there. I also got to meet and hear from contestants from other countries – some of whom came from places I have not heard of. The adrenaline rush I experienced really spurred me to want to do my best. On the whole, it has been really heartwarming and exciting.
Sng Ler Jun: What has been the most defining moment?
Carissa Yap: When I am on stage and shouting ‘Singapore’ after my name. It really was an honour to have represented Singapore and sharing my Singaporean stories to the world.
Sng Ler Jun: What does confidence mean to you?
Carissa Yap: Confidence to me, I think it's really being at peace with who you are on the inside.
Sng Ler Jun: You are big on helping women who are underbanked. For the laypersons, how would you go about defining the women who are underbanked?
Carissa Yap: The term ‘underbanked’ doesn't refer to someone who do not have access to banking services. The term refers to when someone not having equitable access to resources, even though these resources are there for them to utilise. For example, underbanked women can comprise stay-at-home mothers and foreign domestic workers. Some of them may not have enough balance in their bank account and this may limit them from applying for various credit services.
Sng Ler Jun: How did you come to know of this term then?
Carissa Yap: As a finance undergraduate at NUS, I have always had an interest in how different financial services can impact communities. I happened to have joined a FinTech festival in school last year and that was where I caught wind of the various microfinance solutions that focuse on the underbanked communities as their target audiences. I realised that there has been a lack of awareness of the underbanked community in Singapore, and because I grew up in a single-parent family, this became something close to my heart.
Sng Ler Jun: How do you go about helping these marginalised group of women?
Carissa Yap: Before we can make any real impact, we have to first raise awareness. I have been doing some advocacy works in my social media as well as through the interviews that I have done. Real impact will take seven to 10 years to crystallise and the way I see it, with several new up and coming FinTech solutions popping up on the horizon, we can leverage them to help the underbanked community.
Sng Ler Jun: Beyond FinTech solutions, do you see value in traditional financial offices, such as credit co-operatives, helping the underbanked?
Carissa Yap: Yes, of course! I think credit co-operatives have helped their members, some of whom may have fallen into the same category, by loaning money at a lower interest rate in order for them to tide through a tough period. I also see synergy between traditional financial offices working closely together with microfinancing solutions to create a win-win solution for everyone.
Sng Ler Jun: What are some of the challenges these women face today? What do you think society needs to do today to empower not just these women but the underbanked community at large?
Carissa Yap: I think many view Singapore as a really rich nation, just like ‘Crazy Rich Asians’, there seems to be a miscommunication that everyone in Singapore is wealthy.
This interview has been edited for clarity. All image rights belong to their respective owners.