Rising Star Awards: What happened next for Cynthia Tze Keng Ko

Cynthia Ko

WeAreTheCity’s Rising Star Awards are now in their tenth year.

The Rising Star Awards are the first to focus on the achievements of women below Senior Management or Director level – representing the female talent pipeline and the next generation of future leaders.

In this ongoing series, we speak to our winners about life after winning a Rising Star award.

We spoke to Cynthia Ko, who won a Rising Star Award in the All Other Industries category, in 2023.

My name is Cynthia Tze Keng Ko – I was born and raised in the Netherlands and have lived in the UK for the past few years. When I speak about my career I often include my volunteering experience as well because I believe that we can all make an impact within and beyond our day-to-day jobs. As a Behavioural Design Manager at Cowry Consulting I’ve had the privilege to work on problems arising from the energy crisis. In my spare time I’m also a trustee at Mind, fighting for better mental health support for everyone. Being able to sustain myself whilst giving back to society feels like a huge personal milestone because my parents didn’t come from a privileged background. I try to carry their work ethic across everything I do whilst also struggling with chronic depression and my hope is that sharing my lived experience can inspire others to keep going.

How did winning a Rising Star award influence your perception of your own achievements and potential?

The whole award process has influenced me quite a bit this year. It’s not easy trying to achieve upward mobility whilst feeling like a constant outsider. Over the years I’ve always felt like I had to work harder than everybody else to make up for my background. I felt like I was never going to catch up with my peers who have university-educated parents or peers who have family money to fall back on. So when I initially got nominated for the Rising Star award, I felt a lot of anxiety and disbelief; it triggered my imposter syndrome and I couldn’t help but compare myself even more. Winning the award was therefore a huge surprise for me. However, knowing that I had been selected amongst 1,445 individuals through a panel of 40 independent judges eventually made me accept that my hard work did pay off. It also made me realise I’ve been fighting for success for a long time by then, trying to validate my existence as a second generation immigrant. During the nomination period I was going through a particularly tough time in my life, so winning the award has encouraged me to choose myself for once and have faith that I would be able to continue creating impact in the future even if I had to pause my work whilst going through therapy.

Have there been specific opportunities or doors that opened for you as a result of receiving the award?

As mentioned before, I chose to pause and take a step back rather than to keep on running after receiving the award. I think this message is important to share because it is so easy to burn out when you’re a high achiever surrounded by other award-winning high achievers. There’s been lots of learning opportunities that arose from being a part of the Rising Stars 100, such as the Learning Day that was organised by the team, which featured several guest lectures on leadership and development. But the most meaningful opportunities arose from the connection with fellow winners. It’s incredibly inspiring to be in a room with like-minded people.

How has winning the award affected your professional network and relationships within your industry?

Like I said, meeting fellow winners was the highlight of winning the award. I’ve met with current and past winners to exchange experiences on balancing success and mental health. It made me feel less alone in my journey knowing that the people I admire are also just human, trying to do their best for their own wellbeing whilst having the ambition to make the world better for others. It gives me great comfort to know that when I’m ready to work at a 100% capacity again, there will be many people assisting me in the journey.

Have you had the chance to mentor or inspire others based on your experience?

I tend to receive private messages from people that also struggle with a mental health condition in some way or the other, telling me how it’s inspiring them to see someone like me thrive whilst struggling with chronic depression. I always tell them that things aren’t always what they seem, as I did have to take some sick leave this year to work on my mental health, but I think that encourages people to stand up for their needs. There’s power in sharing our stories and I just hope that that can make others feel less lonely in their struggles.

What advice would you give to someone else thinking of nominating themselves or others for the awards?

The beautiful thing about the Rising Stars awards is that it isn’t age-dependent. So I’d highly encourage you to nominate anyone you think has done even the smallest thing to make a difference, whether it’s in their paid job or things they do outside their job. This is an opportunity to shine a light on people that are otherwise overlooked, so make the most out of it. Don’t forget to encourage others to nominate people as well. We all rise by lifting others up as well.

What advice do you have for individuals aspiring to achieve success in their careers?

Anything we do can make a difference in people’s lives, it may just take a while for the results to manifest. It’s important to have a goal but don’t forget that the journey needs to be enjoyable too. One big thing I’ve learned this year is that no journey is straightforward and we’re never really standing still or taking a step back, we’re mostly just stepping sideways or going through detours. That’s okay. In my experience, the detours we take teach us more about ourselves than a straightforward journey would. The detours are an opportunity to meet more people as well, so lean into that community feeling, get out of your social bubble. Achieving success becomes much easier when you have the right people around you.

What is next for you?

I’m really looking forward to entering my third year as a trustee at Mind. The organisation has gone through a big change this year with our new CEO (Sarah Hughes) and I’m feeling positive about creating even more social impact in the mental health space. This year I’ve also come to enjoy doing more ad hoc volunteering work at Food Cycle (a Community Meals project that runs across several locations in England) which I’d like to continue doing. I’m hoping that the future will continue opening more doors for me in the voluntary space; doing pro bono work has always made me feel deeply connected to diverse communities. Furthermore, I’ve also been reflecting a lot on the immigrant experience and how that can affect someone’s mental health whilst navigating the mental health system, so there may be a project coming up about that! If you want to connect and share your story with me, please do reach out.

Where can others follow you?

I’m most active on LinkedIn, so feel free to connect with me via www.linkedin.com/in/cynthiako

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