Singapore’s Sustainability Scene Is Bursting With Remarkable Young People

Everi Yeo speaks with the inspiring youth founders of Accommodate and Earth School Singapore to find out why they do what they do.

Singapore’s Sustainability Scene Is Bursting With Remarkable Young People

Everi Yeo speaks with the inspiring youth founders of Accommodate and Earth School Singapore to find out why they do what they do.

As world-renowned primatologist Jane Goodall once said: “You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.” Photos courtesy of Ms Sammie Ng and Ms Sheryl Chan.

BY
Everi Yeo
Editorial Admin Manager
Hype Issue #54

Published on
February 3, 2022

The typical Singapore resident has a carbon footprint that’s more than twice the size of the world’s average. Clearly, Singaporeans are not the most eco-conscious bunch.

Nevertheless, not all hope is lost. Here in Singapore, there is a growing community of changemakers who will stop at nothing to make the sustainability movement more accessible to the masses.

One such individual is Ms Sammie Ng, 24, the co-founder and Head of Programmes at Accommodate. At the heart of Accommodate is its flagship land-use simulation workshop. Over about two hours, participants role-play as local ministry officers and make redevelopment decisions for Singapore.

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“The first-ever iteration of the game was played in mid-2017, and since then we have made various changes,” Ms Ng says. “We are always refining the game experience, taking into account participants’ feedback, and adapting it for different target audiences.” Photo taken from Skillseed.

“Accommodate was borne from what we thought would be a one-time event, organised by a group of us who volunteered for Eco-Singapore,” recounts Ms Ng. “We felt that it would be a pity not to organise more sessions after the initial conceptualisation.”

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Ms Ng (right) with Ms Chua Ying Xuan, the other co-founder of Accommodate. As co-founders, the two work tirelessly to find opportunities that’ll allow more people to participate in their flagship workshop and benefit from it. Photo courtesy of Ms Ng.

Back when she was a volunteer with Eco-Singapore, Ms Ng found herself repeatedly asking this question: What would it take to get people who weren’t interested in environmental issues to join important conversations? As it turns out, Accommodate was the answer.

“The other motivation was to encourage people with different interests to come together,” shares Ms Ng. “While it would be unreasonable to expect people to care about every single issue in the world, we thought that there is room for people to draw links between issues they may be personally invested in with those that are seemingly unrelated.”

While it would be unreasonable to expect people to care about every single issue in the world, we thought that there is room for people to draw links between issues they may be personally invested in with those that are seemingly unrelated.

- Ms Sammie Ng, 24

Co-founder of Accommodate

Indeed, at Accommodate’s first event, the workshop sparked a conversation between representatives from biodiversity and cultural conservation organisations: two disciplines that don’t seem to have much in common.

“Like other ground-up projects, Accommodate is something we work on because we believe in it and it energises us,” shares Ms Ng.

To date, over 800 people, including a number from government agencies, have gone through the Accommodate experience. In Ms Ng’s words, the hope is that they’ve gained a “newfound desire to be more curious and engaged in societal issues”.

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Accommodate teaching youths about climate change and its relation to land use at an event supported by the National Environment Agency and Young NTUC. Photo taken from Skillseed.

This project has not only contributed to the local sustainability scene, but also towards Ms Ng’s personal growth.

As an introvert, she gets anxious whenever she has to speak to people about Accommodate. She also doesn’t feel completely comfortable with taking on the role of a leader in her team.

“Yet, these are things I try to do and become better at because I care about Accommodate, and because we have met a lot of encouraging folks along the way,” Ms Ng expresses.

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Ms Ng having a conversation about Accommodate with Mr Masagos Zulkifli, who was the Minister for the Environment and Water Resources from 2015 to 2020, at the Young Sustainable Impact Southeast Asia Singapore Sustainability Showcase. Photo taken from Skillseed.

Ms Ng’s work in Accommodate has also been a part of her self-exploration journey. She believes that in order for one to really know who they are, they have to understand the broader context of the society they live in, how they feel about the issues that exist in said society, and how they can be part of the solution.

The 2021 TODAY Youth Survey revealed that Singapore’s youth have been very stressed out by the pandemic’s restrictions. In fact, it has been the most common state of mind experienced by the demographic. In spite of this, youth here have displayed great resilience and adaptability in the face of unprecedented obstacles.

Along with COVID-19 came a huge challenge for Accommodate: As an in-person workshop involving anywhere between 10 and 25 participants, there was no way for Accommodate to carry on with business as usual.

Within the span of a few months, Ms Ng and her team successfully collaborated with The Theatre Practice to create an online version of the workshop. “That really relied on the brilliance of our team members and the support of our partner,” she says.

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“The interactions and learnings from each session are never predictable because it depends on who is playing and facilitating. But we always have fun and the space always feels open,” explains Ms Ng. Photo taken from Instagram.

Locally, organisations and businesses alike have taken steps to enable youths to be more involved in the shaping of their future.

For instance, towards the end of 2021, OCBC Bank pledged $100,000 in funding for several youth-led sustainability projects. To top it off, the bank linked these youths up with the relevant professionals, arming them with valuable resources of experience and knowledge.

That said, Ms Ng reveals that funding for sustainability projects is often minimal and hence not exactly sustainable. “[This] has implications for accessibility, whether in terms of who can be part of these projects or who can access the experiences [they provide].”

[This] has implications for accessibility, whether in terms of who can be part of these projects or who can access the experiences [they provide].

- Ms Sammie Ng, 24

Co-founder of Accommodate

Another remarkable group of youths in the local sustainability scene is the team over at Earth School Singapore (just Earth School for short), a non-profit school focused on providing environmental education. This is the first school of its kind in Singapore.

“[Existing] efforts to weave environmental education into subjects like science and geography are honestly not sufficient as the whole environmental crisis is so broad and multi-faceted,” opines Ms Sheryl Chan, 23, one of Earth School’s founding directors.

[Existing] efforts to weave environmental education into subjects like science and geography are honestly not sufficient as the whole environmental crisis is so broad and multi-faceted.

- Ms Sheryl Chan, 23

One of Earth School Singapore’s founding directors

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Earth School’s core team consists of Ms Po Qian Hwee, Ms Cassandra Yip, Ms Chan, and Mr Dennis Tan (from left). “I have an amazing team… When it feels like I’m running uphill, I know that these guys got my back,” shares Ms Chan. Photo courtesy of Ms Chan.

Ms Chan, who is in charge of the organisation’s curriculum planning and school outreach, hopes that environmental education will one day be included in the local school curriculum as a compulsory subject. She strongly believes that building proper awareness of humankind’s interconnectedness with nature, especially among young children, is an essential part of safeguarding our planet’s future and theirs.

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An intertidal guided walk organised by Earth School. The team believes that it’s important to expose children to nature’s beauty and teach them how to interact with the environment respectfully. Photos taken from Instagram.

Earth School’s publicity department has also put in the hours to expand their online presence, producing localised content that’s designed to be helpful to the Singaporean audience.

“I am honestly really proud of how much Earth School has grown,” says Ms Chan. “It motivates us to work even harder to make green education accessible.”

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Sometimes, when Ms Chan feels overwhelmed by the challenges her team runs into, scrolling through Earth School’s Instagram page reminds her of how much they have achieved, serving as a huge source of encouragement. Photos taken from Instagram.

At just a little over a year old, Earth School is undoubtedly a young organisation.

Nonetheless, they’re already set to contribute immensely to the local environmental scene. In February 2022, they’ll be piloting the first national environmental education programme to exist in Singapore with the backing of the SG Eco Fund. The year-long programme has “many hands on deck from various organisations” and will be rolled out across 10 primary schools.

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The programme’s name was intentionally given a Marvel theme to encourage its young participants to see themselves as superheroes with a green cause. Photo taken from LinkedIn.

Last year, a survey jointly conducted by Eco-Business and OCBC Bank uncovered that Singaporeans are highly aware of environmental sustainability issues.

However, it was also found that this awareness seldom translates into action, especially in the area of advocacy. The top reasons respondents cited for this were inconvenience, time constraints, and the belief that one’s actions are too small to be impactful.

These survey findings may be disheartening, but the future holds much hope.

“Being an Environmental Studies major has exposed me to the many nasty things humanity has done to the earth… Sometimes, I forget that humans are also the solution,” reflects Ms Chan.

Her time with Earth School has taught her to be more supportive of people while they strive to live more sustainably. “Because, as cliché as this sounds, we’re all in this together!”

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