2 October 2018: Yale-NUS student works to bring about social impact and change

By Daryl Yang 

Image provided by Adila Sayyed

Over the past summer, Adila Sayyed (Class of 2019) visited Washington DC to attend the Georgetown University Summer Workshop organised as part of the university’s Santander Partnership on Social Economy. She spent two weeks participating in programmes that introduced the key trends affecting social and economic inclusion, learning about innovations to increase access to economic, health and education opportunities.

Adila is the first student from Yale-NUS College to be accepted into this highly selective workshop, which is among the new opportunities offered this year by the Centre for International & Professional Experiences (CIPE) aimed at developing students who are passionate about creating meaningful social impact. For Adila, the goal of participating in the workshop was to broaden her knowledge base.

“I have had of exposure to social impact work from entrepreneurs in Singapore and beyond. However, I felt like I lacked theoretical knowledge of this field,” she said.

According to Adila, while the programme was very academically driven, it also had a requirement for participants to develop a solution to address a social problem at the end. The group decided to focus on the challenges facing poor Mexican families because a teammate was from Mexico and understood the citizens’ problems.

“Mexico has a high population of the unbanked and constantly gets affected by natural disasters,” she said. “It seemed like a great place to build a solution for, while making good use of our teammate’s knowledge.”

The solution employed financial technology (FinTech) to build a platform that enables Mexican families to buy basic household items in bulk with other families in their communities.

“The platform uses an algorithm to identify spending patterns of a community and empowers the community to save money by spending together. The savings from the purchases are then encouraged by the platform to be spent on goods and services that can build resilience in cases of natural disasters, like solar panels and insurance,” Adila said.

Adila applied for the Georgetown programme via CIPE, which launched it to students this summer. This was not the first time she had benefitted from the centre’s opportunities.

Image provided by Jessica Lim

Last year, she was nominated by CIPE to participate in a global innovation lab known as UNLEASH, which meant a 10-day trip to Denmark to work on one of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, Quality Education. As a result of her involvement in UNLEASH, she came up with the idea for VERE.360, a startup that she currently runs with another Yale-NUS student, Isobel Ngo (Class of 2019). VERE.360 is a production company that uses virtual reality and 360 technology to educate people on social issues and combat apathy towards those issues. The startup is funded by the College’s Service in the City (SitC) grant which is given out by Yale-NUS to support students engaging with contemporary social problems and solutions in Singapore.

Since the company was launched, it has produced materials focusing on mental health and depression, as well as emotional resilience among children.

Adila’s interest in social impact work began in her first year at Yale-NUS. She became involved with KidsAccomplish, a student organisation at the College which uses the principles of liberal arts to provide educational programmes to younger students.

“Being part of KidsAccomplish gave me a platform to continue working with children. The organisation was very ambitious as we did not just teach children about social issues. Instead, we launched initiatives to innovate ways in which the academic experience could improve for children,” she said. The experience with KidsAccomplish sparked her interest in innovation in education and the role of technology in improving the academic experience.

On her plans after graduation, Adila shared that she hopes to continue to work on VERE.360 full time.

“However, if that doesn’t work out, I will be looking for opportunities where I am able to innovate and create impact,” she said.

CIPE also offers other programmes such as the Social Impact Fellowship and the Social Impact Bootcamp, both of which are organised to provide students with opportunities to lead and serve in meaningful leadership initiatives both on and off campus.

These social impact initiatives are organised as part of CIPE’s Leadership & Global Citizenship Programme, which aims to develop students who are ethical and effective change agents – regardless of their setting, discipline, or stage of study.