By Clare Isabel Ee | Images provided by Global Compact Network Singapore
(from left to right) Crystal Yong (Class of 2019), Angela Ferguson (Class of 2018) and Christina Ho (Class of 2017) at the CSR and Social Innovators Forum 2016
On 1 September 2016, a team of Yale-NUS students received the CDL-Compact Singapore Young CSR Leaders Award 2016 at the CSR and Social Innovators Forum 2016. The team, named Team Synergy, was made up of four students: Christina Ho (Class of 2017), Angela Ferguson (Class of 2018), Hannah James (Class of 2018), and Crystal Yong (Class of 2019).
Their winning proposal took seven months of planning and fine-tuning, including many discussions over Skype as Hannah returned to the US for summer break but continued to work tirelessly on the project with the rest of the team.
They proposed three strategies for Interface Asia, a carpet manufacturer, to “further pioneer holistic sustainability in business”. It included integrating traditional carpet weaving and commercial designs, pioneering employee-friendly factory spaces, and creating a nature-inspired, dust-repellant carpet structure.
“[The CDL-Compact Singapore Young Leaders Award 2016 is] a meaningful form of recognition,” commented Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for Economic and Social Policies, Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam, who presented the awards at the Forum.
Speaking to the students, he added: “Whatever we do, just make sure that we do something that’s practical, that’s human-oriented, and if possible, sustainable. That should guide us.”
Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam (second from left) presented the top prize to Team Synergy
The youth case competition, which is in its sixth year running, aims to promote “thought leadership amongst our future business leaders to embrace Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) principles into a company’s business strategy and practices”.
Teams could choose to work one of the participating organisations, which including DNV GL, DSM Singapore, Hilton Worldwide, Interface Asia, Marina Bay Sands, National Environment Agency, NatSteel Holdings, NTUC Income, Ricoh Asia Pacific and the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore.
“I wanted to find companies who were sincere about CSR because I’m quite a sceptic regarding such issues—many companies’ CSR campaigns are mostly about greenwashing and publicity instead of trying to make a true difference,” opined Christina.
“From this competition, I have learnt how to see from a company’s point-of-view and find a middle ground between profitability and sustainability – both are not mutually exclusive and, in fact, can coexist!”
Team Synergy, as one of the 10 finalist teams, also experienced a practical attachment with Interface Asia, their organisation of choice, where they were exposed to the challenges of implementing CSR practices first-hand.
“This was my first exposure to the corporate sector, and it definitely made me rethink my assumptions,” said Crystal. “[I] benefitted from being allowed this glimpse into that world from the status and perspective of a student… [I could] enter without any stakes and reputation, permitting me to fully play the role of a student and learn as much as I can.”
As each team member is interested in a different academic area, they were able to provide alternative perspectives that were useful to their discussions.
For instance, Christina, who majors in Environmental Studies, is interested in companies’ environmental footprints, a knowledge area which proved useful during the team’s visit to Interface Asia’s manufacturing plant in Thailand.
Crystal, who intends to major in Physics, was able to contribute to the feasibility of the technologically-slanted solutions in particular, while Hannah’s extensive experience in social enterprises led to fruitful discussions about social initiatives.
Meanwhile, Angela, an Urban Studies major, is interested in how built environments impact people. This influenced their thoughts on making factory spaces more “employee-friendly” in one of the strategies proposed.
“This has been one of the most eye-opening experiences of my college career,” shared Angela.
“Ultimately, I came out of this experience feeling heartened – while greenwashing is still all too prevalent, there are companies doing impactful work through CSR and there is great potential for what future initiatives can achieve.”