Igniting ideas of sustainable synergies

01 August 2019 | Education
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Participants had the opportunity to visit Citizen Farm, an abandoned former prison turned urban farm

Students from the NUS University Scholars Programme (USP), as organisers of the Singapore leg of the STEP Asian Undergraduate Summit (AUS), played hosts to young regional leaders at Cinnamon College from 14 to 21 July. Now in its fifth iteration, AUS is a student-led and student-run international conference that provides a platform for youth from various disciplines and backgrounds to engage in meaningful cross-cultural and intellectual exchange. This year’s summit saw 170 participants hailing from 14 universities across nine Asian countries.

AUS involved two segments: a one-week summit in an AUS Overseas Host University of their choice — Zhejiang University, Universitas Airlangga, Hindu College at Chulalongkorn University or Seoul National University, followed by a one-week summit in USP. This year’s theme being “Harnessing Untapped Potential: Creating Sustainable Synergies”, the Singapore leg of the summit focused on the harnessing of resources that have not realised their full potential, either because they are not being utilised or are utilised only in selected manners.

Through educational site visits, and exciting learning activities, participants were encouraged to draw connections between these underutilised resources to create sustainable synergies.

They were brought on specially curated community trails in various sites such as the Singapore City Gallery, Kampung Admiralty, Macpherson Arts Trail and Kampong Glam to expose them to different kinds of sustainable synergies in Singapore. These visits gave participants a glimpse into how different entities could come together to create solutions that produce long-lasting impacts that are greater than their individual parts — a significant feature of a sustainable synergy.

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Participants actively engaging with Mr Gerard Ee during the Human Library session

The students also had the opportunity to discover how such sustainable synergies were created by speaking to the innovators themselves. A segment called Human Library saw speakers (‘books’) sharing their personal experiences and stories with small groups of participants (‘readers’). Speakers from various fields and backgrounds were invited, including Ms Gan Ee Bee, founder of Neumind, a social enterprise that drives heritage preservation, as well as Mr Gerard Ee, Executive Director of Beyond Social Services, a charity that helps youth from less privileged backgrounds. Their stories were of great inspiration to the participants.

Students had a chance to visit either the Dignity Kitchen or Citizen Farm to understand how these two social enterprises utilise their resources. Dignity Kitchen trains people with disabilities, or intellectual or financial challenges, and finds jobs for them in the food and beverage industry. Interacting with people with disabilities, participants also underwent experiential learning activities such as serving drinks whilst on a wheelchair. The experience helped them develop empathy for people with disabilities and to understand how different entities can create powerful initiatives to unlock the potential of those with disabilities.

Citizen Farm, an abandoned former prison renovated to house an urban farm, exemplifies the theme of untapped potential. Agricultural vertical farming technology has been integrated into the old prison compound to "regenerate" the area. Citizen Farm also works together with businesses to create edible gardens on empty rooftops or carparks in order to better utilise these spaces.

The Ideation Marketplace segment was introduced to help participants refine their ideas further. Mentors, mostly USP alumni from various industries were invited to provide constructive feedback on the feasibility of participants’ ideas. The two-hour segment saw a flurry of words exchanged, positions defended and ideas built upon. In the spirit of constructive criticism, feedback was given to push ideas to the next level. This gave the participants new perspectives and new ways of thinking through their own ideas. 

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The participant’s final ideas were presented in a graphical form

The summit was an exciting and insightful experience, said Sumana Prasad, Year 2 NUS Arts and Social Sciences student. “I became very close to my international friends, and learnt a lot about their cultures, interests and passions. It was very comforting to know that despite the cultural barriers, we all shared the same enthusiasm for learning and challenging ourselves. The energy levels during workshops, and everyone’s drive to find sustainable solutions to real-world issues, really motivated me to do better in my own capacity. It really was an unforgettable experience, and I have no regrets joining this summit,” she recounted.

The summit ended off with a vibrant and electrifying Cultural Night where participants showcased a small part of their culture through a fashion show and a performance. Needless to say, all performances had the audience swaying and tapping their feet to the rhythm!

By AUS Organising Committee