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July 27, 2023

Following the Singaporean Sun, Forever — Joel Yong, BFA Industrial Design 2025

by joelyongg

Alas, the end is here! I’ve had the most joyous time in Singapore, and there is much on my mind today that I’d love to cover here.

First, how will I be concluding things at Terra? I’ve handed off my projects for Terra to begin implementing, and I’m so excited to see the things they do with what I had the opportunity to work on! I detailed these projects in my previous blog posts, so feel free to check those posts out if you haven’t already.

I was additionally tasked to offer Terra insight on how climate-focused organizations operate in America, so I’ve compiled some resources for them to help them reconsider or reinforce their operational strategy as a climate organization in Singapore, should they be curious about adopting some business strategies that are used in the States. But I’ve just handed them a starting point, and believe it would be best for Terra to decide for themselves what resources and strategies would be useful for their organizational values and goals!

That being said, I’ve been thinking a lot about the role organizations and corporations play in the fight for climate action. Working in the climate space in Singapore felt particularly profound, as conversations about climate exist in quite different contexts than that of America. On climate action, Singapore has a track record of top-down approaches, mostly in the form of policies like taxing takeout containers or subsidizing public transportation. These are all decisions that the government determines will be beneficial for the country, with little input from the citizens. This means that while Singapore is years ahead in sustainable innovation in both legislation and technology, it also means that everyday Singaporeans don’t necessarily have the same understanding or investment in climate change as you might expect. America, on the other hand, follows a notoriously bottoms-up approach in which grassroots organizations and civic collectives pioneer the path of climate action, and the government often takes years, if not decades, to finally pass appropriate policies or legislation. This is not to say that either one of the approaches is better than the other, but rather emphasizes the importance of understanding the political and cultural contexts that climate change exists within between countries.

The role of the organization in climate is complex because while most are founded by virtue of a mission of sustainability, they are also responsible for the livelihoods and welfare of the people that they employ. So, an “effective” organization balances the desire for impact with the necessity for meeting financial bottom lines. In some seasons, the work is more focused on the former, while in other seasons the work gravitates towards the latter. Still, organizations have a unique capacity for collective action that goes beyond what any individual can achieve, making them an ideal environment for optimal impact. What I have learned from working with Terra is the importance of recognizing that your work as an NGO is only as good as the well-being and commitment of the people who make up the NGO. Especially in a sphere like climate, which can be an incredibly discouraging space to work in, care must be at the center of how these organizations are being run and dare I say, designed.

These are things I’ll continue thinking about, perhaps as long as I would call myself a designer. To me, design is about looking at problems holistically, about understanding that the deep pain points in any given problem space are nearly never surface level. And, perhaps one of the most fun aspects for me is how design is about serving as a line of communication to get others on board to join in on collective action. Following my time at Terra, I feel more confident diving in than ever before.

My time in Singapore has felt formative, to say the least. As it comes to a close, I am deeply grateful for the life I was able to experience here, the people I was able to meet and love, the culture I was able to resonate with, and the person I was able to become because of all of this. Thanks for following along on my journey, and who knows, I may be coming back to Singapore sooner than I think.

Fun fact: Singaporeans call selfies with multiple people in them, “We-fies.” And so, I will end my final entry on the Maharam blog with a collection of We-fies I’ve taken with some of the most lovely people I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and working with. Bye for now! 🌱🌟

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