Address By Professor Cheong Hee Kiat At Sociovation Forum 2021 Closing Ceremony on 16 July 2021

Address by Professor Cheong Hee Kiat, President, Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS) at Sociovation Forum 2021 Closing Ceremony on 16 July 2021

Distinguished guests, colleagues, partners, and students from Singapore and the other ASEAN countries, and the Greater China Region.

Good Morning and a very warm welcome to the closing ceremony of our STEP Sociovation Forum 2021.

Let me first acknowledge the presence of Mr Benedict Cheong, CE of Temasek Foundation (TF), and thank Temasek Foundation for its partnership with Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS) in this activity.  I’d like also to thank my colleagues and student leaders from SUSS for their sterling effort in organising this event. Thanks also to our programme partners, such as Vision Strategy Storytelling (VSS), and their wide range of film and sustainability mentors for supporting this meaningful initiative, and for investing in mentoring and inspiring the students.

The Singapore Technologies Endowment Programme (or STEP) Sociovation Forum 2021 is an action-oriented statement of SUSS’s focus on creating and furthering social impact. At SUSS, we endeavour to form attitudes, mindsets and behaviour in our students that prepare them for service to others through our 3H education philosophy – Head (Knowledge with practical application), Heart (Social conscience) and Habit (Self-directed lifelong learning habits). Students, the youths, all of the participants here today, are the future generation – you have in your hands, in your abilities, in your hearts, what the world needs to deal with tomorrow’s challenges, and there are many that the world will face.  That should frighten you, or at least make you sit up and ponder.  But you should also be aware that there is knowledge, tools and solutions available, or waiting to be developed, to tackle the challenges.  Most importantly, there is vibrancy and energy in all of you and the power that can be tapped from working together.

Many of you have a deep interest to champion the protection of our environment, as well as the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Take the environment as an example - today, our beautiful earth environment is under grave threat – we will lose it for good if we don’t take corrective action, and do it quickly.  It will take all 3 Hs from those who care.  With Heart, we will seek to use our abilities to make life better for society, and for generations ahead of us. But Heart alone will not be enough. We need the Head to design good workable solutions for complex environmental problems. And, we need Habit to keep the environment constantly in our sights, remain resilient in pressing on, innovating and not giving up whenever obstacles crop up.  Through the Sociovation Forum, students have learnt the art of using powerful visual storytelling techniques to create value for society by raising the banner on environmental challenges we face today.

Why is it important that we gather students from our region to participate in this forum? And why do we persist to hold this programme virtually, forced by the pandemic? You see, the environment doesn’t recognise country boundaries – rivers flow from one country into another, when fish die because of pollution, they don’t die only in one country’s territorial waters, haze doesn’t stop spreading beyond one country’s border, global warming affects all countries. Even when we eat well, our high demand for food increases agricultural output which in turn increases global warming and chemical pollution. 

In line with the theme of story-telling to highlight environment issues, let me tell of a narrative I present to children about caring for the environment.  I ask them, if you have rubbish, food waste, things you don’t want to keep in your house, what would you do?  Of course the answer is throw it away.  Where? Outside the house.  And then? The rubbish collector will take them away and my house is clean.

Now, think about all of us living on our planet.  We create lots and lots of rubbish, buy and throw – where do we discard our waste? Who is the rubbish collector taking it away from our home, which is our earth? And, this is our only home.  It leaves them thinking.  In truth, this is for all of us to ponder, not just children.

You will realise that many of these problems I’ve mentioned are inter-linked and inter-dependent. There is no doubt that we cannot tackle these problems in silos, what more alone. Before any cross-border collaboration can succeed, it is crucial that we build strong cross-cultural understanding and connections. The friendships that you have formed today are no ordinary ones. You started the programme as strangers, but you emerge connected in a network of young Asian change-makers.

I hope your time together has been humbling, revealing and transformative. And, you have learnt from one another, about one another. This is a good first step before we look at solving the problems. We need to spend time seeking to understand the problem first, understand one another’s perspectives about the problems, and then tell coherent stories about them and amplify them, to stir the hearts of people and mobilise ground support which is so vital to successful environment care. 

Indeed, ordinary people like you and me can make a big difference by our consumer choices.  How can this power be mobilized and harnessed?  Also, how can we convince businesses to recognise and prioritise sustainable growth? How can we convince corporations and our national leaders that the protection of the environment and the pursuit of profits are not a zero-sum game? These are questions that I hope you will hold on to in your journey as a young change-maker in Asia. 

I hope you have all enjoyed Sociovation Forum.  Though it has ended, it is just the beginning in your journey as young change-makers. And for some of you, it is just the beginning of your eco-film projects, which we hope to see on social platforms, reaching the audience that you had desired to impact. Remember to persevere despite the problems faced, and to keep on learning, for there’s so much more to learn about visual storytelling, and the environment. And to all our overseas friends, we hope to welcome you in person in SUSS one day! Take care and thank you.

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