Published on 21 Oct 2021

Young changemakers

Four outstanding alumni were honoured in this year’s Gen.T List that recognises young leaders of tomorrow driving positive change in Asia. The alumni honourees tell us what sparks joy in their work and how they overcame obstacles in their endeavours.

By Janis Zhang

Now in its sixth edition, the Gen.T List by Tatler Asia recognises 300 "leaders of tomorrow" under the age of 40 who are "driving positive impact and catalysing change" in Asia and beyond. These young leaders include company founders, C-suite executives and professionals who have achieved in fields such as sports, arts and social activism.

Released in September, the list of honourees comprises 40 young trailblazers from Singapore. Among them are four outstanding NTU alumni. We ask the alumni honourees to tell us more about the motivation behind their work, the hurdles they had to surmount in their endeavours, and their fondest memories of NTU.

Nazhath Faheema (NBS/2018)
Founder and President, hash.peace

In 2015, she was one of the 20 Singaporean youths to be appointed Muslim Youth Ambassador of Peace (MYAP) – an initiative by Jamiyah Singapore and other Muslim organisations. Through her role as an MYAP, Nazhath was involved in raising awareness about the threats of self-radicalisation through online extremist content, and promoting understanding about Islam among non-Muslims to counter the spread of Islamophobia. This led her to launch the youth-led advocacy group hash.peace in the same year, to encourage conversations and develop programmes contributing towards "sustainable social harmony" in Singapore.

Nazhath Faheema (Photo: Tatler Asia) 

Photo: Tatler Asia

Nazhath has to work through several challenges in her advocacy work. "Speaking about race and religion is hard. There are sensitivities to be aware about. I do this work knowing that I may not always get it right. I am always conscious and cautious that I may say something that can upset or hurt some person’s or community’s identity," she said. "As an advocate for social harmony, it is necessary and important to understand multiple sides of an issue that concerns race and religion. This requires patience, which can be exhausting."

Actively engaged in a range of volunteer work, Nazhath is also the Chairperson for Jamiyah Singapore Youth Group and the Vice-Chairperson of her constituency's Inter-Racial and Religious Confidence Circles. As a mother of two young children aged nine and eleven, Nazhath described how her commitment to volunteerism has taken time away from family and friends. "I have asked many times if this is worth it, but the support and encouragement I receive have always given me an affirmative answer," she said.

The Nanyang Business School (NBS) alumna who graduated with a Master of Science in Marketing and Consumer Insights in 2018 described how her NTU education has equipped her with the knowledge and skills vital for her community work with hash.peace. "I learnt techniques of understanding people's cultural affinities, which exposed me to religious and ethnic values in different Asian countries. This is very useful in knowing the psychographic characteristics of different communities across Asia."

Nazhath also enjoyed the classroom discussions with classmates from other countries who had diverse experiences. "These discussions made me think about the strategic communications of principles concerning racial and religious harmony in Singapore," she said. "I also gained research skills like ethnography and conducting focus group discussions…which is essential to the work we do at hash.peace."

Outside of her voluntary work, Nazhath is an adjunct lecturer in race and religion at Essec Business School. She is currently pursuing a Master of Science in Asian Studies at NTU's S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies.

"It is heartening to be recognised as a young leader shaping Asia's future alongside many changemakers from different fields. I am happy that my volunteer work to promote social harmony advocacy in Singapore is appreciated by the Generation T community. I see this as an encouragement and opportunity to scale the advocacy for better inter-belief and inter-cultural engagements."

Nazhath has recently won the PVPA 2021: People of Good Award that honours "individuals who are exceptional givers and have volunteered their time, talent and voice to make our community a better place".

Eugene Soh (ADM/2013)
Founder and Chief Dude, Dude Studios and Founder, Mind Palace

The VR experiences Mind Palace has produced include activities that allows nursing home residents and the elderly to experience the famous Hawker Chan's signature soya sauce chicken rice dish being prepared in a virtual environment before enjoying the dish in reality, tour Chinatown or cycle virtually, all with the use of a VR headset. "These experiences can help relieve their sense of social isolation and keep them engaged from the comfort and safety of their chairs," said Eugene in an interview with Tatler Singapore. He began working with nursing home residents when a former journalist friend asked him to bring his VR headsets to the home.

 Eugene Soh (Photo: Tatler Asia)
Photo: Tatler Asia

Last year, Eugene built an immersive VR room where "images and videos can be projected directly onto the walls", allowing the elderly to visit "different places or revisit nostalgic memories". This negated the use of VR headsets that might pose hygiene issues.

A partner of Spark AR, a global community of content creators carefully selected by Facebook, Eugene has produced a multitude of creative tech content for several companies, including a series of Facebook filters for Singapore Kindness Movement that teach users simple sign languages, a newspaper tracking filter for Netflix Indonesia, an AR installation at The Seletar Mall and an Instagram filter game for Lego. He recently made a filter that was inspired by the Korean hit TV series "Squid Game".

The NTU School of Art, Design and Media (ADM) alumnus remembers hall life at "Pulau NTU" (a nickname coined by students for the University due to its remote location) as “really fun”.

"I made many accidental connections there. Like Lawrence Okenwa, an exchange student from London who was living in the same hall as I was. He eventually introduced me to Aaron Stewart and Lynn Ooi, the founders of Campus Magazine. Their magazine was the reason I shot 'The Last Kopitiam' photo, my first work of art that went viral on Facebook," he said.

His advice to aspiring creatives: "Don't take yourselves too seriously. Don't hold your work too preciously. Don't be afraid to let go of everything you've done and to start again. You will change, you'll be better."

Lau Jiacai (NBS/2016)
Co-founder, TreeDots

Jiacai and his fellow co-founders envision "a world without food loss" and would like to make food sustainability easier and more accessible with TreeDots. They also hope to save two million tonnes of food from being wasted by 2025, which in turn will help "reduce carbon emission by 18 million tonnes". During the height of the pandemic last year, the online platform was improved to allow a “more effective means of redistribution of unsold inventories" by linking up suppliers directly with consumers.

Lau Jiacai (Photo: Tatler Asia) 

As a social entrepreneur, Jiacai has had his fair share of challenges building a business. "Being an entrepreneur means that you have to be learning and performing every function a business requires at the start, not only tasks within your scope of capability. It's a race against time to learn faster than ever and to be able to understand, absorb and produce quality work so that our colleagues can learn from us and follow the processes we create," he said. "This is no easy feat and it has been challenging to constantly be learning fast and making sure whatever we lay down as foundation is right and proper."

TreeDots' work in promoting food sustainability has paid off. Jiacai was recognised in this year's Gen.T List "for helping to distribute food more fairly" in the Social Entrepreneurship category. "I am definitely very honoured to be one of the Gen.T 2021 leaders for tomorrow. It ascertains that my effort and contribution towards building a sustainable business has been recognised and helps motivate me further in my journey as an entrepreneur," he said.

The Nanyang Business School alumnus recognised how his time in NTU had given him plenty of opportunities to learn new things outside his curriculum. "There are various seminars, talks and bootcamps available all year round that anyone can attend. Thanks to these workshops, I managed to pick up programming myself and that has also been one of my (business') core pillars today."

Jiacai had this to say to those who wish to embark on a less-ordinary career path: "Do not try to compare yourself with your peers, especially those who are doing better than you. Everyone is leading a different path and it can’t be compared on the same scale. If the unconventional career is something you are passionate about, you will find joy and enjoyment greater than anything else."

Joseph Liu (EEE/2011)
Founder and CEO, SCI Ecommerce

"In SCI Ecommerce, our six core values of putting our customers first, results-orientation, ownership mentality, collaboration and sharing, self-reliance, and embracing change, are expressed not only in what we do each day for our brand partners, but how we do it – and that makes all the difference in earning our partners' trust," said Joseph, who graduated from NTU in 2011 with a  Bachelor’s degree in Electrical and Electronic Engineering and launched SCI Ecommerce the same year.

 Joseph Liu (Tatler Asia)
Photo: Tatler Asia

"My first business was started when I was studying in NTU. I took a minor in entrepreneurship at the Nanyang Technopreneurship Center. NTU has provided me with the stage to practise entrepreneurial skills in the real world. It was during my time in NTU that I found my passion in entrepreneurship and made up my mind to take on the challenge of being an entrepreneur."

In the past ten years as an entrepreneur, Joseph had to overcome many hurdles to build his business to where it is today. "I deal with challenges every day and every challenge is different to our team… A current challenge we have to deal with is the negative impact COVID-19 pandemic has brought to the business and team," he said. "The international and domestic logistics are slowing down and have become costlier, thereby increasing our cost of operations. Moreover, due to the pandemic, more staff work from home and business meetings are conducted online. Fortunately, as a team with members based in various countries across Southeast Asia and China, we are already used to working remotely and the team has built their own system of work that runs efficiently during times like these."

When asked what his advice would be for those looking to join the e-commerce industry, Joseph explained that Moore's Law, a phenomenon which suggests "computational progress will become significantly faster, smaller, and more efficient over time", has quickened the growing and obsoleting rates in nearly all industries, including e-commerce. "Therefore, having a growth mindset and sincere heart to embrace the changes is critical to keeping a leadership position in the e-commerce industry. Always focus on your service and put your customer first, making this part of your culture. Keep in mind that each successful business is initiated from identifying the fundamental needs of customers," he said.