Business WYN

From seed to tree

by WIEF Foundation

If you’re a change maker and having trouble getting seed funding, try planting a few seeds of the horticultural kind instead.

“From a small seed a mighty trunk may grow.” – Aeschylus

The idea that a seed’s transformation holds powerful lessons for young leaders striving to change the world – served as the overarching concept at the WIEF Young Fellows 2016 (YF2016), whose tagline is “Learn. Empower. Earn. Return.” YF2016 saw 25 participants from 14 countries coming together to explore issues they faced and learn new leadership skills.

Held in Singapore in September in partnership with Ground-Up Initiative (GUI), the programme’s emphasis on nature was encapsulated in the theme “From Seed to Tree: Courage in Adversity” Nature was one of YF2016’s five focus areas, alongside leadership, community, self-development and entrepreneurship.

21st Century ‘Kampung Kampus’
Meet Lai Hock, Founder of Kampung Kampus, a nature-inspired educational campus built on a rare natural forest sanctuary within a self-sufficient 21st century urban setting in Singapore.



Lai hock created a sustainable cohesive environment for basic living within a community, where people could get back in touch with nature. This was one of the reasons why Singapore was the choice of locale for YF2016.

In 1997, the brainchild of GUI, Tay Lai Hock, was a high-flying regional sales manager for a multinational company when the SilkAir crash and prompted him to assess his life and his aspirations. He quit his job and embarked on a four-year backpacking trip through five continents and 35 countries.

Lai Hock explained why he later founded GUI:

“I wanted to build a community where people can come and forge a connection and, at the same time, hone their skills at farming, craftwork, carpentry, leadership and so on, so that when the situation arises and help is needed somewhere, they are prepared to serve as a team.”

He believes that “ownership and responsibility towards society comes with understanding our inherent symbiotic connection to our environment. The more we are nurtured spiritually and psychologically by it, the more we will understand how important it is to conserve this inspiring life-giving force.”

For YF2016’s participants, the message was clear: even as we increasingly connect and collaborate virtually, no-one – least of all leaders – can afford to disconnect completely from the spaces that they physically occupy. One cannot lead just by staring at a smartphone.

For participant Rukayya Darul from Tawi-Tawi, the Philippines, “going back to the kampung” was the most important take-away: “It gave me a push to love and appreciate the fact that I currently live in a ‘kampung’ and have all the goodness of nature to me.”

Discovering sustainability
Getting in touch with our physical space can do more than teach a few moral lessons. As with previous Young Fellow events, YF2016 provided a holistic agenda involving creative, leadership and business activities.

The leadership empowerment programme covers everything from finance and business management to social enterprise, sustainability, community living and philanthropy.

Participants learned about the journeys of successful Singapore-based entities like tech giant Garena, co-working community space Blk 71, Gardens by the Bay, Marina Barrage and Kampung Kampus. They also interacted with CEOs and leaders including Singapore’s Minister for Communications and Information, Assoc. Prof. Dr Yaacob Ibrahim, and WIEF Chairman Tun Musa Hitam.

“We discovered what motivates them and how they started their businesses. We also received valuable insights to help us with our own ventures,” said Ayah Meki, an analyst at Deutsche Bank and Founder and CEO of women’s modest workwear brand.

Having visualised what the world would be like in 2066, participants then sought to outdo each other in the intensive Hackathon. Besides giving participants the chance to learn about coding and 3D printing, the Hackathon challenged participants to create viable business models to address everyday social issues and attain goals such as quality education, sustainable cities and communities, health and well-being, and reduced inequalities.

The two winning projects focussed on education and waste management. The first project, Teach The World, was built around a simple idea to help children in villages in developing countries gain access to books: bookworms would drop their books at a nearby coffee shop in exchange for free coffee. The second project, Conscious Co., was about developing a mobile gaming app to help students from developing nations understand the concept of waste segregation.

The Hackathon was a unique component of the programme, giving participants a chance to momentarily experience the pressures – and pleasures – of diving into the startup world.

Memories to last a lifetime
The YF2016 programme also allowed ample opportunity for recreational fun. The entrepreneurial boot camp had included the Gallup’s Strengths Finder test which helped participants appreciate the group’s diversity – but no-one needed a test to tell them that they were an energetic, fun-loving bunch of characters.

Besides getting a taste of Singapore’s culture and arts scene from dragon boating to a visit to Arab Street, the Young Fellows also learned sign language and created their own musical performance for the elderly at an old folk’s home.

“I didn’t know these eight days would be enough to create memories that would last a lifetime!” said Amanina Nasir, an event producer from Malaysia.

“I discovered myself again. I also learnt new skills like drumming, rowing boats, creating business proposals, and being introduced to the world of Apps up close.”

For Jeannie Chew Li Lian, Director, Advantage Sustainable Consumption, “the informal bonding moments were the most interesting parts. Listening to talks and doing group work was great, but I truly felt other people’s personalities come out when we toured Gardens by the Bay, at the water park when a few of us bought durians to try, and when we shared a late night discussion by the beach.”

“I made very good friends,” said Mohammed Yaacob Abdullah Humayun, Country Director, Craftsvilla Malaysia, India. He has already visited his fellow participants in Singapore and Morocco.

Participant Yasmin Mubarak, Managing Director, Modern Learning Studio, Sri Lanka, described the programme as

“a great platform to create a network for an entrepreneur like me… I feel like I was put on a quality check as a businessman to get me on the right track for growth.”

The varied programme also reinforced the notion that leaders must be versatile learners. Rukayya, who is Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Hijabi Mag, blogged about the lessons she learned at YF2016: “Learning doesn’t necessarily have to be in the classroom or in the lecture hall or in any school. You will always learn something from the circumstances that you face.”


Find out more on the upcoming WIEF Young Fellows.

3 Mar 2017
Last modified: 2 Jan 2019
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