18.35 Activism - Young Activists
Seeking a Career in Sustainability Industry?
Recently, we had the privilege to interview Kia Jie Hui who used to work with Forum for the Future, a leading international sustainability non-profit organisation that works with various sectors including private companies, governments, and civil society for a more sustainable future. She stayed in the organisation for seven years before deciding to join her family business.

Throughout the years, Jie Hui genuinely embraced and spearheaded several projects helping organisations and businesses to find alternatives and solutions in becoming more sustainable.

In our interview, Jie Hui shared with us some insights about the sustainability industry and her experiences.

Could You Share More About Forum for the Future?

Forum for the Future (Forum) is an international non-profit organisation, founded in the UK in 1996. Forum was originally set up to work with businesses that genuinely wanted to address critical sustainability issues in their operations.

I joined in 2013 when Forum opened an office in Singapore. Between then and when I left in 2020, it grew from a UK-centric non-profit to one with a far more international outlook, with offices across London, New York, Singapore and Mumbai.

What was your role in The Forum for the Future?

I joined the company as a Futures Strategist but eventually moved towards spearheading Forum’s circular economy practise through a couple of projects focused on sustainable fashion, involving brand partners in Europe and North America, and fashion manufacturers in Asia. You can check out the project “Circular Leap Asia” if you want to find out more.

Are there any interesting projects that you would like to highlight?

Through the Circular Leap Asia project, I had the opportunity to work with Cobalt Fashion, a member of Hong Kong-based supply chain giant Li & Fung. Cobalt Fashion works with some of the largest fashion brands and coordinates across raw materials, fabric and final product (e.g. sweaters) production, sometimes even logistics and distribution of the products to where consumers are.

We worked with them to explore setting up a reverse supply chain to take unwanted or used clothing from retailers and consumers and bring it back to their production supply chain.  

Which company are you working for right now?

I am currently in Ichi Seiki – an engineering services business that my father founded in 1988. The main reason behind my switch was because I see sustainable manufacturing gaining traction in Singapore in the next decade or so. Working in Forum expanded my horizons and gave me the opportunity to work with highly talented teams and individuals across many sectors and corporate partners. After a while, you feel the need to work directly on implementing the sustainability solutions we so urgently need. I have the rare opportunity to influence decision making directly, so I thought I should take the plunge.  

How did you get involved at Young NTUC?

I first got involved with Young NTUC because I was part of a group who founded a project called Save That Pen in my university days. This project involved collecting used or unwanted pens and giving them out to underprivileged students in Singapore. At that time, Young NTUC was bringing together a number of green initiatives involving youths, both within and beyond the union network. Young NTUC supported us ever since and it has been a long-term relationship. For example, we had the opportunity to tap on NTUC Fairprice’s programme Share-a-Textbook where they collect used textbooks and give it out as well. We saw that it is the perfect platform to collaborate by giving out our refurbished pens at the same event, and the Young NTUC team helped make it possible. When Young NTUC came out with the career mentorship programme, some of the Save That Pen team members got involved after they invited us to consider mentoring.

What made you decide to volunteer?

In my previous role at Forum, I would receive organic invitations from mid-career professionals looking for a sounding board to discuss whether they should make a career shift into sustainability - they had doubts on their ability to qualify or succeed in the sector, and questions on whether it will be a reliable career.

Most of these were one-off coffee conversations, so when this opportunity to join a mentorship programme came up, I thought I would see if a formal mentorship programme would allow for more structured follow-ups and to grow a relationship with mentees. Young NTUC also offered basic training and courses for mentors to take before starting on the programme and I thought that would be an interesting learning opportunity. Through the programme I have been exposed to younger folks or graduating students, who are considering sustainability as one of their potential careers. It is a different profile and helps me to keep in touch with what the next generation is thinking!

Has Young NTUC given you any other opportunities besides volunteering?

The sustainability industry is not often well understood. In this aspect, Young NTUC has done a pretty good job of trying to raise the profile for sustainability as a viable career option, especially among the younger generation.

For instance, Young NTUC has done the work of helping people who have no idea which path to take in terms of having a career in sustainability by tying them up with career mentors in the field. Getting to meet a wider spectrum of people who are interested in sustainability is good for me too, as it helps me to expand my view in the industry. I also appreciate that I got the opportunity to be involved in some panel discussions over the years.

Do you have any success stories where you helped a fellow mentee?

Oftentimes, mentees already know what they want in their hearts, but they are looking for some positive reinforcement, especially as the career path in sustainability may not be as ‘established’ in comparison to some other industries. The mentees often need a sounding board and that when I come in to assure them that there are credible jobs. They can “follow their heart” while also making practical decisions.

I see myself playing a bit of a role where I inject some confidence into the mentees. A lot of them have done their research, and they have an idea of what is available and not. They just need to have a confidence boost and just go for it, or at least go for the interviews.

Do you provide the same advise to those who have years of experience and to fresh graduates?

For those who already have a career, one of the challenges is that they feel like their experience might not be relevant to the sustainability job. For them, the challenge is more with how to package their experience in a way that makes sense for sustainability roles.

Meanwhile, it is a different conversation for fresh graduates. The reality is that sustainability roles at the entry level can be very limited. Thus, the approach for graduates may be to consider that any job can have a purpose-driven lens, even if the direct job scope or job title itself does not have “sustainability” built into it.

Do you have any takeaways from the mentees that you have observed?

I consider myself lucky to be categorised into sustainability within the mentorship programme. Everybody that I have spoken to thinks there is something that’s not working very well with the world and are trying to seek positive change. It is a source of inspiration for me that there are people from all walks of life and all ages who see the need for change.  

Some of the people I talk to are not concerned about earning the most amount of money. Yes, they need to have a good salary, but it doesn't have to be the best paying job. They want to switch careers because they need to do work that is more meaningful on a day-to-day basis.

What's your advice for the youth?

If you are interested to contribute to the sustainability movement, know that it doesn’t have to be in your job title. Sustainability is truly applicable to all sectors. If you are keen to poke your nose around for a bit, you will probably find that there is room to contribute to sustainability through whatever role you are in. It could be procurement, product design, or even sales and marketing.

Find a job scope that interests you and one that will allow you to learn. They might not have a sustainability role at the moment, you could be the one to introduce it! The momentum towards a sustainable and climate resilient future is clear, and it is a matter of time before businesses must respond. You need to know how current businesses work and see what changes are needed.  Most business decision-makers are not out there to destroy the world. They just do not know how to change without losing a lot of money.  

Again, employers should think about how their firms can contribute to the greater good. It does not have to be charities that help to solve the problems of the world. It can be as simple as thinking how the job roles they have could contribute to positive change for the world.