Be An Idea's consultant, Anthony, shares how Ikea's April Fool's prank has created an opportunity for other brands.
Ping Manongdo explores the dangers of putting too much pressure on employees to deliver against corporate social responsibility objectives in a recent Eco-Business article. (Republished with permission).
A look at how tri-sector collaboration can address the problem of food wastage, especially in Singapore. Co-written by our strategic solutions consultant, Anthony Caravello, for Singapore Management Universities, Tri-Sector.
Lydia Marie Ng takes a look at the recent popular campaign by SKII to address the issue of sheng nu, or "left over women" in China. She debates whether it can work as a force for positivity or potentially do more harm than good.
Charmaine Fong, program manager at Be An Idea, looks at ways that up-cycling can have a positive impact and how collaborations can potentially help scale the benefits of upcycling.
Consultant and community engagement lead, Rebekah Lin, shares her thoughts on volunteering and the real impact she made in the endeavour. She offers thoughts as to help make volunteering more meaningful.
Several weeks ago, 4As, a leading trade association representing the advertising agency business unveiled the winners of its second annual 4A’s Partner Awards which recognizes the creative excellence that can only be achieved through meaningful collaboration. The Be An Idea team reviewed the winning entry to look for useful lessons for those embarking on the collaboration journey.
Last week, the grocery delivery service Honestbee tried to connect its brand to a social cause. What may have been a well-intentioned exercise to show support for the fight against the trade in illegal wildlife products, turned into a case study for how to NOT connect your brand to a social cause.
The Lean Start Up by Eric Reis, puts forward an organisational model for startups. He puts forwards principles and ideas that help a startup cope with an environment of uncertainty with the necessary agility to achieve scale efficiently. His methodology has created a movement not only in the entrepreneurship space but also within organisations, and his lessons can also apply to the social impact sector.
Imagine living in a fully functioning treehouse with solar-powered lights and running water. Hungry? Cook lunch from fresh veggies grown in your backyard. In the urban jungle that is Singapore, this might be a greenies' pipe dream, but things are set to change as more people take steps towards a more sustainable way of living.
Sustainability, as defined by the United States Environmental Protection Agency," creates and maintains the conditions under which humans and nature can exist in productive harmony and permits fulfilling the social and economic requirements of present and future generations”. A word confined to the green community a decade ago, sustainability has gained traction in mainstream agendas following global concern over global warming and the depletion of finite resources. Though disputed, scientists quoted in the Millennium Ecosystem assessment say that human consumption has exceeded the earth’s current “carrying capacity”, that is, the earth’s ability to support human consumption at today’s growing rate.
"We need a deep lifestyle change,” said architect Tay Kheng Soon, a champion of eco-friendly dwellings. “Our current urban lifestyles are based on high production and high consumption, when what we need is to steer it towards the direction of low consumption and high satisfaction.”
BRICKS OF BASICS
Over at Tay’s Kampung Temasek: The School of Doing, a modern kampong allows youths to get a glimpse of a greener lifestyle that their ancestors lived. In this X-hectare space situated amongst palm oil plantations in Johor Bahru, children play with chickens and ducks while learning to apply Science and Maths in nature’s classroom. The kampung, which has a main hall made entirely out of bamboo, allows children to experience structures other than concrete skyscrapers. Here, volunteers also conduct activities such as bottle gardening courses that teaches them how to grow plants with recycled bottles.
Started by Tay and co-founder Jack Sim in 2008, this “open-source kampong” is a space for those with sustainability project ideas to build prototypes, tinker, or even brainstorm in the arms of Mother Nature.
One such idea is Project Perch, a modern treehouse constructed by architectural students from the National University of Singapore’s School of Design and Environment. A world away from computer-modelling in staid classrooms, students collaborate with village carpenters, who coach them in efficient carpentry techniques. They are put up in huts made of recycled wood and powered by solar energy.
“It is satisfying working with your hands, and not for a grade, but to see your design come to life,” architecture student Rachel Tan said. “We rarely get to do that in class.”
BEHAVIOUR FOR THE BETTER
While projects like Kampung Temasek focus on design, other social enterprises like The Living! Project is championing the sustainability cause in a different way.
Founded by Allan Lim, Kenny Eng and Sun Yu Li, the trio started the Living! Project to inspire greener lifestyles and create “positive behavioural change” amongst volunteers.
One of its major initiatives was a recyclable light art exhibition that started in Singapore and travelled to France. Over the course of X weeks, autistic kids from Lyon were taught how to carve artwork out of old milk bottles and recycled plastic. These pieces culminated into a huge wishing tree that was displayed at an ex-torture campsite in Lyon.
“Their parents were really empowered by the experience as some of them never thought their children would be capable of creating,” Lim said. “They see their children in a new light.”
Besides art, the Living! Project is also involved in aquaponics, a relatively energy-efficient way of growing plants. Named Comcrop, TLP’s aquaponics project is helmed by a group of young Singapore Polytechnic students who diligently tend to their crops daily at Somerset’s Youth Park. Unlike pesticide-heavy and energy consumptive industrial farming methods, Comcrop's energy-efficient system makes use of nitrate-rich water from fish tanks to nurture vegetables for consumption. Eggshells and banana peel supply additional nutrients that fish water alone cannot provide.
“We want to challenge people to see waste in a different manner, to be creative and regenerate new life from it,” said Jeremy Chua, who oversees the project. In an age of food scares from horse meat in burger patties, to battery-farmed chickens pumped with growth hormones, TLP aims to help restore the relationship between commercialised food and nature. It hopes to do so by working with restaurants –specifically getting staff to tend their own crops and serve the fresh produce they cultivate.
“There is something in the process of nurturing a plant that makes you a better person, and staff may take pride in their food knowing they had a hand in growing it,” Chua added.
EAT YOUR CITY
Another initiative that encourages small-scale sustainable farming is the Edible Garden City project. Started by advertiser-turned-farmer Bjorn Low, this six-month old enteprise creates gardens of edible crops for restaurants and households. Low's goal is minimal-pesticide gardens that brighten up the aesthetic environment, alongside producing fresh food for consumption. Like most urban farmers, the avid gardener is concerned about food security in Singapore, a nation which imports up to 97 percent of its food.
“There is a lot of unused space like rooftops,” Low said. “We can’t grow everything that we need, but at least in times of crisis, people can grow a little something for themselves.”
Outside the Artichokes café at Sculpture Square, Low has designed an edible garden growing an array of produce--- mint, thyme, tomatoes, peppers, chillis--wonderfully sowed in recycled boxes filled with soil.
He hopes that more in Singapore would pick up simple farming, starting with easy-to-grow crops such as mint or baby bak-choi, which thrive well even along the corridors of their HDB flats. “People need to grow their own food so that they learn to appreciate the process. Hopefully they will think twice before they waste any food on their plates,” Low said.
“It may not be possible to be 100 percent green in every corner of our lives,” he added, “But small projects can sow a seed and help people better envision how else they can live besides their current lifestyles.”
It’s not just about the money. Social engagement counts too.
Although corporate donations are widespread in Singapore, the private sector’s lack of community participation is disappointing, concluded a recent study by researchers from the National Technological University and Singapore Management University.
Titled “Corporate Giving Research”, the study involved interviews with 60 senior executives of Singaporean and international corporations operating here.
“The private sector must begin to look beyond the creation of shareholder value and become more socially engaged,” said lecturer Ferdinand de Bakker, who headed the report and has been researching on corporate philanthropy for more than 30 years. Doing so, experts believe, will result in positive impacts on the business itself.
As global changes affect us through pressing issues such as fiscal deficits and aging populations, the world will be looking towards the private sector to find the scale, expertise and financial strength to help address issues in a meaningful way, said the report.
But for the private sector to benefit from this trend, it must address the disconnect between its take on corporate responsibility and its current paradigm of corporate social involvement.
de Bakker explained: “A company’s future is determined by the way people view it. If a company is viewed in a favourable way, stock prices increase. If not, consumers no longer buy its products.”
Further more, continued de Bakker, if a company is seen as interacting with society in a meaningful way, it’s also seen as a more attractive option among job applicants. “This is something we have seen in Singapore,” he added. “Human resource directors indicated that it was easier to find the right people if the company practised corporate social involvement.”
He suggests that companies should ramp up efforts to conduct a “social engagement audit” to determine how a business’ values are linked to social issues. “This should translate into strategies and resources to engage with the social sector and weaved into business plans,” according to the report.
“Corporate giving projects the image of how generous a company is,” agreed Ivan Chin, founder of Positive Intentions, a social enterprise that specialises in people development. “I’m a big advocate of not just corporate giving, but corporate doing. And where possible, local companies should be doing as much as multinationals.”
MAKING GOOD OUT OF DOLLARS
HSBC Singapore, which was recently named the 2012 Corporate Category Winner at the inaugural President’s Award for Volunteerism, launched its Volunteers@HSBC staff programme in 1997. Through the programme, the bank provides the funding and support for employees to organise and participate in volunteer services for the community.
At its annual Corporate Responsibility night, staff volunteers also help to select the charities which will receive funding from the bank as its way of empowering them and giving them greater ownership of the bank's corporate responsibility mandate.
“Success in business is inextricably linked to the strength and well-being of the wider community in which we serve,” said Goh Kong Aik, head of group communications and corporate sustainability. “With success comes a responsibility to give something back to the larger community and our defining consideration is that we want to make a difference in society.”
For utilities giant Sembcorp Industries, volunteer activities are planned around environmental and community causes like the Garden City Fund and charities serving the disadvantaged elderly.
“Contributing towards our communities helps us play a part in building a more caring and compassionate community,” said Gwendolyn Loh, manager of group corporate relations. “The communities’ acceptance of us grants us the license to operate, which is an important yet intangible asset for companies and businesses.”
There are also others like Lorna Whiston Schools, a provider of English language programmes, which has been practicing corporate social responsibility way before CSR even became a popular buzzword here.
Since its first school was established 33 years ago, Lorna Whiston has had their fair share of food, book and toy drives. But they took their commitment a step further five years ago, partnering with Life Community Services Society (LCSS), an organisation that works with lower income group families and children with incarcerated parents by empowering them through care and mentoring.
That spirit of giving isn’t just prevalent amongst the staff of Lorna Whiston as parents and students have also been enthusiastic about supporting the school’s charity outreach, said Shanna Mae Therese, a principal at Lorna Whiston’s pre-school Raintree Cove, recalling a recent Christmas gift drive for LCSS.
A WAY TO GO
Aside from the corporate benefits of giving and social involvement, many volunteers are supportive of their companies because they want to play a part in shaping a better world. At the Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH), more than 200 staff members recently put together a Christmas album for sale in support of the Tan Tock Seng Community Charity fund, which was set up in 1995 to help needy patients.
“Through this collective vocal effort, we hope to connect with the public while spreading joy and cheer throughout the community,” explained corporate communications executives Chong Pei Wen. “It was a tribute to our patients to brighten their day.”
Her colleague Angie Teoh added that for TTSH, corporate giving and CSR are not done with any financial incentives in mind— but because it’s simply the right thing to do. “It’s more of a philosophy,” she added.
“I’m just happy to be able to use my experiences and networks to support children in a country that has suffered,” said Alan Addison, a teacher at Lorna Whiston who has led a fundraising campaign to build a new dormitory for a children’s home in Cambodia and was also involved in setting up the school’s English language programme.
For Valerie Lee, a senior trader at Sembcorp who actively takes part in company-driven CSR initiatives, volunteering is a good way to add a fun and meaningful aspect to work life. It helps too, that the avenues to participate are easily accessible and convenient.
“I find it one of the best ways to get know my colleagues better and spend my time out of the office in a meaningful way,” she said. “Of course it helps to see the reward of your effort impacting someone in a positive way.”
HOW TO GET INVOLVED
- Check out the full findings of the Corporate Giving Research report.
- Inform yourself on your company's community activities. Is there leave assigned for volunteer hours? Do they have a matching donation program?
- Talk to your company about getting more involved with your own initiatives. While they may need to seek alignment with their business goals, the chances are they will enthusiastic.
- Share how you started something at your company - we love to hear from you.
Celebrities and charities go together like bread and butter. When the likes of international superstars like U2’s Bono and Justin Bieber make a donation appeal for a cause they’re championing, you can only imagine how quickly their fans would rally and lend their support. And it goes without saying what a celebrity’s alignment with a social cause can do for their reputation. Just think of Angelina Jolie who transformed from wild child to poster child for humanitarianism.
But when the reputation of the celebrity advocate takes a nosedive, it can mean serious backlash for the charity involved — or worse still, turn people off donating altogether for fear their money will never go where it was intended.
Take the recent Jimmy Savile sexual abuse allegations, which became widely publicised a year after the late DJ and television presenter’s death. Two charity trusts, which are named after him and oversee funds totaling £5.4 million (S$10.6 million) have been shut down, said a BBC report.
Following Lance Armstrong’s doping scandal, the disgraced cyclist has quit as chairman of the charity foundation he began 15 years ago to “spare the organisation any negative effects as a result of controversy surrounding his cycling career,” according to Bloomberg. The charity, which has raised some US$500 million (S$610 million) to support cancer survivors, also formally dropped his name from its title and is now known as the Livestrong Foundation.
Alleged misuse of funds has also cast a shadow on other celebrity-driven movements. In June this year, Lady Gaga was sued US$5 million (S$6.1 million) for allegedly scamming a Japan relief charity and profiting from the sale of “We Pray for Japan” wristbands meant to raise funds for relief efforts. Hip-Hop artist Wyclef Jean was also accused of pulling a fast one on donors through his non-profit organisation, Yele Haiti, with reports of how only US$5 million of the US$16 million (S$19.4 million) collected after the Haiti earthquake went to relief efforts.
WITH GREAT PUBLICITY COMES GREAT RESPONSIBILITY
With the media more inclined to cover a charitable cause if there is celebrity involvement, how far should charities work their way into the realm of entertainment?
“Celebrities are helpful when it comes to raising awareness and that should continue as they do come with a certain clout and PR arsenal,” said Stephanie Yip, a public relations director. “The celebrity needs to be authentic in selecting a cause that truly speaks to his or her heart and behave responsibly when endorsing it.”
Marcia Tan, who manages Singaporean musical groups like Electrico and Budak Pantai, said: “There will always be people who question the credibility of a celeb-endorsed charity and the celebrity’s motive, but when executed properly, celebrities can really help to drive donations when they lead a campaign.”
Publicist Yvonne See, who has worked on charity projects with Mandopop singers JJ Lin and Ado, agrees the charity’s mission should be in tandem with the celebrity’s image in order to portray a convincing message to the public.
See also believes that involving artistes with more than one particular charity helps to widen their outreach and experience. “It helps artistes grow when they get a chance to interact with the less fortunate and to see who they are helping” she said. “At the end of the day, both parties have to be responsible about the cause they advocate.”
SPOTLIGHT ON THE CAUSE
But great publicity — whether done with sophistication or not — does put charities in the forefront for intense scrutiny.
Take the National Kidney Foundation Singapore (NKFS) and Ren Ci Hospital for example. Both charities, which used televised live shows where celebrities would perform daredevil stunts to garner donations, were plagued by scandals regarding corruption and financial irregularities a few years ago.
After former Ren Ci Hospital founder-chief and monk Venerable Shi Ming Yi — who had made a name for himself through his performances in these shows — was found guilty of misusing funds, it was reported that the hospital had chalked up a deficit after a plunge in donations. It subsequently ended its active fundraising and charity show.
“The availability of resources is always a challenge,” said Lincoln Sim, corporate communications manager of Ren Ci Hospital. “Inevitably, fundraising efforts and public donations are important but we also tap on various resources to meet our operating needs." The Ministry of Health (MOH) and Agency for Integrated Care (AIC) have been very supportive of the local charity healthcare sector and provide various forms of funding schemes, he added.
“We have always been committed to take good care of the needy sick and frail elderly within our community,” said Sim. “Our key focus right now is on what we can contribute to society, rather than how much we can receive from the public. With the fast ageing population, we know we have an integral role to play to help meet healthcare and social needs.”
The NKFS did not wish to comment on this issue.
While it is easy to use such high profile cases as an excuse not to offer donations, there are still avid donors who actively contribute financially to causes. One such donor, Charmaine Ho, a magazine journalist, believes that we can be optimistic despite the negativity. “I donate with the belief that I’m doing good and the view that if only $0.10 of my dollar has gone to help the needy, then at least some help has been offered,” said Ho. “Of course, that’s not to say that I’ll continue donating to a scandalous charity. I’ll just channel my money somewhere else.” Ho is a regular donor to the Home Nursing Foundation, and in addition supports a different cause each year.
“I tend to look out for charities that don’t have celebrity endorsements. This is because I figure the charity with the celebrity has all the help it needs so I’ll donate to another charity that doesn’t have that sort of publicity,” said Ho. Another avid donor, Colin Anthony, a banker, feels the same way. “The most important part is the beneficiaries of the charity — it needs to be aligned to what I view as a worthy cause.”
But can we ever really be sure of where our money is going?
“With tighter government regulations and regular audits of the industry, I think that one can donate with a peace of mind,” said Anthony.
“You can do as much research but you can never know for sure,” said Ho. “Besides, for me, donating with the concern that your money may be misappropriated goes against the whole spirit of charity in the first place.”
BE AN INFORMED DONOR
1. Do Your Research: It’s easy to get caught up with salacious headlines in the news. But make the effort to do some online research about an organisation to find out about their services and which areas are especially in need of financing.
2. Ask Questions: Check in with the Charity Council to learn more about the various charities and how to go about donating in a secure manner. For more insider information, speak to existing volunteers about the organisation and their practices.
3. Get Involved: There’s no better way to discover the inner workings of an organisation than to be a volunteer and spend time with both the beneficiaries as well as the staff.
In the second of a four-part feature on winners of the Young Social Entrepreneur (YSE) 2012 Programme, Be an Idea speaks to a young woman who is developing a biodegradable sanitary pad for underprivileged women in India. YSE is an initiative by the Singapore International Foundation to help young people embark on social enterprises and nurture a network of entrepreneurs to create businesses that benefit communities.
For Ho Yen Yee, a final-year linguistics student at Nanyang Technological University (NTU), the year has been a filled with numerous peaks of learning. At 22, she is one of the driving forces behind I.M.Pad (Innovative and Manageable Sanitary Pad), a social entrepreneurship project that addresses issues related to women’s health and personal dignity in the developing world.
“In many rural communities, women don’t have access to basic items of sanitation such as sanitary pads,” explained Ho, who felt disturbed after reading about women who turned to alternatives like ashes and dried leaves and were often made to feel ashamed about menstruation. “This can pose serious health risks and I wanted to see how I could help.”
While volunteering with NTU’s Welfare Services Club, Ho met Andrew Yin, her partner who shared the same passion as her about helping the less fortunate
They decided to focus the project on India, which has the lowest level of sanitary pad adoption in the world. An ACNielson survey conducted in 2010 showed that as many as 88 per cent of menstruating women in the country did not use proper hygienic sanitary products during their periods.
Their guiding principles? It had to be effective, eco-friendly and low-cost. “Besides access, affordability is one of the key reasons for the lack of use of sanitary pads in many rural areas,” said Ho. “So we began by exploring low-cost alternatives.”
One intriguing possibility was the use of water hyacinths as a source material. Besides being indigenous to many rural areas in India, water hyacinths also have highly absorbent pulp fibres.
Utilising the plant also helps to alleviate an environmental problem as they can choke irrigation canals and contribute to the spread of waterborne diseases.
“As a woman, this issue is especially close to my heart because I know how uncomfortable and dreadful it can get during menstruation,” she said. “It is actually something that can be managed effectively with a simple sanitary pad and should not be allowed to disrupt a woman’s life and become an impediment to education.
Especially meaningful was a study trip under the YSE banner in June 2012 to Mumbai. Over nine days, the team got to learn more about operational conditions and speak to women there.
With $10,000 seed funding from the YSE, Ho and Yin are now immersed in the research and industrial design stage of their project. Next up? Producing a prototype by mid-2013 followed by a another trip to India to meet with NGO representatives and local self-help groups.
“Inclusive innovation is important especially in the access to basic necessities because all human beings should be allowed the opportunity to live with dignity,” Ho said.
“I really hope to help these women lead normal and healthy lives during their periods, just like everyone else in the developed world.”
The Micro Credit Business Scheme (MCBS), launched last year, is the first of its kind in Singapore to grant loans to people with little or no income to start a business – giving them a rare chance to strike out on their own.
How much does it cost to realise a dream? At the MCBS, loans ranging from $5,000 to $50,000 have enabled at least 32 people to pursue theirs. Among these, said the scheme’s chairman, retired banker, Kuo How Nam, 66, are some “gems”. “It’s quite interesting to see the ingenuity of people,” he reflected. While he noted that business ownership in Singapore is fairly risky and not the obvious path for many, the scheme helps those who wish to take the entrepreneurial route.
Take Lee Lai Kean, 53, who decided to to start her own business, Glamour Danzfit, which sells ballroom and Latin dance outfits. Without experience or cash reserves, she and her partner, who both share a passion for dance, struggled in the initial year of starting out – taking out personal loans and operating out of her husband’s fourth-floor dance studio. “We had no collateral to take a loan from a commercial bank, but wanted to expand and upgrade the business,” she shared. “The $50,000 microloan from MCBS came just in time to help with our move to a better, more visible location and offset renovation costs.” With these improvements, the duo’s sales revenue doubled during the first few months.
And there are other unique ideas that have successfully gotten a loan to get started – from a Muslim bridal business, to handcrafted leather goods, and a supplier of ‘invisible’ window grills.
GIVING A CHANCE AND GIVING BACK
Though the scheme is still considered to be in its early stages, Mr Kuo is cautiously optimistic about prospects despite “a lot of unknowns”. Started with $5-million in seed funding from the Tote Board, the MCBS is aimed at borrowers with annual incomes under $30,000 and thus are ineligible for bank loans.
Lee Yoong Yoong, a research associate at the Institute of Policy Studies, whose research interests include economic development and micro-enterprises, noted that micro-financing schemes also have the benefit of serving an ‘invisible’ group who would not have gotten a business loan otherwise – housewives caring for young children, ex-offenders, and former bankrupts. It’s a way to not only give a chance to those who otherwise would not qualify for a commercial bank loan, he noted, but also, to foster a more inclusive society. “Especially now that there is a push to narrow the income gap and inclusive growth, schemes like this can play a part in achieving that vision.”
Having visited some of these businesses, Lee has seen first-hand how the small loans have transformed the lives of lower income Singaporeans who have an entrepreneurial spirit and a good business idea. “What is significant is that nurturing these micro entrepreneurs have the potential to showcase a spirit of resilience, creativity, and empowerment – good values for Singapore to have.”
MAKING THE HUMAN CONNECTION
Kuo, who volunteers as MCBS’ chairman of the loan management committee, took on the role after a 30-year career in banking as a “new and challenging” task. “I thought it would be interesting to do since it was not something that has been tried in Singapore. It’s a way of giving back. The way I look at it is: what do I have to lose? If I don’t try I’d never know whether it would work.” He also roped in former co-workers who are experienced retired loan officers. “When we first started, we had our ‘bankers’ hats on and slowly evolved to be more flexible and creative in assessing loans.”
For one, the approval process includes face-to-face interviews, site visits and assessing the business plan – a far more resource intensive process than that for conventional loans. “We can’t use a point system like in the consumer banks … to assess your credit rating. We cannot be process driven, because every applicant is different. The diversity, complexity and our small scale means we still have to assess each application individually,” explained Kuo. And though every effort is made to evaluate if a plan is workable, cases “can be quite subjective”. “We recognise that we have to take more risk, but just because there is no fall back, it doesn’t mean we can’t approve a loan. Having said that, we don’t approve loans just because we are sorry for someone,” added Kuo, who is also President of Credit Counselling Singapore. “I am quite conscious about making sure the loans will help and not make someone poorer.”
Though two businesses have since folded, Kuo said frankly, “Even the failures are a good sign of progress. It’s a sign we took some risks. It is very gratifying to be helping people. We have helped people to pursue their dreams. But we pushed the envelope and we tried to make a difference.”
The journey to a world without torture is a long one, but Karen Tse from International Bridges of Justice tells BeAnIdea why we must walk on.
Her idea is among the top 18 groundbreaking ideas worth spreading that will shape the world this year, according to TED and The Huffington Post. It is not about the latest tech invention or green innovation, but a long-standing fire commitment to put an end to torture.
Meet Karen Tse, who founded the International Bridges of Justice (IBJ) 12 years ago to achieve this aim. The focus of the Geneva, Switzerland-based organization lies largely on non-political prisoners in developing countries with paralyzed legal systems, where cruel techniques are often employed in order to obtain confessions and information.
After four years working as a public defender in the United States, Tse went to Cambodia under the auspices of the United Nations to train its first group of public defenders and discovered that she could do much more. "Just by walking into prisons all the time, I realized that these were people I could actually help."
"It is something very real," she said in a recent talk at The Hub in Singapore on September 26. Working within each country's legal framework, Tse and her team take on the role of crusaders who try to seek fair treatment and improve the rights of detainees and the accused.
She recounted the plight of a 12-year-old boy in Cambodia who was tortured by authorities for stealing a bicycle, as well as other detainees who were imprisoned without trial for years. "We must share the responsibility and opportunity of ending torture as an investigative tool in our lifetime," she stressed.
"Unfortunately, the human rights field hasn't given enough attention and resources to deal with this issue," according to Tse.
Indeed the subject of torture seems like a remote issue in Singapore much off the radar and something only seen in movies. But IBJ is working to spread awareness of and to inspire more of us to be part of a global movement to eradicate such inhumane acts.
Two years ago, IBJ opened an office in Singapore, which serves as a base for training public defenders in the region, thanks to seed funding from the Lien Center for Social Innovation.
"I think Singaporeans should go beyond issues that affect home," said Sivakumari Ramachandran, a recent graduate who volunteers at IBJ Singapore. "Torture is unacceptable at any level and no matter how distant it might be from our thoughts and reality it is important to learn about global issues that affect the lives of millions every day."
Tse said: "People always think the work we do seems so depressing but I see so much resilience and hope. We have what it takes to transform lives and change history, just like what we did with slavery."
It is this optimism and faith that is at the heart of IBJ's efforts for the past 12 years. In challenging environments like Zimbabwe, Cambodia, China, India and Burundi, the team has planted the seeds of justice through local volunteers and staff who work within individual communities to bring about change.
The IBJ has set out a goal to end torture by 2024 by ensuring detainees have the right to competent legal representation and a fair trial.
"We created torture as human beings so we can definitely 'un-create' it," said Tse.