Student Spotlight: Rongchan Lin Attends Youth Assembly at the United Nations ☆

It seemed that for Rongchan Lin, pursuing social entrepreneurship is a life goal that is as important as completing her doctoral studies in the Applied Linguistics program at Teachers College.  Nominated by the Overseas Singaporean Unit and selected by the National Youth Council of Singapore, Lin became one of two Singapore delegates to participate in the Youth Assembly at the United Nations (UN) on February 5 and 6.

Rongchan Lin at the Youth Assembly at the United Nations

Youth Assembly is a program with a focus of youth employment for development and social entrepreneurship, and it holds an annual event at the UN headquarters in New York City.

“I see this as a platform where there is a confluence of ideas, and you are there to inspire as well as to be inspired by youths,” said Lin. “The theme for this Youth Assembly is actually on bridging the gap between social entrepreneurship and youth employment.”

Consisting of plenary sessions, workshops, round table discussions, networking, new social venture competitions, and MDG-related skills building and campaign introductions, the Youth Assembly at the UN has established a set of goals, such as providing access to and information about the work, successes, and current challenges of the UN; promoting youth participation in UN programs, agencies and NGO affiliates; strengthening commitment to the achievement of Millennium Development Goals (MDG); and connecting committed youth with opportunities, mentors, colleagues, and news associates.

“I personally loved the personal sharing of social entrepreneurs, because the key message was that we are living the present and we can empower people by making certain contributions in our own way,” said Lin. “I think this is important so that we do not sit back and wait for people to change our lives. We can take an active role.”

Lin recalled listening to many inspiring stories of social entrepreneurs who made an impact in their society, and one particular story she remembered was one of Jay Jaboneta, a co-founder of Yellow Boat of Hope Foundation.

“He heard of these children who had to swim two kilometers just to go to school in the Philippines,” she said. “He started raising a fund to buy a boat, a yellow boat – I think it was inspired by the yellow school bus idea – to take the children to school safely. And he was pretty humorous. He said he realized that in the afternoon when there is a low tide, the boat is pretty much useless because of the mud. I mean, it shows that he is very reflective and he realized that more has to be done. I was very interested and touched because this stems from a genuine desire to help.”

Lin also talked about attending another workshop in which Rob Fitzpatrick, founding partner of Founder Centric, spoke and gave valuable advice on how to start one’s own enterprise.

“[He] got us thinking about what resources we need and what kind of network we need to build,” she said. “So I think that was pretty hands-on besides the personal sharing. We got to share our ideas with fellow peers and even brainstorm. One valuable point was that whenever we want to do things, we want to start off big. But the thing is everybody’s process and progress is different. So you may want to do it on a small scale before it expands, because if you get overly ambitious, you may not be able to reach your ultimate goal. Everyone’s journey is different. So we need to find out what works best for us.”

The topic of social entrepreneurship is something very close to her heart, because she herself has been a beneficiary of a giving society and now she desires to give back. “I come from a very humble background,” she said. “My dad is a taxi driver and my mom is a full-time housewife. And I’ve got two younger sisters. So we have a single income of a taxi driver who obviously doesn’t earn a lot in Singapore. So for most of my life as a student, I’ve been surviving on bursaries and scholarships. And without this, I actually cannot imagine myself having this education that I’m enjoying here.”

In the hope of taking one step further to giving back to society, Lin initiated a project with the Tan Kah Kee Foundation in Singapore, from which she received a postgraduate scholarship in 2012. Named the Tan Kah Kee and Tan Ean Kiam Postgraduate Scholarship Alumni Series, the project will be launched this year and will have a series of different events, such as discussions, performances, exhibitions, and workshops, all contributed by scholarship recipients of the Tan Kah Kee Foundation.

“Building on the current system and structure, the Tan Kah Kee and Tan Ean Kiam Postgraduate Scholarship Alumni Series further heightens our efforts in providing opportunities for the scholarship alumni to contribute to the society in a collective manner,” said Lin. “Adopting a bottom-up approach, it is proposed that past scholars come up with possible topics and themes to share at various platforms.”

Rongchan Lin (second from left) and Singapore President Tony Tan (fifth from left) at the presentation of the 2012 Tan Kah Kee Postgraduate Scholarship and Tan Ean Kiam Postgraduate Scholarship in the Humanities (Photo credit: Tan Kah Kee Foundation)

She explained that the objectives of the project are to provide platforms for past scholarship recipients to contribute to the community at large by capitalizing on their diverse expertise and to strengthen their collaboration with external organizations such as schools and non-profit organizations for community service.

Lin said she hopes to keep involving in community ventures, working with different people, and building enough experiences to gain a better understanding of social entrepreneurship.

“Right now, I’m focusing on my studies, so I have not started building my own personal social enterprise, but definitely it is something that I would like to work towards,” said Lin. “This is one of the inspirations I got from the Youth Assembly. After attending the Youth Assembly, I realized there are a lot of possibilities in what we can do.”

More information about Youth Assembly: http://www.faf.org/main/youth-assembly-at-the-un/

More information about Tan Kah Kee Foundation: http://www.tkkfoundation.org.sg/index_eng.html

By Jamie Kim
Arts & Humanities Staff Writer