With the hope of living a purposeful life, the social entrepreneur pushes himself and those he works with to think and act sustainably

How can small-scale farmers in India sell their perishables for a longer period of time, so they can earn a higher income? The solution that Veerappan Swaminathan came up with: a low-cost, solar-powered fruit drying machine, which can process and preserve fruits. The idea came to the founder and director of Sustainable Living Lab (SL2) in 2006 during a chat with fellow engineering science freshmen at the National University of Singapore (NUS).

“We wanted to make something out of our academic life, which we felt was otherwise doomed to be mediocre.” So they brainstormed and later submitted their proposal to the Mondialogo Engineering Award after reading about it in an NUS circular. The competition, jointly organised by Unesco and automotive corporation Daimler, called on students around the globe to propose technical innovations to tackle global issues such as poverty.

Their submission went on to achieve top honours, and the Generation T 2018 honouree recalls this as the pivotal moment that set him on his current path. In the eight years since the founding of SL2, he has tirelessly led the social enterprise and innovation lab to set up makerspaces and run innovation programmes, which include easing such companies as Intel and Rolls-Royce into adopting more sustainable practices. More recently, SL2 helped India’s Central Board of Secondary Education craft the official syllabus for artificial intelligence, which is being rolled out to 28,000 schools across the nation since its launch in March. 

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Image: 123RF
Above Image: 123RF

Lasting Change

“Sustainability is about meeting the needs—not wants—of today without jeopardising the needs of the future. As a social entrepreneur, my ultimate goal is to enable millions of people to enjoy the peace, comfort and security that comes with having a sustainable livelihood.”

On the Ground

“A key area of work for us at the Sustainable Living Lab is to raise awareness about the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) among companies, with which we may build an SDG Innovation Lab. This is a six-month programme that encourages corporate innovation and sustainability. It starts with us bringing management-level executives to places around the region that highlight the impact of their actions as a company. They then identify areas of opportunity to do things differently, brainstorm for solutions with positive business and social value, before creating pilot schemes with us.”

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Image: Unsplash
Above Image: Unsplash

Thinking Ahead

“Future-proofing your company is about having a strategy and action plan in place to continually create positive stakeholder—not just shareholder—value that can survive different scenarios. The stakeholders here could be the local community, natural environment, your suppliers and/or end-consumers.”

Veerappan says…

If I can see into the future…
I want to know if we’re still thriving, or living in a society that’s just a shadow of its former self.
For a sustainable future, the world needs to…
waste less of everything.
My favourite drink is…
a piña colada. I was with a friend at a bar offering similar-priced drinks and his advice to me was to choose one that would require a lot of work, to get my money’s worth.
My most useful productivity tip…
Sleep, which is severely underrated. It helps to clear my mind.



Long Fei/Munster


Angel Gwee, using Kevin Murphy & Chanel

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