The 21st century loves its entrepreneurs. Their tatler_tatler_stories are captivating, their failures full of lessons and their successes inspiring.
Having met dozens of them, I’m often left asking: who wouldn’t want to be an entrepreneur? Work for yourself, earn for yourself and create that one invention that will revolutionise the way we do things. Put simply: we should all be entrepreneurs!
“But then who will be our doctors? Who will be our engineers? And who will be our scientists?” asks Dr Renard Siew.
Bursting bubbles isn’t his purpose, but a necessary side effect of his mission to build a sustainable future in every way possible. Throughout our conversation we cover topics ranging from the environment, to climate change, to the aging population – Dr Renard’s reach is as broad as the term ‘sustainability.’
“For me ‘sustainability’ is about making sure we continuously improve the lives of our citizens.”
Hailing from Kuantan, Pahang, the foundation for the 30-year-old’s ambitions was laid by philanthropic parents who taught him the value of giving, while a doting grandmother read him Unicef newsletters in lieu of bedtime tatler_tatler_stories. A fulfilling education, several scholarships, and a couple of graduate and post-graduate qualifications later, there are more words under the education column of his resume than I regularly write in an article.
“I have always had a passion for sustainability but there wasn’t really a clear path to get to that end. Civil engineering was probably the closest so that was the starting point.”
Perhaps the crux of Dr Renard’s education was attaining his PhD in civil engineering at the age of 26, before being one of 15 scholars selected to attend the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology PhD Academy.
An impressive education notwithstanding, it is what he has chosen to do with his education that sets Dr Renard apart from peers in his generation.
“I usually wear at least three hats on a normal day. I have a corporate job but I’m also very involved with civil society, and I’m a researcher,” he says.
That corporate job is as the environmental advisor to Sime Darby Holdings Bhd, where he plays a role in the company’s 5-year sustainability roadmap.
His work with civil society is a little more extensive. Dr Renard is part of the World Economic Forum initiated Global Shapers Community; he’s a Stakeholder Council member on Sustainable and Resilient Infrastructure (SuRe) at the Global Infrastructure Basel (GIB); an advisory council member to the Islamic Reporting Initiative (IRI); and a country ambassador for Project inspire.
Furthermore, he is involved in the development of the National Transformation Roadmap for Water, under the Malaysian Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (MOSTI).
It may not make for the sexiest of reads, but Dr Renard summarises his activeness quite simply:
“For me ‘sustainability’ is about making sure we continuously improve the lives of our citizens, and there is a lot of ground to cover if we’re going to do it in a holistic manner. So regardless of whatever role I play, I see it all as connected – all the dots just jive for me.”
“No one imagines that there could be a day when our taps will run dry, but we’ve already faced a water crisis and dam water levels are decreasing.”
He ties his mission to the Sustainable Development Goals, set out by the United Nations that covers 17 core areas, from poverty and famine, to protecting the climate and reducing all manner of inequality.
“It’s important that we look to ending poverty, end hunger, ensure children have quality education and stand up for the underprivileged.”
As a result, Dr Renard cites his work on the National Transformation Roadmap for Water as one of the projects he’s most proud to be working on.
“No one imagines that there could be a day when our taps will run dry, but we’ve already faced a water crisis and dam water levels are decreasing. So part of this project involved conducting a full study across Malaysia to look at our issues and what needs to be done in the next 5 years to ensure there’s water security for the next 20 years.”
The study covered all aspects of water security, from the diversity of our water sources, to pollution and the quality of our drinking water, as well as national policy on tariffs – which he believes an increase of would be inevitable and necessary.
“People aren’t happy when the water tariffs are increased, but in reality that money goes to maintenance and water treatment, so it goes back to the community.”
Dr Renard also crusades on an issue often overlooked in conversations about the future – the elderly.
“Malaysia will become an aged nation by 2030 – the median age of our country will be 65-years and above, and to be honest with you, that scares me because we’re not ready for it.”
He explains that, currently, policy on an aging population are set by the Ministry of Healthcare and the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development, but neither of these policies are heavily implemented leading to problems on a national scale.
“Contribution to the GDP will decrease because more people will go into retirement. So we need to find a way to re-engage the elderly, but the problem is that they are afraid of stepping out of their homes because they worry about their safety. Most of them aren’t very mobile and the cities and townships aren’t designed for their needs. It can be as simple as the gaps on the platforms of our public transportation – if you’re older and are unable to move as much, it’s difficult to manage. Even crossing the road can be a challenge – it becomes a sprint.”
As a result, the Global Shapers Community launched a project called 'Living Library' where senior citizens are given a platform to voice out their concerns and needs to the younger generation; to bridge the gap between the elderly and the youth to solve some of their problems, and create jobs.
“It could be in tourism, the elderly have the experience and knowledge that can be put to good use. We’ll also try to get the youth to teach the elderly how to use the simplest of modern technology.”
The goal is simple: neglect no one and continuously improve the lives of everyone – the road to sustainability that anyone can walk, but it helps a little if you’re a doctor, engineer or scientist; or in Dr Renard Siew’s case, all three of them.
Another Bright Young Thing: Dato' Lawrence Low of MyPerintis