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A Modern Day Change Agent: Driving Social Impact One Step at a Time
LOW Ming Hwee, Tsinghua-MIT IMBA Program Class of 2011 Assistant Director, Organization Development, Public Service Division, Prime Minister's Office
Low Ming Hwee’s time in the headquarters of the Ministry of Education of Singapore was something that provided him with immense opportunities one could not directly associate with education. During his 4 years stint, he led a team tasked to increase the capability and capacity of the ministry through the optimization of various business operations. “My previous appointment at the Ministry of Education in Singapore looked at the development of an organization as a whole. That gave me a holistic exposure to understand different business functions within the ministry and at the same time, push for changes”.
In fact, Organization Development (OD) might have remained Ming Hwee’s exclusive interest had he not heard a special speaker. After attending a talk by Professor Muhammad Yunus, Founder of microfinance organization Grameen Bank and Nobel Peace Prize winner, Ming Hwee was deeply inspired by the social impact made possible by businesses. “The talk got me intrigued on the concept of combining business with social causes,” Ming Hwee explained. “It was also during that period of time where I decided to opt for a broad-based MBA program”.
Seeking a pathway that would enable him to create a greater impact, Ming Hwee began considering his MBA options. “I did my research on MBA programs offered by universities around the world and decided that Tsinghua is the place to be. The MBA program would offer me the opportunity to explore the possibility of integrating social causes in business environment while having an exposure to the Chinese market”.
Throughout Ming Hwee’s MBA program in Tsinghua, he devoted a large part of his personal time to push for social causes and programs that he strongly believes in. “I have always been involved in volunteer work since my undergraduate degree days.
Together with like-minded classmates from both the Class of 2010 and 2011, the Tsinghua Chapter of Net Impact[ Net Impact is an international nonprofit organization aimed at encouraging students and professionals to use business skills to advance various social and environmental causes] was established, the first chapter of Net Impact in mainland China. He co-led a team in organizing lecture series and consultancy projects advocating sustainability in companies, all of which were well-received by the student body.
Besides his involvement in school activities, Ming Hwee also worked with external organizations. One such organization was Included. It provided after-school care for migrant-children in Beijing. In one of his summer vacation, while most of his peers were busy with internships, Ming Hwee’s passion led him to a dramatically different landscape: volunteering at Mirror Foundation, a non-governmental organization in Northern Thailand. “We designed an English-teaching curriculum and taught English to the Thai monks so that they will be able to introduce the temple and spread Buddhist teachings to the foreign tourists more effectively,” he recalls. “Even though I had to pay to participate in this volunteering project, I did not mind at all as some of the money went towards attaining citizenship for stateless people living in the border of Thailand”.
Going Beyond the Familiar
While community involvement projects around the world added excitement and different experiences to Ming Hwee’s life, the MBA program in Tsinghua opened doors to new worlds for him. “The Chinese experience taught me to be daring and to push boundaries,” Ming Hwee said. “If you abide by all the written rules, you might not get far. If you challenge the rules, you either beg for forgiveness in the mistakes you make or you might actually be charting a new path for others. I developed a thick skin and heard my passion loudly, hence the personal development. The MBA also provided me with the confidence and opportunity to work in a Chinese company for the first time and Syntao, a sustainability solutions consultancy firm, further opened my mind to the impact of businesses on the society.”
Even though Ming Hwee is currently based in Singapore, he believes that he is still benefiting from the Tsinghua experience. “We must accept that the external environment is dynamic and one needs to constantly remind oneself to be less engrossed in executing preconceived plans. Instead, be on a constant lookout for external changes and what’s the best solution to the obstacle”.
Till this day, Ming Hwee is still balancing business and social impact in every aspect of his every day life. Besides assuming the position of Assistant Director of Organization Development, he is also co-founder of Shop for Social (a one-stop online shopping portal that features quality products from social enterprises & non-profits) and the Net Impact Singapore Chapter.
“Always be comfortable to work with ambiguity, pursue what you believe in and have the courage to start something new”.