Elaine Tan, CEO of WWF Sin­ga­pore, tells Joanna Lee more about In­totheWild:AnIm­mer­siveVir­tu­alAd­ven­ture, the in­ter­ac­tive conservation ex­hi­bi­tion at the ArtS­cience Mu­seum, and how art and sci­ence can come to­gether to help con­serve the en­vi­ron­ment.

The Peak (Malaysia) - - The Community - IM­AGES MA­RINA BAY SANDS

How did you first get started in WWF Sin­ga­pore?

After a 25-year ca­reer in strate­gic com­mu­ni­ca­tions and lead­er­ship man­age­ment, I joined WWF in 2011 after be­ing in the non-gov­ern­men­tal or­gan­i­sa­tion (NGO) space for seven years. I was pre­vi­ously with World Vision, an in­ter­na­tional hu­man­i­tar­ian or­gan­i­sa­tion, where I led the fundrais­ing, cor­po­rate mar­ket­ing and com­mu­ni­ca­tions. Against a back­drop of com­plex en­vi­ron­men­tal chal­lenges and in­creased pres­sure on nat­u­ral re­sources, my cur­rent work with WWF Sin­ga­pore has been a great op­por­tu­nity to work with stake­hold­ers such as gov­ern­ments, cor­po­rates and com­mu­ni­ties, and build a more sus­tain­able fu­ture for Sin­ga­pore and this region.

What are the mo­ti­va­tions that made you de­cide to pur­sue en­vi­ron­men­tal conservation pro­fes­sion­ally?

WWF is about har­ness­ing the power of the peo­ple to en­able change to hap­pen across poli­cies and leg­is­la­tion. I par­tic­u­larly liked the abil­ity of NGOs like WWF be­ing en­ablers to cat­a­lyst change for the bet­ter of mankind by em­pow­er­ing ev­ery in­di­vid­ual to do their part. Conservation or en­vi­ron­men­tal con­scious­ness in Asia is prob­a­bly fur­thest from the minds of peo­ple liv­ing in this part of the world. Un­less you are con­stantly ex­posed to the sci­ence that un­der­pins the im­pact that hu­mans have on our planet’s re­sources, most of us have no idea that we are liv­ing on credit of the Earth’s nat­u­ral re­source. So, it is the ur­gency, the cat­a­strophic con­se­quences that mankind will face if we do not step up to re­verse the im­pact of cli­mate change and our foot­print on the planet, that is the driv­ing force that mo­ti­vates me to the cause.

How do you think the Into the Wild: An Im­mer­sive

Vir­tual Ad­ven­ture ex­hi­bi­tion in the ArtS­cience Mu­seum will im­pact the au­di­ence and the en­vi­ron­ment?

Most peo­ple have lived in an ur­ban en­vi­ron­ment al­most all our lives, a world where con­ve­nience is of­ten pri­ori­tised over en­vi­ron­men­tal con­sid­er­a­tions. In the pur­suit of de­vel­op­ment, we have moved fur­ther and fur­ther away from na­ture. This also means that we are less aware of the en­vi­ron­men­tal con­se­quences of the choices we make,

from the things we buy to our daily habits. It is hard to make con­scious choices for the en­vi­ron­ment if you are not aware of how it would im­pact us. Into the Wild har­nesses tech­nol­ogy to pro­vide us with an op­por­tu­nity to close the di­vide be­tween our ur­banised world and the nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment. By al­low­ing peo­ple to walk in the shoes of a ranger, it will build an ap­pre­ci­a­tion of our rain­forests and cre­ate a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of how our daily ac­tions im­pact the nat­u­ral world.

What do you hope vis­i­tors will take away after vis­it­ing the ex­hi­bi­tion?

This im­mer­sive ex­pe­ri­ence not only recre­ates what re­ally goes on in a typ­i­cal rain­for­est – it also mir­rors the threats that an ac­tual Su­ma­tran rain­for­est, Rim­bang Bal­ing, is fac­ing to­day. Rim­bang Bal­ing is one of Su­ma­tra’s last stand­ing pris­tine rain­forests and six times the size of Sin­ga­pore. It is rich in bio­di­ver­sity and an important habi­tat for the sur­vival of the crit­i­cally en­dan­gered Su­ma­tran Tiger. However, en­croach­ment is al­ready happening in the outer ar­eas of Rim­bang Bal­ing and 20 per cent of its for­est area has al­ready been lost to land clear­ing for plan­ta­tions and log­ging. Into the Wild al­lows us to change this. By turn­ing ev­ery in­di­vid­ual into an ac­tive par­tic­i­pant that cares for the pro­tec­tion of our forests, we want to har­ness the power of col­lec­tive action to not just re­store, but ex­pand the rain­forests and bio­di­ver­sity of Rim­bang Bal­ing. Ul­ti­mately, the mes­sage at the heart of Into the Wild is about ev­ery in­di­vid­ual and the change we can make if we come to­gether to turn the wave of de­for­esta­tion.

How did the idea of us­ing vir­tual re­al­ity for Into the Wild come by?

WWF Sin­ga­pore and Ma­rina Bay Sands have built a strong work­ing re­la­tion­ship across a range of sus­tain­abil­ity ini­tia­tives. When the idea of an aug­mented re­al­i­tyen­abled ex­pe­ri­ence was first brought up, we saw it as an op­por­tu­nity to el­e­vate en­vi­ron­men­tal aware­ness in an ur­ban city like Sin­ga­pore.

Do you think vis­ual art is an ef­fec­tive medium to raise en­vi­ron­men­tal aware­ness?

The aug­men­tal re­al­ity tech­nol­ogy, as used in Into the Wild, for ex­am­ple, al­lows peo­ple to con­nect peo­ple to en­vi­ron­ments that they would otherwise not have ac­cess to, whether un­der­wa­ter in a coral reef or deep in the tropical rain­for­est. In do­ing so, it helps peo­ple to build an ap­pre­ci­a­tion of the nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment and de­velop em­pa­thy for it. The rapid spread of ur­ban­i­sa­tion across the world to­day is driv­ing an even greater ur­gency to share such sto­ries and ex­pe­ri­ences. De­vel­op­ments in vis­ual me­dia and tech­nol­ogy have the po­ten­tial to open up new di­men­sions of en­vi­ron­men­tal ap­pre­ci­a­tion and aware­ness like never be­fore.

Do you think en­vi­ron­men­tal conservation will stand in the way of mod­ern tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vance­ment?

There is a huge op­por­tu­nity to har­ness tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vance­ments to ad­dress some of the most com­plex en­vi­ron­men­tal chal­lenges we are grap­pling with to­day. Rim­bang Bal­ing is a good ex­am­ple. In re­cent years, im­prove­ments in tech­nol­ogy have led to even more hu­man en­croach­ment into for­est area that was pre­vi­ously in­ac­ces­si­ble. To­day, we are wit­ness­ing land be­ing cleared to make way for palm oil plan­ta­tions and by il­le­gal log­gers, putting crit­i­cal wildlife habi­tat at risk. The Into the Wild ex­pe­ri­ence taps into tech­nol­ogy and provides us with an op­por­tu­nity to re­verse this. By help­ing peo­ple un­der­stand the sit­u­a­tion that our rain­forests are fac­ing, we are also en­abling them to do some­thing by pro­tect­ing and restor­ing our rain­forests like Rim­bang Bal­ing. All they have to do is to log on to in­tothewild.sg and pledge their sup­port for rain­forests, and we will plant a tree in Rim­bang Bal­ing as a thank you ges­ture.

Are there any other cur­rent projects WWF is work­ing on?

In Sin­ga­pore, WWF works on a range of ini­tia­tives to ad­dress the conservation needs of forests, oceans, wildlife and cli­mate change. Across these ar­eas, our campaigns fo­cus on how individuals can be the so­lu­tion to en­vi­ron­men­tal change through their daily life­style choices, from the brands they choose to buy, to the food prod­ucts they con­sume. Cur­rently, we are call­ing for peo­ple in Malaysia, Sin­ga­pore and across Asia to go to the newly launched dig­i­tal plat­form ‘Earth Hour Bud­dies’ and pick an en­vi­ron­men­tal cause to stand for. Through this plat­form, we will match each in­di­vid­ual with a buddy from an­other country with a shared cause, who will then take a sim­i­lar action as well. This will bring to­gether tens of thousands across Asia to drive pos­i­tive change through en­vi­ron­men­tal action.

What are some of the high­lights and chal­lenges that you have had?

Jug­gling cer­tain conservation pri­or­i­ties of the work we do. Whether it is the last pris­tine for­est, the last re­main­ing coral reef or the last iconic species, we deal with press­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues on a daily ba­sis with a small but highly pas­sion­ate team at WWF Sin­ga­pore.

WWF- Sin­ga­pore has grown its sup­porter and donor base to more than 90,000, and es­tab­lished our­selves as the go-to in­ter­na­tional NGO on en­vi­ron­men­tal and conservation is­sues key top­ics such as haze and de­for­esta­tion, seafood, cli­mate change, and il­le­gal wildlife trade.

WWF Sin­ga­pore’s Tan says the im­mer­sive ex­hi­bi­tion Into the Wild (fac­ing page) aims to build bet­ter ap­pre­ci­a­tion of the rain­for­est.

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