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Surface Gamechanger

Creating a community, changing mindsets and cleaning up the seas

Samantha Thian wants the waters around her island home to be as crystal clear as she is about her mission.

“My biggest goal is to be a positive voice for change. So many people of my generation are disheartened by the state of the planet. I want to tell them that there’s hope, that change is possible.”

Thian is the founder of Seastainable Co. – a Singapore-based social enterprise that is helping to clean up the coastlines and the seas of Southeast Asia. To do that she’s creating a community that’s working hard to change the mindsets and habits of millions of people.

Her quest started in 2017 after an eye-opening research trip to the Philippines where she saw first-hand how trash was choking the ocean.

It inspired her to act. She returned home to Singapore and built a website to raise support and funds. She started selling reusable drinking straws online and donated the proceeds to marine conservation organizations around the region.

 

“So many people of my generation are disheartened by the state of the planet. I want to tell them that there’s hope, that change is possible.”

Over time, Seastainable Co.’s e-commerce list of eco-friendly items grew and the organization began running public outreach programs. Before long, Thian gained recognition as a green influencer.

She now spends much of her time consulting for corporations large and small. She helps develop their sustainability programs, increase transparency around their sustainability claims and improve their procurement policies.

She’s also accelerated Seastainable Co.’s public programming. Last year, she established the East Coast Beach Plan after monsoonal weather and heavy seas generated a 90% increase in the amount of plastics and other debris washed up on Singapore’s beaches.

So far, thousands of volunteers have taken part in clean-up efforts and collected more than 10,000 kilograms of trash. Thian is heartened by the response of the public. “I am part of something bigger, something that matters,” she says.

“The thing about sustainability is that is not just about the land, sea or the animals. It is also about the community who live and thrive side-by-side with nature and that is an impact worth making and a change worth creating.”

With so much going on for Seastainable Co., Thian has had to prioritize and delegate.

“I used to try to do it all myself,” she says. “But I’ve learned that by not holding onto everything, we can achieve a lot more together.”

 

“… we need to have faith in the people and the mission. We need to give them the right tools, and that’s when change really happens.”

She is quick to acknowledge that delegation isn’t always easy, especially when there’s no single right way of accomplishing something.

“It’s easy to rub up against people who do things differently from you, but we need to have faith in the people and the mission. We need to give them the right tools, and that’s when change really happens.”

Thian’s inclusive approach has helped Seastainable Co. to expand. Over the past few years, it has raised tens of thousands of dollars for marine conservation across Southeast Asia.  Most of her partners are based outside of Singapore and Seastainable Co.’s community mainly operates online. So, Thian regards a strong internet connection and her trusty Microsoft Surface as crucial tools.

“My Surface is everything in one. Most of our projects are done virtually. It’s a high-functioning laptop that powers all the work that we do. It keeps me productive, supports my presentations and keeps me connected to my community. And everything is in my Teams Calendar.”

To stay on course, she surrounds herself with positive people and finds time to read books that inspire her. She cycles long distances because that’s when she figures out how to grow Seastainable Co.’s reach and impact. Together these things help her maintain a healthy work-life balance.

“Wellbeing has been a challenge for me. It can be easy to burn out because there’s so much I want to do, so I have to be smart about it.”

Photos by Erik Magelssen.