A chance encounter online between two overseas Macao students led to a dynamic partnership – as the two young women pooled their skills to educate their home city about sustainable development and encourage a new generation to step forward.
The local NGO Genervision was founded by two students in January 2021. Their mission is to share knowledge and promote sustainable development through events, educational videos, field trips and cross-sector collaboration.
The group’s work has already won international recognition. In October 2021, the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network Youth (SDSN Youth) invited Genervision House to join, the first group in Macao to do so. With 750 member organisations across 127 countries, the UN programme empowers young people to plan, advocate and work towards achieving the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
“It feels exciting to be part of [SDSN Youth] because we can do more with international resources and assistance,” says 24-year-old Genervision House co-founder and Macao resident Christy Un, her eyes sparkling with excitement. “We want to collaborate with different experts worldwide so we can bring the best practices to Macao, as well as share our stories with a global audience.”
No better me
While starting an association during the Covid-19 pandemic posed a number of challenges, Un and 27-year-old co-founder Arianna U say the devastation and uncertainty around the globe motivated them to act.
In the years leading up to Genervision, U, also a Macao resident, had worked for a year in Mozambique as one of the first UNESCO interns from Macao, specialising in communications. Meanwhile, Un studied for a Politics and International Relations BSc at the London School of Economics and Political Science before joining a UNHCR internship in Jordan, assisting refugees from Syria.
The experience was a powerful one. “As I worked inside the refugee camp on a daily basis, I interacted with refugees and learned about their respective stories. From these interactions, I learned more about Syrian culture, refugees’ difficulties as well as their determination to create possibilities for themselves.”
Though they hadn’t met in person, Un discovered her future teammate’s blog online and reached out to her in 2019.
They travelled together in Jordan and Egypt in 2020. U then continued her international trip alone before both had to return to Macao due to the pandemic. For several months before their return, Jordan was under a stringent nationwide curfew, with air-raid sirens echoing through the capital Amman every day, Un recalls. The country also suffered from a supply shortage at the beginning of the pandemic and Un recalls eating only warmed-up frozen meals for weeks on end, apart from occasional fresh vegetables delivered by her kind landlord.
“It was also very difficult to obtain real-time information as the situation unfolded rapidly and changed every day,” Un says, adding how grateful she is to her Jordanian friends who supported and assisted her. “It was also not easy to fly back as flights kept being cancelled.” Eventually, she managed to get on a Macao-bound plane, where she was amazed to discover that U, who had been in Norway, was a fellow passenger.
During quarantine, they constantly messaged each other and made video calls and so their idea for Genervision House took shape. The pair chose the name “Genervision” to signal that it’s time for the next generation to step up and create a more sustainable world, they explain.
After quarantine, both young women took up new jobs. Un worked as a research assistant for the United Nations University Institute in Macau’s Cyber Resilience project, while U freelanced as a communication consultant. U is now pursuing a PhD in international relations from Tsinghua University in Beijing. But they continue to plan and invest in Genervision House in their free time.
“We really want more people to learn about the UN SDGs, from school students to corporates,” says Un, who is the association’s chief operating officer while still working full-time. “At first, it was just the two of us but then, in less than a year, we now have 10 core members, all of whom are volunteers,” she says, adding that some work virtually while others reside in Macao.
What are the SDGS?
At the turn of the millennium, the UN established eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to create a more equitable, healthier and more sustainable future for all. To build on the MDGs’ momentum, the UN proposed an expanded list of 17 goals in July 2014 that outlined global targets for 2030. Some of the goals focus on tackling poverty – such as No Poverty, Zero Hunger, Quality Education and Reduced Inequality – while others tackle employment, consumption, health, wellbeing, climate action, clean water and more.
While it intends to address all the 17 SDGs in Macao in the future, Genervision House currently focuses on five areas: Quality Education, Gender Equality, Reduced Inequality, Climate Action, and Sustainable Cities and Communities.
While all the goals are important, the pair believe these specific SDGs are the most essential for Macao. For example, the UN’s “Sustainable Cities and Communities” goal focuses on making human habitats “inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable”, which Un and U say is directly relevant to Macao’s urban lifestyle.
“Macao faces floods and typhoons,” says Un, of the importance of addressing this SDG. The group also supports “smart city” initiatives because smart technology has the power to improve infrastructure, communication, safety and sustainability. In addition, if Macao evolves into a smart city, the pair believes there would be greater transparency for planning, implementing and tracking the progress of Macao’s sustainability. For this reason, the group is learning and sharing knowledge about the technology needed to make Macao a smart city.
In the same vein, the pair also raises awareness about cybercrimes, because they believe Macao needs to protect citizens and companies. “This relates to the ‘resilience’ of the city,” Un says. “It also has many societal, environmental and governance benefits.
A spirit of collaboration
Achieving the SDGs by 2030 will require cooperation between the government, private sector and local people. All too aware of the collective efforts needed, Genervision House holds workshops for corporations and policymakers, where the NGO demonstrates how to implement SDGs holistically.
In the past 12 months, Genervision House held workshops at Wynn Macau and Sands China. Staff from both integrated resorts participated in interactive role-playing discussions and learned about the companies’ best practices relating to SDGs.
At Wynn Macau, its sustainability efforts combine environmental protection with community care. Through an innovative approach, it contributes to the SDGs by donating its surplus uneaten fruit to the Fuhong Society of Macau where they are turned into fruit tea.
At Sands China, they discussed all the sustainable development systems already in place within the company, with their workshop session ending with a call to action for sustainable business and personal change.
By forging partnerships across different sectors, Genervision House hopes to reach more people. It also advocates a three-pronged approach: raising awareness, creating a diverse community of like-minded people and working with policymakers.
“Everyone has a role to play, and raising awareness from different corners of society is just the first step,” says 23-year-old Gladys Ng, the Environmental, Social and Governance and community project manager at Genervision House. “Many people in Macao are unfamiliar with the term ‘sustainable development’ or perceive it as solely environmental protection. We want to start by changing people’s minds through education and media exposure.”
While the SDGs have been translated and circulated in Chinese, many misconceptions remain. “When they’re just starting to learn about the term, people might associate it at first with environmental protection,” says Ng.
“If people have more opportunities and channels to learn about sustainability, it is only a matter of time before they understand the importance of the SDGs,” adds Ng positively.
Un agrees, adding that the group plans to raise awareness through offline activities, such as workshops, and online content, for example monthly newsletters and videos. “We’ve also held experiential activities, like our Gutenberg Soap Series Workshop,” says Ng.
In collaboration with local artist Oriana Cheong, participants gathered at the Centro de Cultura e Artes Performativas Cardeal Newman in May to discuss sustainable consumption, while carving beautiful patterns on recycled soap collected from staycations and quarantine stays. They then used the patterned soap to stamp greeting cards made out of recycled paper.
For International Women’s Day in March, Genervision House organised a potluck event at Hac Sa Beach in Coloane with the Language Exchange & Culture Promotion Association to discuss gender equality – another SDG – over board games. Ng says they strive to host more events in the future and are currently planning another farming event.
In addition to community events, the association seeks to collaborate with policymakers and present solutions to bring the SDGs to the fore. While sustainable development has played a more central role in recent policy plans, the city has yet to integrate the SDGs into official strategies.
“Our vision is big, and it definitely will take time, but we are hopeful,” Un says. “We’re just beginning, but we’ve seen many more new faces and heard many more new voices who care about this topic… We can all adopt [the 17 SDGs] in our daily lives. It’s never too late to care about sustainable development.”