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  Straits Times 7 Oct 07
Get in SYiNC
Youth volunteer group wants young S'poreans to be involved in global issues
By Debbie Yong

POP quiz: Ever heard of the United Nations' Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)?

If your answer is no, Ms Bernise Ang wants to change that.

In February 2006, the 27-year-old set up SYINC, a network of youth volunteers in Singapore who organise events to instil civic consciousness in other youths.

For their first project, Bernise and her team of 40 ran a workshop to educate about 25 junior college and university students on the MDGs, eight targets set by the UN that range from halving extreme poverty to halting the spread of HIV/AIDS by 2015.

The workshop participants also came together later to form Footprint Singapore, which promotes the use of Fair Trade and other ethical products - certification schemes that guarantee a better deal for disadvantaged producers in the developing world - in Singapore.

'It's great to see young Singaporeans eager to learn about development. As young Singaporeans, we have been born into a lot of privilege. Let's use that privilege,' said Bernise, a University of New South Wales graduate who gave up her Australian citizenship to be based in Singapore, where she grew up.

Besides coordinating a youth discussion group during the World Bank and International Monetary Fund meetings held here last October, Bernise also gives talks at secondary schools and junior colleges on topics like youth engagement or climate change.

And she has all the youth fired up.

'You can hear the passion in her voice, she definitely believes in what she's talking about,' Vicnan K.P., 19, a final-year student in Temasek Polytechnic's Diploma in Communications and Media Management, who attended one of her talks and later asked her how he could help.

'I want to give but the problem stems from the sheer scope of what's happening. How do you pick which cause to champion? There are´┐Żonly so many hours in the day,' he said.

Vicnan is currently preparing promotional materials for the group's two upcoming projects: SYINCubate, a programme to provide grants and mentorship for youth-led community projects and SYINConnect, a two-day workshop and networking conference in June for youth leaders here.

On top of that, SYINC is also organising an Asean conference in April that will bring together youth leaders from Asean countries to discuss the implementation of MDGs.

For her efforts in leading SYINC, Bernise will be the first Singaporean to be awarded the year-long YouthActionNet global fellowship by the International Youth Foundation, a global non-profit organisation.

She will spend one week in Washington DC in November to receive leadership training along with 19 other young social entrepreneurs from countries like Uganda, Mexico, India and Romania.

'It's definitely a recognition of our work and, more importantly, what we stand for,' said lawyer Clara Feng, 25, who is in SYINC's steering committee and assists the team in legal matters.

But representing Singapore as a community advocate is nothing new to Bernise, who rattles off terms like 'sustainable development' and 'corporate social responsibility'.

Last April, she formed the first ever Singapore delegation at the UN Commission on Sustainable Development at the UN headquarters in New York.

For now though, there are two other authorities she has to win over - her parents.

The eldest of three children, Bernise recently left a full-time banking job to focus on SYINC, much to her parents' dismay.

'As parents, we're always very concerned about her future financial security. We wouldn't know what will come of her tireless efforts, but we hope that someday, her sacrifices will pay off somehow,' said her 55-year-old mother Cordy Ang.

'They think of SYINC as just a hobby, but social change is an important part of my life,' said Bernise.

She hopes to adopt a self-sustaining business model for SYINC over the next five years, such as providing opportunities for community-savvy corporations to work with civic-minded youth.

'It's easier to say, forget about this, I'm not earning money, putting in so much effort, and for what?

'But ever so often, I'm reminded by the amazing people I work with that there is something quite special about what happens when young people with passion and vision come together to do something for their community,' she said.

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