Karine Tan


“I want to do my part as a global citizen to help make a difference in their lives.”

In a society that is growing increasingly apathetic, Karine Tan stands out for her passion for humanitarian work. Not one to eschew hard work, she willingly puts in regular late nights at the Singapore Environment Council (SEC) as a program administrator in order to see her efforts at saving the environment come to fruition.

Photo by Elliot Teo

 What is it like working at an NGO?

There are always two sides to things and it really depends how you view it.

Working in an NGO definitely means facing challenges that others don’t, one of which is limited funding. We have to liaise with a lot of partners or corporations to seek sponsorship or in-kind collaborations and support to promote our programs. On the other hand, this also forces us to be creative and think out of the box to explore other areas of promotion, so that we don’t rely heavily on monetary promotion. One example is that rather than using advertisements, we use social media platforms.

Due to the limited funding, we also have limited resources available – so a program administrator has to be aware of and manage the A-to-Zs of every program. While it is indeed very taxing at times to single-handedly complete every task, it is also another opportunity to learn every aspect of a project. This challenges me to think of how I should improve on a certain task to achieve greater efficiency as everything is under my care. These are the opportunities that I believe are hardly given outside.

Therefore, some benefits of working in an NGO would be that we are able to function on a “linear-basis”, red tapes are minimized and ideas get materialized faster. 

What are some of the projects that you have undertaken?

I am currently administering two eco-establishment certification programs: Project: Eco-Shop and Project: Eco-F&B. At the same time, I am also part of the project team for ABC Water Learning trails, which we administered on behalf of the Public Utilities Board (PUB).  

Do you have any memorable experiences at SEC that has impacted you deeply?

Truthfully, I have been given opportunities that I never thought I would get as a fresh graduate. I was tasked to deliver a talk to one of the major banks in Singapore earlier this year.

I have given presentation in schools before but giving a talk was a whole new league and out of my comfort zone. On top of that, the topic was on recycling which I was not familiar with at that point. Fortunately, my superior and colleague were a great support throughout. They guided me and assisted in answering every query that I had. Eventually I was able to deliver the talk successfully but it would not have been possible without them. I really appreciate this opportunity as they could have simply appointed the Resident Environmental Engineer to conduct the talk.

Furthermore, we also get firsthand information on the latest news or statistics on environmental impact. Looking at the horrifying statistics and reports, I started to be conscious of my own impact on the environment. From there, I made minor changes to my lifestyles such as bringing my own reusable bags when shopping for groceries or bringing containers out to pack food.

 Photo by Elliot Teo

Photo by Elliot Teo

Photo by Elliot Teo

That NGOs do everything for monetary purposes or that we are activists forcing our ideas onto others; the role of NGOs is to spread awareness and to make more people conscious of what is happening yet we are often misunderstood.
— Karine Tan, on common misconceptions people have about NGOS

Learn more about the Singapore Environment Council (SEC)

Founded in 1995, the SEC aims to create a lasting impact on climate change by collaborating on people, industries and governments to encourage and achieve sustainable urbanisation.

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What's a normal day like at the office for you?

I guess there’s not much of a difference between an NGO and other organizations where our main focus is to complete our tasks at hand. One fortunate thing is that my colleagues are young and fun. On top of that, the staff strength for NGOs is usually very small, which also means that everyone is very bonded. Rather than having your own lunch groups, almost everyone will gather for lunch together. In the midst of a crazy period, these colleagues are very important in providing strength and support to keep me sane and going, sometimes on a daily basis.

What keeps you motivated when the going gets tough?

Apart from my colleagues, it’s the fulfillment of completing an assignment or how the different stakeholders appreciate our effort and have benefitted from our programs. At the end of the day, it is the effort paid off that motivates me.

You dream of one day working for the Red Cross Society. Any particular reason why?

Humanitarian work is my core passion and coincidentally the Red Cross Society has the position that matches what I want to do. There are also other organizations out there that have the same rationale as the Red Cross Society, which I would love to volunteer or work for one day. Singaporeans are very blessed and fortunate. Many times, we see news articles on how citizens of other countries are suffering and then we do nothing about it. I want to do my part as a global citizen to help make a difference in their lives. I want to spread the blessings I have received to these group of friends who are situated in less-than-desired situations. 

What are some facts about Earth that people often disregard and how can we help make a difference?

 There are too many to mention but I have two that are at the top of the chart. The first is climate change. Many of us have been complaining about how hot or humid the weather is but many fail to recognize the fact that these are the after-effects of our activities. We always rely on what others can do for us and what the government can do but not what we can do, which brings me to my second point.

Rather than saying that we are disregarding the issues, we should say that we are in denial. There are many people who think that their single effort can’t make a difference. If everyone were to think likewise, then nothing can be done. People need to acknowledge that when one person does something, it can impact another person who can impact someone else. Eventually, you can impact many more to do the same and result in a cascade effect that is huge enough to make a shift. For example, if you reuse a plastic bag a day, you will save 365 plastic bags in a year. And that’s only you! Accumulation of daily minor efforts can amount to an immeasurable one.