The year 2019 marked the 10th anniversary of One Young World (OYW), a gathering of young leaders that Canada Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called “an unparalleled network of leaders from every corner of the world”. In support of OYW, Chartered Accountants Worldwide invites delegates from its network of accountancy institutes to attend the annual OYW Summit. ISCA had selected its OYW representative through a #CharteredStar competition, and I am honoured to have been declared the winner. I attended the Summit from October 22 to 25 in London, United Kingdom.

Delegate speakers and founders of OYW in Westminster Hall


Our welcome dinner at the Chartered Accountants’ Hall

The Chartered Accountants Worldwide delegates first met at Chartered Accountants’ Hall, home of Chartered Accountants Worldwide. OYW’s theme of sustainability began here, with meaningful ingredients such as forgotten leaves and Cumbrian beef, gracing the dinner table. At my table, Michael Izza, Chairman of Chartered Accountants Worldwide; Ruth Hidalgo, Head of Operations at Chartered Accountants Worldwide, and Francesca Sharp, Sustainability Manager at The Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW), shared their experiences of OYW amid the excited questions and chatter from the accountants sharing their journey to Chartered Accountancy.

Opening ceremony of OYW Summit at Royal Albert Hall

The next day was a whirlwind of activities from registering for the Summit to attending our first sessions. That evening, we attended the much-anticipated opening ceremony at Royal Albert Hall, an iconic landmark where flag-bearers from almost 200 countries proudly led their flags to the OYW podium in a show of unity and peace. The entire hall was awash with solidarity and warm applause, breaking down barriers of geography and race. Her Royal Highness, Duchess of Sussex and OYW Counsellor Meghan Markle, rounded up the list of illustrious Counsellors that included heads of states and conglomerates, and activists. We ended the ceremony with a “night at the museum” – the world-famous Natural History Museum. I marvelled at the openness of everyone to start a conversation, and was surprised to realise that one of the people I had just exchanged Instagram handles with was a Leading Scholarship awardee who had won one of 36 scholarships, from among 25,000 applicants, to represent Cambodia at OYW.


Underlying the entire conference was a message of global urgency and initiative to make our planet sustainable, as described in The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and manifested by the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). To date, SDG projects launched by OYW Ambassadors have positively impacted over 20 million people.

UN Envoy for Youth, Jayathma Withramayake

UN Envoy for Youth, Jayathma Withramayake, exhorted us to “make the UN young again”, while CEO of DSM, Feike Sijbesma, shared DSM’s transformation from a coal-mining outfit to a science-based company specifically addressing sustainability. Mr Sijbesma also emphasised that with the power of youth, young people have to responsibly use that power for the improvement of our environment and society.

Mohammed Amersi (1st from right, behind podium) and faith leaders

A key plenary topic was poverty alleviation, where sectors of people feel excluded from the current unequal economic model. In a heart-warming inter-faith discussion between Mohammed Amersi, Founder and Chairman of Amersi Foundation, and eight different faith leaders, the key message was that no matter what faith one practises, the essential values of humanity underscore all religious teachings. Just as bricks can be used to build isolating walls, they can also be used to build bridges to unite people.

Kumi Naidoo at the Q&A session on climate change

The relationship between climate change and human rights – two key SDGs – was also discussed. Amnesty International Secretary-General Kumi Naidoo starkly illustrated that “nature does not negotiate” and “the ones paying the highest tax for climate change are the ones who have done the least”. The frequency and ferocity of natural disasters have increased exponentially even as the Paris climate change treaty came into force, which led Mr Naidoo to state unequivocally to stop playing “political poker with the future of our planet”.


Some of the speaker highlights included the Young Leaders Alliance Forum, where Mete Coban, Chief Executive of My Life My Say and youngest elected Councillor in Hackney, London; Kostis Giannidis, President of the Erasmus Student Network in Belgium, and Sara Vida Coumans, Global Youth Manager at Amnesty International, discussed their work on politics and empowering youth. The novel concept of an inter-generational Board of Directors showed that harnessing the energy, creativity and drive of youth leaders to power enterprises greatly opens up a company to new markets and customers, and secures its future.

Young Leaders Alliance Forum

As a counterpoint, Chairman and CEO of The Coca-Cola Company, James Quincey, showed us how the packaging and delivery methods of Coca-Cola have evolved over the years to minimise packaging waste, and how they had created an economy around their packaging. As an accountant, the simple beauty of transforming waste to income was a stroke of genius which complements the SDGs perfectly. It made me realise that in our position as the financial gatekeepers and moderators of our companies, we can also be enablers of “green finance”, better waste management processes and also ensure that we maximise the use of our resources.

Chairman and CEO of The Coca-Cola Company James Quincey

The game-changing idea that saving the planet could also make good business sense was further reinforced by the delegate-speakers on the plenary topic of Planetary Health, who came from countries such as Nigeria, India and Laos. We tend to think that an individual lacks the power to effect change. However, individuals have stood up and advocated for issues ranging from deforestation and plastic waste to rising sea levels threatening to consume their hometowns. Their projects also strongly focused on empowering the local citizens to take charge of their environment, creating a sustainable model for the planet and its inhabitants. I found that Singapore shows its support in the form of grants and subsidies to promote zero waste and net-zero emissions, which I hope can promote actions such as reducing single-use plastic and reducing carbon emissions.

Professor Muhammad Yunus sharing on social business

No OYW sharing would be complete without mentioning Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Professor Muhammad Yunus and long-time OYW Counsellor. He had conceptualised a micro-finance bank by observing what “conventional banks were doing, and did the opposite”. Professor Yunus maintained that social enterprises must be sustainable, as opposed to the current state of wealth concentration. He founded Grameen Bank (the “Village Bank”), which focuses on financing entrepreneurs with “high default risk” and also vulnerable demographics such as women. Based on his life principles, his motto – Making money is happiness. Making other people happy is Super Happiness – shows why he is largely known as the father of both social business and micro-finance.

Disability activist Oscar Anderson speaking up for those with special needs

From a developed country’s perspective, I felt the issue of inclusion was very relevant. My impression of “free economies” and “open societies” was quickly disabused when Counsellors and speakers came forward to speak on modern slavery, oppression and bigotry in the workplace. I learnt that “blindness” covered afflictions such as retinitis pigmentosa and oculus albinism, and people suffering from “invisible” disabilities like vision impairments and mental illnesses were perceived as not “truly” disabled. The creativity of the disabled in modifying their life and actions to suit the “able bodied”, and their perseverance and tenacity in finding their own way in life would make them valued contributors and employees in any society and company. It is now normal to ask about dietary requirements when planning an event; it would be easy to take it a step further and ask for accessibility requirements.

One speaker, Future Generations Commissioner of Wales, Sophie Howe, piqued my interest. Under her advocacy, Wales has taken revolutionary action to safeguard the interests and challenges facing the generations to come and to assess long-term impacts of policies made today. As a society, Wales has bonded together to ensure the generations that follow us have access to the best of our world, which I found a very forward-thinking and admirable task. As an Asian society, our legacy to our children is of great importance to us, but largely consists of estate and financial assets. Perhaps we can also include our environment, culture and country in that legacy to ensure Singapore celebrates many more centennial birthdays. The grave statement that “there are no jobs on a dead planet” bolstered the importance of preserving the environment and also ensuring it can regenerate its resources, in order for everyone to benefit.


The OYW committee planned networking and entertaining activities for the delegates, in the form of high-profile dinners every night. After the rousing opening dinner, 13 venues opened their doors to the delegates for the Square Mile Delegate dinners. The Chartered Accountants Worldwide delegation hosted other delegates at the Chartered Accountants’ Hall, including playing an engaging bingo game involving SDGs as well as discussing the Chartered Accountants’ roles in sustainability.

The next night, we were hosted by the Foreign & Commonwealth Office at its beautiful and historic building – a venue frequently used to host foreign trade delegations. Minister for Asia and the Pacific, Heather Wheeler, greeted us with an inspiring keynote speech on the international programmes UK has enacted with several other countries.

A privileged visit to the Foreign & Commonwealth Office

The OYW Closing Ceremony is a decade-long ritual of memorialising the delegates’ graduation to Ambassadors. Each delegate penned his/her resolution on a piece of ribbon which was then joined to the ribbon ball that gathered every preceding OYW delegate’s ribbon, to seal our promises and hopes for the future. To conclude the ceremony and Summit 2019, the ribbon ball, reminiscent of the proverbial baton, was passed to Munich, the host city of the OYW Summit 2020.

Closing ceremony at Westminster Hall


I left the Summit, and London, musing on the challenge of how to realise positive change in our own home. What would be a feasible course of action in safe and peaceful Singapore? I resolved to start doing what I can to reduce my own negative impact on the environment. Each of us can review our lifestyle and habits and make choices that benefit our world’s future. By making these choices and having conversations with people around us, we can raise awareness and understanding about the SDGs and the future that our children will inherit.

Some Singapore representatives at OYW Summit 2019

Maria Teo was ISCA’s representative at OYW Summit 2019. She is Associate Director of Nexia TS Public Corporation.