Young Leaders for Sustainability (YL4S): Creating tomorrow’s change-makers today

Volunteering as Youth Crew at the Borneo Eco Film Festival 2018

Meet the new wave of young Malaysians with a passion for the planet,  the Young Leaders for Sustainability or YL4S. From working with communities to tackling waste management, to becoming ‘no plastic straw’ advocates on campus; these ‘sustainable superheroes’ are tapping into their biggest superpower to bring positive change to the environment: their youth.

“The idea of YL4S came about when we started our environmental school talks and realised that there was a strong interest among the youths to learn more about sustainable solutions. We were drawn to their positive spirit and ‘out of the box’ ideas when it came to problem-solving. We decided to create a platform to bring these youths together under the YL4S programme, which kicked off in May 2017,” said Melissa Leong, Programme Director of Borneo Eco Film Festival, adding that YL4S is part of the film festival’s Youth and Education Outreach programme.

Since its inception, these core cadre of youths have been participating in a series of workshops where they engage with leading conservationists, policy-makers, indigenous elders, social and environmental entrepreneurs to expose them to current issues and cutting-edge approaches to sustainability and experiential learning. Topics covered include ecosystem services and sustainable development, indigenous communities and conservation, waste management and composting, understanding Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) and conservation in palm oil, law and ethics, marine conservation, and more. All these workshops are run by collaborating partners and NGOs, including Wilmar International, NEPcon Malaysia, Future Law, and Forever Sabah, to name a few. 

“Apart from workshops, the young leaders are also exposed to issues by attending conferences, conventions, and running their own community projects, known as ‘Action Agendas’,” explained Melissa.

Action Agenda: Turning ideas into reality

After a year of gaining new knowledge, building capacity, and developing their passion projects, the Young Leaders began the implementation of their Action Agenda at the end of 2018. The youths were given the opportunity to pursue their environmental issue of choice and come up with community projects under the guidance of experts and mentors. Universiti Sabah Malaysia (UMS) Environmental Science graduate, Lim Way Yang, had the vision of turning UMS into the first ‘No Plastic Straw’ campus. At the helm is team leader, Imelda Geoffrey, who has been engaging with students and faculty to make this vision a reality. 

“Over the course of the campaign, we realised it may take more than a year to turn UMS into a plastic straw-free campus; but in the last few months, we have already managed to encourage several cafes (on campus) to reduce the usage by implementing a ‘straw by request’ practice to begin with,” said Imelda. 

For Nadine Stanley Mopilin and her team, they used an educational approach and engaged with secondary school students through their Young Eco-Ambassadors Green School Initiative at their adopted school, SM Lok Yuk, Likas. Nadine and her fellow volunteers ran workshops for 15-17 year olds, focusing on three modules: Water, Energy and Plastic Waste. 

“Through sustainable practices, we are hoping to make a positive impact in the school, led by the students themselves. For example, by thinking of ways to harvest rainwater and replacing some of the fluorescent lights with LED options, we are aiming to see a marked reduction in their water and energy consumption,” said Nadine, a Marine Science postgraduate at UMS’ Borneo Marine Research Institute (BMRI).

The final Action Agenda project was led by Daniella Han, who is also a Marine Science student at UMS. Since October 2018, Daniella and her team have been making weekend trips to SMK Pulau Gaya to run workshops and beach clean-ups in hopes of improving waste management through youth engagement with the school. The workshops are run in collaboration with fellow conservationists, NGOs and experts, focusing on reducing, reusing and recycling waste where possible. 

“Working alongside the students have been inspiring. We came up with a ‘sea bin’ prototype that self-collects trash from the sea following the tidal change. However, we ran into some issues with that and after several brainstorming sessions with the students, we created an alternative solution which is a floating barrier that stops the trash from going out to sea,” said Daniella. In the eight months of running their project, the team and SMK Pulau Gaya students have also managed to collect more than half a tonne of rubbish within two beach clean-ups alone. 

“Sometimes, we get criticised for organising beach clean-ups as many people think it is not a viable solution to the rubbish problem here in Sabah. However, our sole aim is not to clean a stretch of beach for a day. Beach clean-ups serve as an important learning tool for the participants as well. It makes us more aware of the types of trash discarded out there, which will hopefully lead to a discussion on how we can personally reduce our day-to-day waste and improve our waste management system,” said Melissa.

The Action Agenda projects will run until July 2019, after which the Young Leaders will consolidate, analyse, and share their project outcomes. “Regardless of the final numbers and data, these Young Leaders for Sustainability will walk away with an invaluable experience. We are proud to see them come this far; leading their own initiatives, engaging with stakeholders, rising to the challenge of real-world project management and, more importantly, being the change they want to see in this world. We need to start empowering our youth today if we want to create change-makers for tomorrow,” Melissa concluded.

The Young Leaders for Sustainability (YL4S) programme is supported by Yayasan Hasanah and UNICEF-Malaysia. For more information, visit or follow them on IG @beff_yl4s