As a Civil Engineer, I always wondered how I could be different – how I could contribute to my profession, to my country, Tanzania, and to the world. Construction contributes to about 50% of the global greenhouse gas emissions. We often build without considering the long-term impacts of our designs and how we could accommodate the future generation. With the intention of creating innovative methods and designs that support sustainability within the industry, I embarked on a transformative PhD journey at the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) from January 2022. My research, under the supervision of Assoc. Prof. Lynette Cheah, focuses on the circularity of the construction process and exploring ways to control the impact at the end-of-life of buildings. In particular, I’m working on the necessary designs and methods required to make buildings more adaptable and flexible to future changes. It was during my studies at SUTD that I discovered the St. Gallen Symposium Global Essay competition, offering an ideal platform to share my ideas with the world and drive impactful change within the construction sector.
Participating in the Competition: Motivated by my aspirations to influence the construction industry’s environmental impact, I eagerly decided to participate in the Global Essay Competition. The theme of the symposium this year was “A New Generational Contract” which was a great way to motivate global dialogues and actions that think of sustainability and its impact to the future generations. With great enthusiasm, I crafted an essay titled “Built to Last or Built to Reuse – Creating a Sustainable Legacy Through the Necessary Transition from Designing for Building’s Durability to Designing for Disassembly and Adaptability.” This essay delved into the critical need for a paradigm shift in construction practices, emphasizing the importance of designing buildings that can be easily repurposed to adapt to future needs/changes, ultimately reducing the need for premature demolition and increases longevity of use of the structures – promoting sustainability.
Submitting just 20 minutes before the deadline, I had no idea that I was about to embark on a life-changing journey. Among thousands of submissions worldwide, my essay was selected among the top 100 best essays this year and I was then to attend the symposium in Switzerland to engage in dialogues with my fellow named ‘Leaders of Tomorrow’.
The unique St. Gallen Symposium Experience: Being selected as one of the 100 winners of the global essay competition was already an extraordinary honor but that was just the beginning of this incredible journey. Attending the symposium provided me with a unique opportunity to share my ideas with a diverse group of brilliant minds that flew to Switzerland from all over the world. It was an immersive experience, fostering intellectual growth and enabling fruitful exchanges with professionals and thought leaders from various backgrounds. It created an inspiring environment where I could engage in insightful discussions, expand my network, and gain invaluable insights into global challenges and potential solutions.
My Highlights of the symposium: During the St. Gallen Symposium, I had the privilege of interacting with renowned speakers and influential leaders who not only valued my ideas but also offered guidance and support. These impactful conversations further strengthened my conviction in the importance of my research and the potential it holds for transforming the construction industry’s sustainability practices. The connections I formed at the symposium, both with fellow participants and industry experts, provided an invaluable network that will undoubtedly shape and enrich my future endeavors.
The symposium environment encouraged open conversations among leaders of today and leaders of tomorrow. The attendance involved about 800 leaders of today and 200 selected leaders of tomorrow. I had a chance to speak with Singapore’s Minister of National Development, Minister Desmond Lee, who is in charge of Singapore’s construction and urban planning processes. Minister Lee was very attentive to listen to how my research project could potentially play a role in making Singapore’s construction plans better as it aims for a net zero waste future soon.
Together with him I had a chance to meet Daniel Grieder, the CEO of HUGO BOSS – with whom I discussed on sustainable approaches of the logistics of his products as they reach most African countries like Tanzania; Vanessa Nakate, the Climate Justice activist and my fellow East African with her new book “A bigger picture: My Fight to Bring a New African Voice to the Climate Crisis” which I’m excited to read; Ayọ (fka Opal) Tometi, the inspirational co-Founder of BLACK LIVES MATTER ; Her Excellency AU WPS Bineta Diop, the African Union Special Envoy for Women, Peace and Security; Toby Thorpe, the young and diligent Deputy Mayor of Huon Valley in Tasmania; Michelle Gibbons, the Director General for European Brands Association; Sarah Maria Nordt, the Founder and CEO of SANOGE; Ambassador Andrew Toh, the ambassador of Singapore to Switzerland; Ambassador Frank Grütter, the ambassador of Switzerland to Singapore and many more.
Motivating Change and Creating a Sustainable Legacy: Attending the St. Gallen Symposium has reinforced my determination to drive positive change within the construction sector. The experience has solidified my belief that through promoting the circularity of construction processes and designing buildings for adaptability, we can significantly reduce waste, minimize environmental impact, and create a sustainable legacy for future generations. Armed with the knowledge and inspiration gained from the symposium, I am more motivated than ever to strongly continue pursuing my PhD research and contribute to the broader goal of protecting our environment while advancing the construction sector.
To sum up, my journey as a Civil Engineer and a PhD researcher participating in the symposium has been a transformative experience. It has given me the platform to share my ideas and fostered a sense of purpose in contributing to sustainable practices within the construction industry. The symposium provided invaluable insights, connections, and inspiration, further reinforcing my commitment to my research and future endeavors. With a renewed sense of motivation, I am determined to make a lasting impact by designing buildings that prioritize sustainability, ensuring a better future for both the profession and the world.
I motivate all postgraduates to participate to the Global Essay Competition 2024 for a chance to put your ideas on a global stage.