Preparing for the Uncertain – Julien Leyre

Our podcast can also be listened to here.


Julien Leyre is a writer, educator and mentor. He started up numerous initiatives over his lifetime. He is a founder and is currently working at the Founders of Governors Agency (FoGA).

Quick Summary

What inspired you to want to go into tackling societal issues? Was it always on your mind or did you ‘fall’ into the industry? Could you maybe tell us about FoGA? 

Born in France and interested in language and culture, moving to Australia and finding out more about Asia was the turning point in Julien’s life. Seeing the possibility to combine the traditions of Asia and Europe in Australia, Julien decided to learn Chinese. He founded a project called Marco Polo which brought together the voices of intellectuals through collaborative translations. 

In 2016, he got a call from Sweden where there was a new foundation that looked at catastrophic disasters that could severely damage the world and how we can plan and prepare for that. There was a competition in 2018 to propose how to change the agencies we have in place today, such as the UN. The drive behind FoGA is to allow people to learn the basic building blocks of communicating issues and creating a conversation. 

With the uncertainty of the future and where the world will develop but how do we prepare the current people of today for the change?

Covid acted as a wake up call for people and all of our plans were ruined. But the pandemic isn’t anything new but we act as if the world will be the same as yesterday, everyday. This is delusional. The most important thing we can learn is to develop an idea that risks are here and anything can happen. Also we must organize our lives in a way that is resilient and in survival mode. 

Develop a life that is more balanced. We have to have a good work life balance as during covid, those friends and small interactions are very important. It’s not always about having a global network because at times like covid, we were stuck to those who are close to us physically. Building a good relationship with yourself and with your partner or loved ones is very important.

We see these changes all over the world. Students often feel like they are a tiny speck on the global stage. What would your advice be on how students can start and be part of the change? 

Julien suggested that we should firstly develop a good idea of what is our desire and what is actually fuelling that desire to be part of the change. It is important to find people who will listen. Sometimes, less is more and it is crucial that you understand what your message and desire is before you try and persuade others of that change. The biggest thing that Julien suggests people do is think “how can you create conditions where others are likely to listen to you?” 

If you could leave the youth with one piece of advice, what would it be?

“Less effort, more presence”. You should decide on what you want to achieve and keep chipping away at that rather than trying to grasp everything at once. 

Creating conditions for a better freedom.

– Julien Leyre

From the Guest Student

Julien Lyre provided an incredibly exclusive insight into the growing capacity of technology to revolutionise how governmental systems operate. Power has evolved from traditional military might to include more ideational forms of power resources, and technological innovation in government is the key to reflecting this transition. I was fascinated by his discussion about the potential for technological mechanisms to address issues ranging from wealth redistribution to terrorism. I deeply appreciated Julien’s guidance about developing good judgment and how to effectively articulate one’s ideas through empathy. While our seniors may offer valuable perspectives, having good judgement enables us to personally make decisions in unique and dynamic situations. Furthermore, employing a softer tone of voice can often make our ideas resonate better with our audience. Overall, it was a tremendous pleasure to be a part of the interview and I look forward to reading a copy of Julien’s book!

Naylin Al, currently studying at the University of Melbourne as well as the newest member of the team.

Shooting for the Stars – Tim Davis

Our podcast can also be listened to here.


Tim Davis is the author of TRIPOLAR: The Story of a Bipolar Triathlete, which chronicles his journey from childhood trauma into multiple addictions until finally recovering and discovering triathlons and ultrarunning as important tools to help him stay sober and in recovery.  He is a high school science teacher and coach in Los Angeles, CA.  He’s happily married with 3 amazing children.  He has been competing and coaching in triathlons and endurance races for over two decades.  He has completed 12 Ironman triathlons, seven 100-mile endurance runs, 1 double-ironman triathlon, and several 24 hour races. He is a strong and proud advocate for mental health and mental health awareness.You can follow Tim on his website at

Quick Summary

To begin, what Inspired you to write Tripolar? Was there perhaps a specific moment in your journey that set you on this path to writing this book? 

My biggest inspiration to write Tripolar, was to share my own message of hope and inspiration with others, and especially with those who are struggling or have struggled with the issues that I have – which include childhood abuse and trauma, alcoholism, addictions, bipolar disorder, anxiety, depression, and being overweight.  I used to weigh 250 lbs eleven years ago, and I’m only 5’9” tall.  I managed to lose 60 lbs in 6 months in 2009 and have stayed around 185 lbs ever since my “weight loss crusade”.

In your book Tripolar, you refer back to a point in your life where you felt as though you were at your lowest. It’s very common for students to feel as though they are in this same relative position. Whether it’s getting rejected by their dream university or falling into a cycle of bad habits, what advice do you have for students on how to move forward from this ‘lowest point’? 

Great question!  My advice would be to never give up and keep moving forward.  I have several mantras which I’ve picked up from others along the way and that I still use regularly, such as:  

  1. Dream big or go home!
  2. Never give Up
  3. If your dreams don’t scare you, your not dreaming big enough!
  4. Easy does it
  5. First things first
  6. Take baby steps
  7. If at first you don’t succeed…(you know the rest, right?)  try, try again!

I would also remind them that one locked or closed door ultimately leads to another opportunity.  Too often we get so focused on only one way or solution to achieving a goal we have set for ourselves.  As a kid, I always did well in school and almost always got straight As.  I dreamed of going to Ivy League schools, but when the time came around – I didn’t even apply to them, because I was afraid I wouldn’t get in because I only got a 1430 on my SAT.  I don’t let past regrets rule my life anymore, but if I could go back in the past and talk to my 16-17 year old self, I would have made sure to convince him to apply to those schools too.  You’ll never reach the sky if you don’t aim for the stars.  So apply to all your dream schools, but be sure to apply to other schools too – and be prepared to accept wherever the chips may fall as they say.

As for bad habits, I would definitely say take baby steps again and/or set SMART goals.  For me personally, I had several bad habits of drinking, smoking, overeating, and doing drugs for over 20 years.  I finally embraced 12 step support groups to get the help I needed to overcome them one day at a time.  So I would also tell them to not be afraid to ask for help and seek out therapy or support groups if they are having trouble dropping bad habits.  You don’t have to do these things alone.

As someone who is an avid runner and athlete, how would you say the qualities you have developed taking part in events such as Iron mans and Ultramarathons helped you in other aspects of life? What are the cross applicable skills associated with these activities? 

In order for me to become a successful Ironman triathlete and ultrarunner, I had to do research, planning, and networking.  I went to the library and bought many books written by others who had done ironman triathlons and ultramarathons; and I talked to friends I made and networked with them to pick their brains for advice and tips that helped them become successful at events like those. I used the knowledge gained to design and plan training plans to prepare me for my big races.  I joined the California Triathlon Club and met many other triathletes there.  I joined several Facebook groups for triathletes and ultrarunners there, where you can post any question you have about training and racing that other experienced veterans respond to and share their experiences with everyone there.  

It also takes hard work, grit, and determination of course!

If you could leave the youth with one piece of advice, what would it be?

Don’t be afraid to dream big and shoot for the stars!

Don’t be afraid to dream big and shoot for the stars

 Tim Davis

Inspiring a Spark – Deeya Bajaj

Our podcast can also be listened to here.


Deeya Bajaj is an internationally-recognized adventurer, speaker, business leader and founder of the non-profit, “Ganga Vatika Home for Girls”. She has summitted the highest mountains in 6 of the 7 continents of the world: including Mt Everest and Mt Kilimanjaro. She holds the distinction of being the first Indian father-daughter duo to submit Mt Everest. Additionally, she holds the record alongside her father as the first Indians to ski across the Greenland ice caps among numerous other amazing accomplishments. In this interview, we will learn about her journey and what the youth can take away from it.

Quick Summary

What inspired you to pursue exploration and adventure? What have you been able to gain from these experiences?

Adventure had always been a significant part of Deeya’s life. Even before she was born, her parents had set up an adventure tourism company and were passionate outdoor people. This passion was quickly passed over to Deeya as she grew up immersed in a world of mountaineering, skiing, kayaking and other such activities. Over all of these years, Deeya learnt numerous powerful lessons and developed invaluable qualities such as leadership and resilience. From these experiences, she talked about three lessons in particular: 

  1. Preparation – Deeya claims that there is no substitute for proper preparation, especially when it comes to some of the more extreme expeditions. We should always expect a myriad of possibilities to occur. 
  2. Positive Outlook – There can often be times on expeditions when things are harsh and don’t always go as expected. If one’s attitude is to look only at the downside of the situation, it can prompt a ‘path of negativity’ to occur. It’s very important to stay positive and keep a growth mindset. 
  3. Strong Support System – Appreciating and supporting the people around you is very important when taking on expeditions and other such challenging tasks in all areas. As put by Deeya, we should learn to ‘take care’ of this support system and embrace how vital it is for our success.

Why do you think it’s important that the youth immerse themselves in these sorts of experiences which push them out of their comfort zone? Are opportunities such as these still available even with Covid present? 

Whether it’s with or without Covid around, being outdoors is one of the safest ways to interact with other people and spend less time with our screens. As opposed to certain other scenarios such as being situated in dense public spaces. In terms of the student aspect, Deeya strongly agrees that the youth should try to spend more time outdoors and challenge themselves. Hiking and other such activities are a great method of socialization. Deeya refers to the vast majority of expeditions she has been on which have evoked meaningful connections and conversations with the people she has done them with, many of which came from completely different backgrounds and cultures. As they all have a united objective and are in an expedition as a team, differentiated features are irrelevant as a powerful commonality brings the group together. This is something Deeya thinks is very important in today’s day and age, where people often try to differentiate themselves from one another, whereas we should be focusing on the ‘essential humanity’ that connects us all.

As well as being an explorer, you’ve taken your experiences a step further by advocating and sharing what you have learnt through numerous platforms such as public speaking. If you could narrow down, what have been some of the most significant messages you have tried to convey through these platforms? 

The most meaningful message Deeya strives to advocate revolves around is the role of Women, particularly in India. Considering the societal norms in India, Deeya felt very fortunate to have grown up in a family which allowed her to do whatever she wanted regardless of her gender. This built a sense of appreciation within Deeya and made her acutely aware that this wasn’t the case in many parts of the country. Through climbing with her father, Deeya sees herself responsible to send a message to the girls in India that they are able to achieve so many amazing things, a notion that is only amplified by the positive support of their families. Throughout Deeya’s numerous messages, the one that stands out is the hope that she will inspire a ‘spark’ within other women to think beyond what they think their capabilities are.

If you could leave the youth with one piece of advice, what would it be?

Deeya left us with the message that we should always dream big and work hard to achieve those dreams. While on the path to achieving these goals, we should not be discouraged and instead take advantage of the resources that are available to us, whether it’s our family, schools or communities. If we work hard, stay positive and take the support of our community, we will reach heights much higher than mount Everest.

“If you work hard, stay positive and take the support of your community, you will reach heights much higher than Mount Everest.” 

Deeya Bajaj

Enacting Genuine Change – Jack Sim

Our podcast can also be listened to here.


Mr Jack Sim, or globally known as ‘Mr Toilet’, is the founder of the World Toilet Organisation (WTO). By the age of 40, he had set up 16 profitable businesses and chose to retire, switching his focus to pursuing more social work. In this time, he had Founded the Restroom Association of Singapore in 1998. World Toilet Organisation in 2001 and created the UN World Toilet Day (19 November) which is recognised by all 193 UN member states.

Quick Summary

What did the road to founding the World Toilet Organisation look like? Was this something you have always wanted to pursue or was there a specific moment that set you on this path?

Mr Sim’s journey started off as Singapore was going through a period of significant economic growth, he claimed he was able to ‘ride’ this growth and set up 16 profitable businesses by the time he was in his 40s. At this point, he chose to retire, a decision that was fueled through the rationale of ‘making the most out of his time’. Once he had attained Financial Independence, he felt as though the better use of his time would be to help others as opposed to making more money. As put by Jack, “service is the highest value of exchange for time”. As someone who grew up in a ‘kampong’, Mr Sim did not have access to the proper toilet infrastructure most of us are lucky enough to experience. He was able to empathise and truly appreciate the importance of living with proper sanitary toilets, resultantly setting him on a mission to provide people all over the world with an adequate toilet system through the World Toilet Organisation (WTO). His approach to solving transnational issues such as universal sanitation revolved around enacting genuine change as opposed to ‘talking about the issue’, he wanted to take an act of prevention before waiting for an event that would incentivise us to take action.

There is often misconception amongst youths that they have limited impact in contributing to solving certain transnational challenges. How can we demystify this notion? What can the youth do to enact genuine change in these issues?

Mr Sim referred to the misconception that we often think the world is a very large place, whereas it is in fact a lot smaller than we think. Using the example of Singapore, one can often be limited by the ‘Islander’ mentality, whereas we should instead look for interdependent channels and opportunities beyond our borders. The second misconception Mr Sim spoke about was access resources, stating that we don’t need physical resources to enact genuine change. We instead need to possess an open mindset which acknowledges that all the resources we would need are accessible to us, our next step is simply to think about how we incentivise these resources to join us. For example, when Mr Sim did his sanitation work at the World Toilet Organisation, he spent the first seven years without a single employee or co-worker. He instead leveraged various tools such as the media, where he told poignant messages on the importance of toilets while smartly mixing a humorous element. This ended up evoking a considerably large following for Mr Sim. Thirteen years later, this morphed into what’s known as the UN World Toilet Day, a historic day every year which is recognized by all 193 member states in the UN. He referred that this model is largely applicable to all fields, whereby if we wish to solve a problem, we should learn to leverage the resources around us and acknowledge their incentive for helping us out.

Can you think back to what was perhaps the most challenging moment in your journey, how did you overcome this and what can the youth learn from it?

Very often, Mr Sim finds himself in a situation where he runs out of money, resultantly, this can often prompt people to leave his projects. However, he has always carried on despite the severity of the financial situation, reason being is that these problems he chases need to be solved sooner or later. Once he truly believed in the necessity of the cause, he claimed that it became a lot bigger than himself, it became about the mission; once we turn something into a mission, it is almost impossible to abandon this mission. This applies to all the tasks we embark on, if we fail to enjoy it and find a sense of passion behind it, we won’t be doing it to our full potential.

If you could leave the youth with one piece of advice, what would it be?

The advice given to us by Mr Sim wasn’t something we would usually come across in the usual interview, nonetheless it was incredibly pertinent. He stated that we should literally set a timer to the day we die, whether it’s 80, 90 or 100. We should pick a date and find a countdown timer which gives us a visual representation of the time we have left. This encapsulates how precious each day of our lives are. If we could acknowledge this and use it to motivate our daily actions, we will operate with a lot more passion and courage.

Helping others is the highest value of exchange for time 

Jack Sim


Very honoured to be able to get his interest into the small projects that individual passionate students are trying to curate and make a small ripple of change within our own communities. Jack Sim is extremely down to earth in his advice and also his own business practices as he reminisces how he started his business previously and how he ended up where he is today. I personally felt that he has a radical character and is daring enough to try things that push boundaries – he mentions how he painted lamp posts and neighbourhoods and started movements just to extract creativity in a seemingly boring society. The best learning point I took away was about intention and how we should question the intention behind our every action taken.

Kok Chung Ong, Environmental Engineering student at NUS