Most beauty queens talk about making the world a better place—but not many actually do it. Then again, not many go on to speak at the World Economic Forum, found an award-winning social enterprise and launch an environmental campaign with their own online video platform. Former Miss Singapore Eunice Olsen may have worked as a brand ambassador for the likes of Blackberry, Shell, and L’Oréal, but all she’s really interested in highlighting is the plight of Langkawi’s coral reefs.
Like most people, Olsen didn’t know Langkawi was a UNESCO Heritage site until she went there—and her eyes were opened even wider when she dived beneath the surface on a guided snorkel through the island’s coral nursery at The Andaman Resort.
‘We are always focusing on saving the whales, saving the creatures, but we always forget about the corals,’ says Olsen. ‘Corals are live organisms as well, and they actually represent a big part of the eco-system. The corals [in Langkawi] are actually historically very significant,’ she adds. The Andaman Reef, as Langkawi’s coral wall is better known, is estimated to be more than 50m thick and between 6,000 and 8,000 years old. During her trip to the nursery, she discovered that Langkawi could have been completely destroyed by the devastating 2004 tsunami if the reef hadn’t been there to take most of the damage.
More than a decade on, efforts to rehabilitate the reef are ongoing and Olsen had the chance to lend a hand in the nursery by attaching coral ‘heads’ from Andaman’s fringing reef to specially designed Artificial Reef Module Systems, a purpose-built regeneration system where minerals from the dead polyps are used to speed the growth of the propagated corals. This nurturing process takes four to 12 months before the corals can be transferred back into open waters again.
‘Although coral reefs make up less than 10 percent of our oceans, they contain 25 percent of the world’s marine fish species,’ Olsen explains, sharing her experiences in a video she filmed at The Andaman Resort Langkawi for Tripvid, a travel video content platform she set up in July 2015. Though making a new name for herself as a humanitarian and social activist, Olsen does not consider herself an environmentalist. Not yet.
Olsen has always been an advocate of doing the best with the tools she has: harnessing the power of celebrity from an early age to help get things done. Crowned Miss Singapore in 2000, she volunteered for the Toa Payoh Girl’s Home (now the Singapore Girls’ Home) before rising through the ranks of national youth committees to eventually become the youngest Nominated Member Of Parliament in 2004. The World Economic forum followed, as did a spate of social ventures that continue to evolve within her organization.
We meet Eunice in her office—a modern, bright ninth floor space in stark contrast to the brutalist-style building it’s housed in. Dressed casually, make-up free, she asks her three young interns to sit in on the interview to give them as much experience as possible. The 38-year-old has paid her dues on both sides of the camera throughout her career, though these days she feels a lot more comfortable when she’s calling the shots—shifting the spotlight back to the big issues whenever talk falls back on her own life. There’s not one issue that is heavier than the other,’ she explains. ‘We cannot compare the stories [we do], but my team and I will always ask, ‘Who needs the voice the most?’
You can’t fault Olsen for effort. She can talking passionately about everything from deforestation in Asia and human trafficking, to struggling women entrepreneurs and female foeticide in India. But on a daily basis she continues to give others a voice: Tripvid is merely one of the entrepreneur’s content outlets for this. Award-winning WomenTalk TV was launched in August 2013, and has paved the way for programs like WomenTalk Pulse (two-minute clips of women who do amazing work in their communities) and WomenTalk Soul (a channel that makes wellness accessible to women of all capacities). The recent expansion followed a raft of accolades which included ‘Best Woman Filmmaker’ in the Hollywood International Independent Documentary Awards 2016, and ‘Best Documentary Short’ and ‘Best Women Filmmakers’ in the Los Angeles Independent Film Festival Awards, also in 2016. Clearly, Olsen and her team aren’t content to rest on their laurels.
Yet despite her rolling success, Olsen still has her feet planted firmly on the ground. For her, everything boils down to her core beliefs: ‘You don’t have to go out there with poles and be an activist [to bring about change],’ Olsen reasons with a smile. ‘It’s really just about what you do every day—individuals using what they know best to do something about an issue, whether it’s about the environment or any other cause. Do what your strength lies in.’
If a million people create ripples, they will gather, and travel, she explains. Similarly, if a million people throw away one plastic bottle, a million plastic bottles could float into the ocean and harm the marine life, which will harm the corals. ‘Don’t worry about the big conversations, just worry about how you can contribute,’ she says, inspiring the whole room. ‘It might be on a very small scale, but don’t underestimate the power of a small action.’
It all makes a lot of sense—but are people listening? And is it already too late? For that reason, Olsen advocates acting now. ‘It’s not a conversation for the ecologists, hardcore tree-huggers or environmentalists anymore. It’s so much more than a United Nations or a COP21 conversation. We should all ask ourselves: ‘What can we do personally to help to conserve this planet or area?’’
‘We might never see the long term effects of the good that what we do,’ she says, “[but] good impact doesn’t happen overnight. It takes years.’
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Main image: The Andaman Resort, Langkawi