Inspiring Youth Voices: Christopher Sheng 2023

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Chris, you’ve recently worked as a youth LearningPlanet intern at Learning Planet Institute in Paris. What was that experience like for you and what are your key takeaways? 

Being a person that has never been to Europe, I started to experience culture shock the moment I landed in Paris. I actually arrived during the Fete De La Musique, which saw thousands of Parisians partying on the streets. Every block that I walked to was playing music from a different culture, and the streets became one big dance floor. Being a Taiwanese American, I have never seen anything close to an event like this, and I was so eager to join. Unfortunately, I fell asleep the moment I arrived at my Airbnb because of jetlag. 

I believe that day really set the tone for what the remaining 9 days in Paris were going to be like – new experiences and perspectives. The moment I arrived at LearningPlanet, I immediately felt that things were different. This wasn’t a regular internship.

Contrary to the strict hierarchical system that’s present in most workspaces in Taiwan, LearningPlanet is different. I noticed that this institution highly valued teamwork and cooperation – having a team that doesn’t feel silenced by certain roles or labels. To me, that is the ideal workspace that I can envision for myself. Even as an intern, I felt included and involved with my LearningPlanet Alliance team. 

As I worked as an intern at LearningPlanet, I began to realise how much this institution actually does. They offer Ph.D. and master’s programmes, research labs, workshops, seminars, projects, and much more that I wasn’t able to fully explore with my 9 days at LearningPlanet. This institution offered so much that I found it hard to explain to my parents what LearningPlanet actually does within a few sentences. Here’s how I describe it when people ask me what my internship is about:

LearningPlanet is an alliance founded in collaboration with UNESCO and the Learning Planet Institute, which focuses on fostering interdisciplinary learning and breaking down barriers for education to tackle the world’s problems. 

The main mission (from my perspective) is challenging the traditional way of learning – something that I fully stand by. In all my years of school, I often questioned the effectiveness of traditional teaching methods but didn’t know how to make a change. But after being with LearningPlanet, not only have I gained a new perspective on how more effective learning can be implemented, but also how we can spread this type of learning to the whole world. 

Throughout my nine days, I’ve not only been able to help with some of LearningPlanet’s logistics but also external projects such as the Teachers for Planet Programme. I’ve also tested out some of the upcoming LearningPlanet projects, and I’m extremely happy that my coworkers were willing to listen to my thoughts and feedback. 

Cris alongside LearningPlanet Alliance colleagues Olivier and Ed. Chris is in the process of applying to be a Youth Fellow, too!

Overall, this internship has truly changed my perspective on the world. In these 9 days, I’ve learned new ways of teaching, project building, team management, and impact expansion.

Outside of the internship, I also got to experience the one-of-a-kind city of Paris, which also came with its unique sets of pros and cons. Nevertheless, the skills I’ve learned during my time at LearningPlanet will be of great use for both my charity projects and my social entrepreneurship projects. 

Special thanks to the entire LearningPlanet Alliance team, who made me feel included and a part of the team. 

After spending three weeks as an intern at LearningPlanet, are you motivated to start any new projects or ideas? 

Interning at LearningPlanet has exposed me to their wide catalog of ongoing projects, but nothing has interested me more than their sustainable campus development, and the resources provided for research. At school, I was never really a research type of student. I always found it tedious to spend so much time researching a topic that you were forced to research.

However, after being at LearningPlanet, I began to realize the excitement of research. I saw people dedicating themselves to topics they are genuinely interested in, and discovering findings that are worthy of sharing with everyone in the world. Then someday, another researcher might use these findings to make even more incredible discoveries, and the cycle continues. Being surrounded by a research environment, I became more and more eager to contribute to the research world. 

After I went back to Taiwan, I decided that I wanted to start researching a topic that was sparked by my time at LearningPlanet. The campus at Paris was built with sustainability in mind, using sustainable vendors for its furniture, efficient energy management, and promoting proper trash disposal all over campus. These are all actions that ESG regulations are trying to promote, yet, I barely see it happening on other campuses. So my curiosity sparked – are ESG efforts really working? 

Then my research question was born – How has the implementation of ESG factors on industries promoted the growth of green innovation?  I hope to assess the authenticity of ESG efforts in emerging industries, with a focus on the companies that claim to be putting in work to be environmentally responsible, and distinguish whether or not these companies are genuinely adopting green practices or just greenwashing. The goal of this research paper is to be able to provide an unbiased analysis of how much our current ESG implementation laws are really driving green innovation, and whether or not certain ESG verification methods or laws need to change. 

To ensure full authenticity and accuracy for this research paper, I’m hoping to get the support of LearningPlanet on this ESG research project. Being provided with trustworthy datasets or being connected with ESG-related NGOs and experts would provide a much more unique perspective to my paper. But most importantly, I hope to utilize the power of the Youth Fellows. I will assemble a team of equally passionate students, and corporate on this research paper not only for peer review purposes, but also to give the research paper less bias and more unique perspectives. 

I firmly believe that ESG practices must be enforced in our economy in order to have a fighting chance against climate change. I hope this research paper can also inspire other Youth Fellows to start research on ESG, or even perhaps start implementing ESG in the areas in which they are able to. 

What was the biggest obstacle you faced when creating your sustainable fashion startup Tomorrow? How did you overcome that?

One of the biggest challenges I faced was doing this project alone. Tomorrow actually started off as a group project. I always wanted a partner for this business because I didn’t have the confidence to validate my own choices. I also didn’t have the confidence to do something that none of my friends were doing, so having a partner relieved that fear from me. However, disagreements with where the company should head led to our splitting. Other partners also left as they weren’t up for the responsibilities it takes to run a business.

 Eventually, I was left alone, and I heavily considered quitting. Without validation and opinions from others, I didn’t trust that I could take the business the right way. By that time, I was already halfway into the business-building process. Quitting would’ve meant losing a big amount of money, but continuing would’ve meant losing an even bigger amount of money with a small chance of taking it back.

But then, I thought back to one of my favorite movies, Top Gun, and remembered one of the most iconic lines delivered by Tom Cruise: “Don’t think, just do”. In other words, take a leap of faith, trust yourself and your instincts. 

I felt that building this business is something I really wanted to do and something that the Taiwanese fashion market really needs. I also believed that however, this business turns out – bust or success – I will still get a great learning experience out of this process. Trusting my instincts, I continued to work hard at building the business brick by brick. 

This wasn’t an easy road, and I faced a ton of setbacks. I had to learn graphic design, website building, communicating with manufacturers, negotiations, shipping – I can go on and on. I remember distinctly when I first got scammed by a Chinese manufacturer.

I ended up trusting a manufacturer that seemed great on the outside and spent 200 USD on samples. A month later, I received the samples, and they were far below what I expected. Materials were rough, tags weren’t printed correctly, and graphics had pixelated printing as well. When I tried to get a hold of them to discuss this problem, they never replied to me. 

Looking back on this two month planning period, I can say with confidence that I wouldn’t have changed a thing. Despite the grueling hardships, the amount of knowledge, skills, and mental strength that I’ve acquired is absolutely invaluable.

Building this business really marked a turning point in my life. With more determination, self-belief, and experience, I was able to accomplish a lot more things in high school that I otherwise wouldn’t have been able to do. 

Now, Tomorrow has been recognized by multiple media outlets. Since its founding, Tomorrow has saved 255,528 L of water, prevented 3.04kg of microplastics from going into the ocean, and planted 231 trees, which equates to 11,086 lbs of CO2 captured per year.

I’m excited to continue to build this business throughout high school, and continue to learn and improve myself as a business manager and a team leader.

How do you think LearningPlanet can or will be able to help improve your projects?

Having access to LearningPlanet materials has truly helped me in developing Tomorrow. Being a part of LearningPlanet, I was able to network with many like-minded people with incredible accomplishments and achievements. I studied the work of people from the Youth Fellows Alliance, and found many good ideas and inspirations that I was able to transfer over to my own projects.

LearningPlanet is also able to expand my speaking platform. Tomorrow is not just a social enterprise, but also a message to everyone that business does not have to be polluting. With the help of LearningPlanet, I was able to speak on big platforms and advisory boards that allowed me to spread Tomorrow’s message. 

What is your advice for young entrepreneurs seeking to create the same impact?

I’ve answered this last year here, but I have new pieces of advice for aspiring entrepreneurs. 

First, you have control of your own destiny. I feel like the recent SpiderMan: Across the Spider-Verse carries this message very well (10/10 movie btw). I’ll try not to spoil anything. In the movie, there are these things called “Canon Events”, which are events that must happen to each Spider-Man for them to fulfill their destiny – being Spider-Man. Most Spider-people have accepted the canon events as a fact – an unchangeable future.

However, Miles, being the main character, decides to defy everyone and prevent his “Canon Event” from happening. I feel like this reflects how teenagers nowadays are being told by so many people what their future should be like. Throughout my whole life, I’ve been told by classmates and adults who I should be based on my past behaviors.

I was told by a lot of my local school teachers in Taiwan as “too misbehaving”, “too hyperactive”, or “always talking back”, and I was considered a bad apple in the class. They always told me that students like me will end up as [insert bad job/career here].  For many years, I wasn’t able to break out of the labels put on me since elementary school and instead played into them. 

However, as I grew up, I began to see this narrative can change. Who are these people to tell me what I can and can’t be? These “Canon Events” won’t need to happen once I take full responsibility for my own life. I began realising my faults and changed them for the better. If I had listened to my local school teachers, I would’ve never been able to start this social enterprise or start my charity club. However, we all must realize that with enough hard work and dedication, you can defy whatever expectations and labels that are set for you. At the end of the day, you are in control of your future. 

Most importantly, don’t be afraid to fail. A lot of what we see online only highlights the achievements of certain people, which makes us even more scared to fail. I know I was a victim of this. But now, looking back on it, I realize that failing isn’t real. This is a philosophy that my idol Kobe Bryant abides by too. “If I fail on Monday…I’m going to learn something from that failure and try again on Tuesday, then try again on Wednesday…the worst possible thing is for you to stop.” Seeing failure as a process rather than a label has allowed me to let go of fear in not just entrepreneurship, but all aspects of my life.

Meet Christopher

Christopher Sheng is a teenage social entrepreneur, philanthropist, and multi-award-winning international speaker with a strong passion towards restoring our environment. When he was a freshman, the lack of sustainable apparel options for Taiwanese consumers motivated him to start developing a sustainable clothing brand. His social enterprise and other projects earned him news recognition and an invitation to multiple speaking events. 

Chris is the founder and CEO of sustainable clothing startup Tomorrow, founded in 2021. In the same year, Chris launched his interschool charity called the Climate Change Club, which aims to tackle climate change through action, education, and activism. Bringing together the efforts of multiple schools, the CCC has also been recognized by the Taiwanese government and multiple news outlets. 

Chris is also an avid tennis and basketball player and spends a lot of his free time doing physical activity. In addition, Chris is also a music enthusiast, producing beats on his computer, and playing instruments like the guitar and piano. 

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