Practical optimism

Above: Happy participants of the PUSH Design Sprint workshop at the World Urban Forum.

Yan Teh is a relentlessly curious twentysomething on a mission. Born and raised in Kuala Lumpur, Yan has been a diehard idealist from the beginning. As a teenager, she pioneered a recycling program at school which continues to run today, alongside teaching refugee children as a UNHCR volunteer and advocating for her fellow students as a student councillor.

Upon moving to the UK for university, Yan brought along her determination to achieve positive change. From working to influence university policy and improve integration of international students, to optimising the training program of her college football team, she has never stopped believing in better.

In London, Yan experienced a striking juxtaposition between the well-off and the less-so. Between glittering skyscrapers and luxury boutiques, the city’s homelessness epidemic was ever present. To learn more about root causes and potential solutions, Yan spent some time volunteering with Crisis, an organisation working to end homelessness in the UK.

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After four years of living abroad, Yan returned to Malaysia. Suddenly, she discovered that many aspects of the lifestyle she had enjoyed overseas simply did not exist back home. For example, she sorely missed the freedom bestowed by a comprehensive public transportation network and safe, walkable streets.

This led Yan to constantly ponder the question: What makes a great city? The sweeping riverside fields of Durham, where she picnicked and played football to her heart’s content? The endless buffet of arts and culture in London? Hong Kong and Singapore’s slick connectivity, perhaps. There had to be more to it than Kuala Lumpur’s famed food and shopping – one can only eat so much.

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The former Model United Nations enthusiast’s dreams came true when the UN’s World Urban Forum came to Kuala Lumpur. There, she discovered a whole new world: Thousands of people who not only believe in better cities, but are actively – and successfully! – working to make them a reality.

Yan turned the conference into an intensive boot camp on cities, participating in close to 30 hours of workshops, training sessions, panel discussions, and networking events. Inspired by what she learned, she set out to work with organisations that also believe “The City is not a problem – it is a solution.”*

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Yan hit the ground running. Two weeks later, she joined the team that delivered Singapore’s first-ever Urban Design Festival, heading up marketing and partnerships. Throughout the festival’s international industry summit, Yan immersed herself in the cutting edge of city-making. The festival filled car-free Keong Saik Road with two days of community-oriented activities, during which Yan was in charge of an official visit from the Parliamentary Secretary for the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth.

Building on this momentum, Yan went on to write a series all about cities for Malaysian car-sharing startup GoCar. The series emphasised the urgency and importance of sustainable development, highlighted new trends in urbanism, and advocated a shift from car-centric to people-centric planning. She is now writing for Think City, Malaysia’s foremost urban regeneration organisation.

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Yan graduated from Durham University with a BA (Hons) Combined Honours in Arts (Business and Music). At postgraduate level, she studied law. She is a proud alumna of both Hatfield College in Durham and Goodenough College in London. Her previous work experience includes strategy and client management at global advertising agency TBWA, and marketing and branding at Digi Telecommunications.

Yan loves exploring, writing, meeting new people, enjoying live music, cooking for friends and family, and learning new things (most recently: how to sharpen a kitchen knife). She lives with her family in Kuala Lumpur, where she has been faithfully composting for nearly a year. She remains convinced that she will someday plant a vegetable that doesn’t die. In the meantime, she is meticulously expanding her repertoire of Kanye West lyrics.

Yan’s writing portfolio is available hereYou can contact her here.

*Quote from Jamie Lerner, former Mayor of Curitiba, Brazil.