Planet & Climate

Cynthia Ong


Planning resource use with "forever" in mind

Where will we be in 50 years if we continue on our current trajectory? Will it be a good place? These are the fundamental questions guiding Cynthia Ong's Forever Sabah -- a 25-year transition process for the Malaysian state of Sabah to go from a linear, extractive economy to a diverse, equitable, circular economy. With a focus on food, agriculture and fisheries, forests, water and soil, energy, infrastructure and waste, and livelihoods, enterprise and tourism, their model shifts decision-making away from short term returns towards multi-generational benefits. Cynthia and her team bring diverse coalitions together to plan resource use with “forever” in mind. One of its current initiatives, now led by the state of Sabah, is transforming the palm oil industry, working with smallholders and sustainable livelihoods.


Instigated the greening of Sabah's entire palm oil industry (representing 10% of the world's supply)

Advancing Indigenous initiatives for sustaining fisheries, mangroves, forests and wildlife in large wetlands of international importance.

Scaling rural access to renewable energy for remote communities, using hydro, biomass, geothermal and solar

Using the law to promote a transition to a circular economy

Interesting fact from Cynthia:

"Malaysia’s – and perhaps the wider region’s – leadership culture has its foundations in more patriarchal systems. I’m the benefactor, you’re the beneficiary. I’m the patron, you the patronized. We have been in this entrenched hierarchy. To disrupt this top-down single decider model, my intervention has been to use all manner of facilitation. Really, just bringing all the voices to the table. Creating formats and spaces where those diverse voices can be heard. Literally just changing the format has been very powerful."