Archives for July 2016

Working in Singapore

For a product-testing and certification company, Singapore is a great place to do business. The country itself is fixated  on quality and fervent in its desire to produce world class products, both of which lead to demanding regulations and a constant need for testing and certification. But opportunity also flows in from beyond the country’s compact borders. Singapore’s grade-A business infrastructure, and business-friendly rule of law make it a regional business hub for all of southeast Asia. Businesses in neighboring countries seeking to market products beyond their own borders naturally turn to Singapore for testing and certification services, making it a  truly ideal place for such a company like TÜV-SÜD to set up shop.

Unlike in the United States, many European countries have no federal regulatory departments like the FDA or EPA. The governments of these countries instead accredit private companies to perform product testing, auditing, and training according to domestic or European Union regulations. TÜV-SÜD (short for Technischer Überwachungsverein SÜD or technical inspection association – south) is the largest technical inspection association company in Germany  and the sixth largest in the world, with 2.3 billion in annual revenue. Its German facilities offer services ranging from evaluations of water purity and automobile safety to the certification of socially responsible labor practices.

When TÜV-SÜD decided to expand the company’s business to southeast Asia it is no surprise that they chose Singapore, where they took over the existing government-owned facility  called PSB. That acquisition gave birth to TÜV-SÜD PSB,the headquarters of its German parent company’s business in southeast Asia.

TÜV SÜD’s five-story facility PSB, located in Singapore’s science park, has labs offering electrocompatibility, chemical, microbiological, environmental, biocompatibility, and condom testing (for the WHO), which are routinely carried out in accordance with both domestic Singaporean and multinational standards. Across the hall from the biocompatibility lab on the second floor are the offices of the corporate staff–  marketing directors, a corporate board member, and the global CEO of product services. For a prospective biology major interested in the intersection of biology and business, the ability to work on both wings of the second floor provided an ideally integrated experience.  

On the science side I spent time in the biocompatibility laboratory, which performs in vitro and in vivo testing for medical devices. The lab has done particularly well both because it can perform tests that the American and European regulatory bodies require for medical devices, but rarely permit under their jurisdiction, and the legal incentive of manufacturers to ensure that their high-risk medical products are safe, regardless of the price of testing.

Though I was unable to participate directly in hands on testing, due to their sensitive nature and the short length of my time at TÜV SÜD, I chose and spent time closely observing specific tests over the course of my six week internship. I focused primarily on in vitro tests, which I engaged through reading test protocols, conversing with lab managers and observing procedures first hand. Screen Shot 2016-07-24 at 3.20.42 PMOne such study I followed was a “mammalian cell mutation test,” also called an AMES test, which detects mutagenic properties of a substance in reverse. Using cells that lack a functional gene for the essential amino acid thymidine, the ability of the cells to grow in the absence of thymidine after exposure to the extract indicates whether it caused a reverse-mutation that shifted the gene back to a functional form. Understanding tests like the mutagenicity, cytotoxicity, and endotoxin procedures I observed also proved useful in my other work at TÜV SÜD, much of which also revolved around medical devices.

On the other side of the hall, I worked on several projects for the medical health services division of product services. For my first project, I curated a long-list of attractive medical device testing clients based on factors like product areas and likelihood of being acquired by larger companies.  For the second, on which I spent the majority of my time, I searched for small American medical device testing companies whose areas of testing or access to top industry players would make them attractive candidates for acquisition. The project included research into the logistics and potential profitability of testing,  and undisclosed financial information of private companies, and my personal investigation into potential profitability of new areas of medical device testing.

My final project focused on increasing the efficiency of the medical health services division by searching for new ways to automate certain digital services processes. I investigated ways to streamline routine audits and travel schedule management for auditors, but my most significant contribution was  an outline for a web-crawling market intelligence program that would automatically screen regulatory approval databases of organizations like the FDA to identify potential sales leads and share them among the marketing staff at TÜV SÜD.

Though my internship was short, I felt pleased to have made two potentially valuable contributions  to the company. Several of the potential M&A targets I identified were received well enough to be included in a presentation given by the CEO of product services the following week, and a data specialist from the office’s digital “Center for Excellence,” was eager to begin a collaboration with the MHS department on a pilot program of my digital service proposal. For my own part, I came away with a much deepened and enriched understanding of multinational commerce, the worldwide regulatory system, and the daily workings of a huge, diverse business.

Working at a Non-Profit in Beijing : Americans Promoting Study Abroad

My experience at Americans Promoting Study Abroad has confirmed quite a few things I have read about working with non-profit organizations. First of all I would like to point out that this is an organization I have had quite a big insight and familiarity with before asking for an internship position for. APSA began with partnerships with quite a few other non-profit organizations. The idea was to have these other organizations who were more well established help APSA get on its feet and walk alone. However, that was never really achieved. Thus, we have the situation I am in now. An organization that is about eight years old yet does not have the stable base that it should have at this point. In our team of three, with two staff members from the One World Now organization, this summer we have a group of 21 students and a curriculum that we build as we go. There is far too much work to be done and there is only one full time staff member here in Beijing, our Executive Director. Being overworked and understaffed, that was my impression of a non-profit organization.

But many people would never believe the results we are able to churn out. To get so much done, with only a few staff members, within a limited amount of time, and resources, in my opinion we are all amazing here at APSA. And I am sure this is true for many other non-profits. The amount of fun and self discovery I have been able to enjoy during my internship has only left me with a positive impression. My research skills came in handy when it came to formulating short summaries of sites with hundreds of years of history and significance. My experience at Davidson College has taught me to wear many hats at one time in order to help us stick to a schedule or program. Although I have yet to actually find myself applying what I have learned in classes, other than my Chinese language classes, I have taken at Davidson College, my experience with extra-curricular clubs and networking has given me a better grasp of the real world and what it means to get work done at Americans Promoting Study Abroad.

Tower of Buddhist Incense

(Students of the APSA-OWN program in the Tower of Buddhist Incense of the Summer Palace)

Touring vs. Study Abroad : Americans Promoting Study Abroad

The first time I was here in Beijing was four years ago when I earned a study abroad scholarship by Americans Promoting Study Abroad (APSA), a non-profit organization, for five weeks in the summer of 2012. I found the program so impactful that I applied to the APSA Alumni Student Mentor Position in 2014 when the non-profit branched off into Shanghai, China; I was no longer a scholar of the program, I was a mentor. APSA’s mission is to not only promote global citizenship but also to give opportunities to students of color and low-income households who usually do not have the resources to study abroad. Founded by a small group of Americans who wanted to provide this chance of growth only some in our country can so easily afford, it was launched in 2008. It is part of the 100 thousand Strong Initiative, which was pushed forth because there were actually more Chinese students coming to America to study abroad than there were American students coming to China to study abroad. One of the graduates of the program, Jeffrey Wood, was even able to interview Michelle Obama during her first trip to China. APSA accepts scholars from all over the United States, from Boston, New York City, Chicago, Atlanta, Los Angeles, etc.

Right now the non-profit organization is experiencing a transition of Program Management and so it feels like starting anew. We have a new Executive Director whom I have been working with as intern. My work, in the beginning, consisted of data dumps of major sites around the city of Beijing such as the Summer Palace, Temple of Heaven, The Forbidden City, 798 Art District, etc. I would also compile historical facts and innovative methods that were used in order to build, preserve, and enjoy these structures and sites.

In a way, the program is almost like a tourist company. I say “almost” because it is the very mission of APSA to not be a tourist company. You know, the ones where you have a guide with a microphone attached to the hip and a tall stick with some colorful flag on it. The one that makes frequent stops and just regurgitate interesting fun facts around the area that you’re touring. We’re not that. Never that. The implementation of the curriculum that APSA provides to its scholars is not just about cultural exchange, cultural immersion, and global citizenship. It is also about leadership development. And being a completely different country is a great way for students to get out of their comfort zone and enter that special place where they learn as independent scholars and leaders. The learning is put mostly on the students to achieve while we have staff members who are there to help facilitate them along the way as we visit each excursion site.

So far we have allied with another non-profit known as “One World Now” and are testing out our new curriculum with their students. We have had good feedback so far as we have reached our learning outcomes but difficulties lie in how our organization, APSA, flows with the One World Now organization. Both simply operate differently in their approach to student learning and teaching. But part of my work lies in accompanying the students to areas such as the ones mentioned earlier and watching as they explore and take in the experience of being abroad. I can only hope that it instills in them the importance of studying abroad and that everyone should have an opportunity like this.

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北京

Ahhhh, Beijing, China, the city with something old and something new all in one place. I only have about seven weeks here and I know with all my heart that I cannot experience this city all in just seven weeks. If that were to be my goal, I would surely fail. So instead, my goal is to simply learn as much as possible from my internship position and to enjoy myself along the way. It isn’t my first time here but I am always simply amazed by the whiff of an almost rancid sickly sweet smell whenever I turn the corner, the leisurely old people dancing at night in parks, the use of squat toilets, and the power of the USD here in this country. That is my broad sense of the city, my more in-tune sense of wonderment overpowers any level of minor discomfort I may have about some of the cultural differences in lifestyle between America and China.

I was lucky enough to be connected to someone who knew almost every ex-pat in Beijing by my Executive Director. I was able to visit the local Queer Space that was actually really close to my apartment. Finding a queer community in Beijing was something I thought would be hard to near to impossible. But I was lucky enough to meet some amazing queer community members here in Beijing. I was amazed at how active the ex-pat community was as well. There were always group invitations to hangouts such as Friday restaurant nights and Sunday movie nights. With the freedom and opportunity I have, I was able to freely explore and enjoy my time here in Beijing as I work for the Americans Promoting Study Abroad non-profit organization.

 

It’s good to be back.

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The Sovereign Enterprise

 

Despite a marked lack of natural resources and a relatively short 40-year old history, the sovereign island city-state Singapore is a thriving and pronouncedly unique country. It’s an international business hub, one of the four “Asian Tiger” economies, and a world leader in urban engineering. Many also know the country for its multiculturalism and its harsh penalization of littering, drugs, and the even the possession of gum.

Some refer to Singapore as “the Switzerland of Asia,” and having now briefly lived in both, I certainly understand the comparison. Like in Switzerland, Singapore has exceptional public infrastructure– its airport is one of the nicest in the world and an exceptional network of high-quality subway, light train, & bus lines can transport one virtually anywhere in the city,  encouraging distributed income desegregation.

 

Screen Shot 2016-07-15 at 11.08.56 PM It’s also an Asian hub for many large multinational corporations, particularly in the finance and banking sectors, which attracts foreign workers to the country in droves. In fact, a combination of Singapore’s convenient location, low taxes, skilled workforce, modern infrastructure, and marked intolerance for corruption have brought over 9,000 foreign corporations from the U.S., China, India, Japan, and Europe into the country, causing foreigners to contribute 44% of the country’s total workforce. These attractive policies have, among other things, made Singapore the third largest financial center in the world.  Zürich, Switzerland’s largest city and financial hub, holds the fourth highest spot.

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The similarities end, however, when viewing the two from the perspective of governance, an area in which they fundamentally diverge. While Swiss citizens enjoy one of the most direct democracies in the world, Singapore seems to be run far more like a business than the traditional republic it describes itself as. Though the system of government is parliamentary and elections are clean, founder Lee Kuan Yew’s People’s Action Party has controlled nearly every seat in parliament since the country was founded and exerts considerable influence over the media, which is controlled by government-linked companies. His son, Lee Hsien Loong, is now the party’s head and the country’s new prime minister.  While Singapore has recently ranked among the top in the world for “order and security” and “absence of corruption” it performs far worse in categories like “freedom of speech.”  Furthermore, trials are held without a jury, protests may only legally be held in one designated area, and certain social practices like homosexuality are outlawed.

 

While such statistics may Screen Shot 2016-07-15 at 11.09.34 PMmake the country appear decidedly despotic, they more truthfully represent the government’s prioritization of the country’s national interest above individual liberty or other populist sentiments. Average workers may have little say in the decisions of executives (i.e., legislature and government), but have certainly enjoyed the benefits of Singapore’s explosive growth in productivity and prosperity. And indeed, the government’s policies and foresight have been the driving force behind this growth by making the country one of the most wholly attractive and easy places to do business in the world. Low taxes, loose financial regulations, harsh punishment of crime, the ease of requiring a visa or citizenship as a highly-skilled foreigner, and the pristine state of the city all helped to attract multinational corporations that the country in turn profited from. With duties targeting the more affluent, like the prohibitively expensive S$90,000 ownership license fee that one must pay before buying a car, Singapore has accumulated one of the world’s largest sovereign wealth funds that it devotes in part to the welfare of all citizens.  

 

Despite the government’s obsession with attracting foreign capital into the city, it does much to mitigate the ill effects associated with gentrification and income inequality through public investment in areas like public transport systems and nearly all the country’s schools. Perhaps most notable is the country’s subsidized public housing buildings, named HBDs after the Housing Development Board that manages them.Screen Shot 2016-07-15 at 11.09.51 PM

The government uses HBDs to protect non-landowning locals from ballooning real estate costs & to promote harmony among Singapore’s many ethnic groups, a task it achieves by establishing a demographic breakdown in each apartment complex that mirrors the country’s as a whole– about 74% Chinese descent, 13% Malay descent, 9% Indian descent, and 3% of other descent.

Though Singapore receives understandable accusations of being a dictatorship in disguise, I find it difficult not to view the country as a phenomenal success of pragmatic opportunism and perhaps one of the best cases against direct democracy in the world. Without the government’s shrewd rule, defined by Lee Kuan Yew’s commitment to the country’s long-term interests over individual input, I doubt the country would have ever established the same beneficial policies that have led to its success as a thriving business hub. This process has resulted in first-rate living standards and access to opportunities for all Singaporeans, as well as an impressively active role of the country in global affairs. And while some may protest leadership, most Singaporeans seem satisfied with the status quo–  85% of citizens expressed faith in the government and judicial system according to a recent Gallup poll.

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