Make Reality: Questions With Nadya Hutagalung

Nadya Hutagalung Photo

Nadya Hutagalung uses her voice to make positive change happen for all living beings and for planet Earth. The media personality, former model and MTV Asia host has parlayed her fame into becoming a fierce advocate for the environment and to those at risk. She has been a United Nations Goodwill Ambassador, a Global Ambassador for the World Wildlife Fund’s Earth Hour movement and she helped launch the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) Clean Seas campaign.

Hutagalung’s most recent project is We The Good, a campaign launched in Singapore during the COVID-19 pandemic, focused on migrant workers, mental well-being, and individuals and families at risk.

Speaking to PMI during the Virtual Experience Series (VES), Hutagalung discussed her most significant project, the challenges of launching changemaking campaigns and the importance of surrounding yourself with a strong team.

PMI: When in your life did you realize the importance of managing projects?

Hutagalung: I first realized the importance of managing projects in 2020 when I pivoted from the work that I am familiar with into a space where I don't normally work, in a location which is new to me, managing a team for We The Good, a platform focused on supporting various COVID relief charities in Singapore. We built up a team of around 11 volunteers and the effort required project skills that I didn't have before. It's become a great learning journey for me.

PMI: What is the most challenging project you are managing right now?

Hutagalung: The launch of We The Good has been the most challenging project. It was very reactive. COVID hit us all so fast and we sort of just jumped in and thought, how can we help? We didn't have much time for strategic thinking and planning. We are actually only now pulling back and thinking, how can we best serve the community now that we're a team of 11? We've learned from the things that have been challenging and also learned what our strengths are. So, it has been challenging, but it's also been incredibly rewarding.

PMI: What's the most significant project you've ever worked on?

Hutagalung: The most significant project that I've ever worked on was Let Elephants Be Elephants, a campaign that I founded along with zoologist and elephant expert Dr. Tammie Matson. The campaign was focused on helping to reduce the demand for ivory in Asia. That project led to a documentary that aired on the National Geographic Channel and National Geographic Wild in Asia. It was my first time producing a documentary and it really had a great effect. I was invited to address the U.N. General Assembly, with the result that all the places that we featured in the campaign that had ivory in the stores or on the streets no longer did after a year. The demand for ivory dropped, the price of ivory dropped and the number of elephants being killed to supply the ivory trade and demand in Asia also dropped. So, that's probably the most significant project that I have personally been involved with or initiated. It was one of the most dangerous as well.

PMI: What was the key lesson learned from the Let Elephants Be Elephants campaign?

Hutagalung: I think that with any project you need to have a sense of control and setting direction, but also to let go of your ego and make sure that it's a collaborative team effort. You need to bring people in who are skilled at what they do and let them be the ones who run their areas of expertise and not try to control everything. It’s so important to surround yourself with great people.

PMI: Do you have one piece of advice to help our community manage projects better?

Hutagalung: My best advice for helping to manage projects better is, again, to surround yourself with an incredible team and really foster a sense of community. Always try to build deeper connections within the team. And these days, because we are increasingly isolated and under a lot of stress, try to provide more support systems at work. It's got to be a win-win.

PMI: What is your moonshot idea that you would love to assemble a team around and make reality?

Hutagalung: I would love to create a changemakers curriculum to help foster the next generation of changemakers, so they better understand what it takes to be able to create change. How do you push for legislative change? How do you tell stories efficiently? How do you fundraise? And how do you stay well and resilient and adaptive and creative while trying to do all these things? Mental health is also a big issue that we are seeing across all sectors of society, but especially if you're striving to be a changemaker and want to create lasting change. 


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