Singaporean-born Karina Cady studied at high school and university in Queensland, Australia before embarking on a career back home in Asia. She studied a Bachelor of Environmental Management, Sustainable Development Honours at The University of Queensland (UQ). She graduated with 1st Class Hons with Dean's Commendation for High Achievement.
What are you doing now in your career?
I am currently the Director of Operations and Investments for Circulate Capital which manages the world's first investment fund dedicated to preventing the flow of plastic pollution into the ocean in South and Southeast Asia. We were established in partnership with PepsiCo (our first investor) Procter & Gamble, Dow, Danone, CHANEL, Unilever, The Coca-Cola Company and Chevron Phillips Chemical and backed by USAID.
In my role I lead the development of Circulate Capital’s impact framework and methodology which we openly source and publish. Adopting a transparent approach allows us to continually improve in strengthening the evidence-base needed to prove the investment case and catalyse significant capital into local companies that address the ocean plastic crisis while advancing the circular economy. Our work brings together public and private sectors for maximum impact. We need sound science and data to inform investment strategies and assess environmental and social impacts of the investment made. Collaborating to build knowledge partnerships with leading research institutes such as CSIRO in Australia and A*STAR in Singapore helps us share, improve and accelerate deployment of interventions backed by evidence.
Tell us about your student journey …
I was quite driven to learn about sustainable development at a young age. I grew up close to the mining industry in Indonesia and I was seeking out a pathway to better understand how to reduce the negative environmental and social impacts from such operations. Choosing Queensland for my Year 11/12 boarding school (St Peters Lutheran College) was for practical reasons. I knew I wanted to go to an Australian university, and at the time my father was working for INTERFET (International Force East Timor) peacekeeping.
Queensland was a convenient location to meet up on home leave rotations. Some of the key advisors at INTERFET were UQ alumni so, as part of my research into whether UQ would be a suitable study environment for me, I thought I should also try to finish my high school studies in the same city to help me integrate and grow a social circle.
How has your experience in Queensland helped you with your career?
The focus on indigenous heritage and rights in my studies, and later spending time in the Far North with Guugu Yimithirr communities, had a lasting impact on how I viewed intangible cultural heritage - even on the value set I held for my own mother tongue dialect. Advocating living heritage would eventually lead to my work with the UNESCO Cultural Secretariat. Providing a platform to community voices has become foundational to the social impact and engagement I do as part of implementing Sustainable Development.
Did you work or undertake projects with employers or industry groups during your studies? Did this experience benefit your career?
Yes, although most of my projects were in Indonesia and Singapore. I did undertake work with the UNEP Working Group for Cleaner Production in the Food Industry where we developed an Eco-efficiency toolkit for the Queensland food processing industry.
Getting exposure to this type of public-private sector collaboration during my studies was not just a great boost to my CV but in fact many of the insights from this are linked to my work today in the circular economy. These practical offerings that many Queensland institutes offer students are a differentiator.
What was the highlight of your experience living in Queensland?
The Great Barrier Reef / Daintree Rainforest / Whitsundays / Fraser Island! Studying an environmental degree in Queensland is a perfect match; the practical field work opportunities are like nowhere else in the world. Accessibility to awe-inspiring natural environment and the industries that impact these settings is a life-learning opportunity. It’s been over 20 years since I first moved to Queensland so I’m not sure what has changed in the student experience. However, the perception at the time was that it was ‘safer’ for international students to integrate in Sydney or Melbourne. But what I experienced was a warm, joyful, culturally diverse state where I made lifelong friendships I still cherish today.
I cannot imagine ever considering studying anywhere else in Australia, even if I choose to return for future learning - Queensland would be first on my list. Maroons all the way! (Editor’s note: The Maroons is Queensland’s rugby league team, and much better than NSW :) )
What career-advice would you give future students thinking about studying in Queensland?
I can only speak to the STEM stream so, in this regard, Queensland offers a unique, world-class opportunity to in-field practical learning and problem solving. There’s a distinct difference between the programs with strong industrial placements – real world applications – and the ability of those graduates to be ready to transition into high-demand roles, which a lot of environmental and sustainable development roles are. Getting exposure to the working groups and industry partnerships from studying in Queensland was a differentiator upon returning back to South East Asia after graduation.
Can you share any ongoing ties to Queensland?
I have strong ties in the close friendships I made during my studies. I am currently mentoring Queensland-based entrepreneurs and exploring research collaborations with leading UQ scientists and CSIRO biosciences team (based out of QLD) on ocean plastic pollution impacts and alternative material science.
What's the easiest way to develop a social-life in Queensland?
Explore, get into the incredible nature that Queensland has to offer. As much as I thought I did, looking back there is still so much I wish I spent the time to go and see. It was helpful being into both sports and the arts. Queenslanders are social, outdoorsy and do a way better brunch than NSW or Victorians 😉