May 2020

Leeds alumnus nominated for global award

Winston Liew (Law 2011) has been nominated as a global finalist in the British Council Study UK Alumni Awards 2020.

It follows his work as a placemaker and curator, designing community spaces in his home country, Malaysia, and across the globe.

“It’s very rare to get immediate recognition for the work we do,” Winston says. “We’re in it for the long haul, looking to create lasting change. Thanks to this award, we’ve been able to stop and take stock of what we’ve done.”

And there’s no doubt that what Winston and his team have done is extremely impressive. He is founder and CEO of Addonlife, a placemaking company who focus on developing new and under-performing places to trigger positive cultural shifts. Winston’s passion for creativity has also led to his involvement in art projects and various city-wide campaigns for sustainability and social change worldwide.

“It all started right in my room in the Montague Burton Halls of Residence. I’d just arrived in Leeds, and I'd begun to appreciate I was a global citizen. I got my first taste of different cultures through the campus community, and I remember having a little journal in my pocket everywhere I went so I could capture all the new perspectives I was seeing.

“I learnt so much about what was going on in the world, and I started to see all these things that needed fixing, which gave me the desire to start my own business.”

"This award has given me chance to look back on our own journey, to put things into perspective, and to understand we’re doing the right thing.”

Winston Liew (Law 2011)
Curator and placemaker

Winston has been nominated in the Professional Achievement category, which recognises UK alumni who can demonstrate the impact and scale of their professional accomplishments. Given the long-term legacy of the projects that followed his time at Leeds, Winston’s selection is hardly surprising – placemaking in itself is a process that focusses not just upon the building of a place, but on taking a people-centred approach to ensure significant, lasting change. Where Winston stands out from other placemakers, however, is in his dedication to creating a sustainable future.

“Sustainability has been at the foundation of all my placemaking strategies. That means making sure projects advance sustainability goals and making sure partners are aligned to those goals. Sustainability shapes the work we do.”

Studying the list of Winston’s projects, not only does this commitment become apparent, so does the tendency for others to follow his model.

Consider his work curating the touring light installation, City-Gazing. The installation raises awareness of light pollution while rejuvenating urban spaces, and since being first unveiled in Kuala Lumpur, has featured at Amsterdam Light Festival, Singapore I-Light Festival and the Beijing Riverside Art Museum.

Similarly influential, his design for the first and biggest ever pedestrian safety city-wide campaign in Penang was used as a framework for numerous pedestrian safety interventions. His Smoke-Free Penang campaign improved the health of thousands, and gained praise from the UN. His ability to breathe new life into under-performing spaces by infusing art with community hubbing strategies has been ground-breaking across Penang and Kuala Lumpur in building green hubs and creative spaces.

“There is a team involved in all these projects, and I’m grateful to them,” Winston says, as we run through the list. Regardless, it is obvious that he’s been key in bringing projects to life, making a tangible difference to communities. Not only that, but through his work as a TEDx curator and coach, he has helped others to do the same. 

TEDx events bring speakers together to present 'ideas worth spreading', and are later shared online. “I've coached and assisted more than 200 speakers in the past six years, helping them to bring out the essence of their ideas in their talks.” These speakers include the human rights activist Dato Ambiga, and Judy Cheng-Hopkins, the former Assistant Secretary-General for Peacebuilding Support in the UN.

All this is before we consider his involvement in flood relief projects, and the annual "Race for a Better Planet" sustainability campaign, which encourages people to take action to protect nature. The range of projects is staggering, the impact always positive.

Yet Winston will not settle on these achievements alone – he knows there is more to do to create a sustainable world. “Climate change is going to cause huge economic and social hardship if the issues are not dealt with properly. That’s why sustainability is not just a goal, but the main measure of success in my work. It’s not just a buzzword; it’s a journey of relentless orchestration involving many stakeholders. We need to plan how we are going to change, and we need an honest conversation about it now in order to make a difference.”

If his previous projects are anything to go by, Winston will put his all into doing so. For now, at least, this award gives him chance to reflect upon the impact he has made since those early days in his room in Leeds.

“I feel incredibly honoured and humbled reading the stories of all the finalists and winners from past years. It’s given me chance to look back on our own journey, to put things into perspective, and to understand we’re doing the right thing.”

The Study UK Alumni Awards 2020 winners are set to be announced later in the year. We will be keeping a close eye on the outcome – and wish Winston the best of luck.