Behind the Fall: YIRPA’s Conflict of Interest with The Global Citizen
story | Pham Le Vi and Dave Chappell, Executive Editors
photo | Dave Chappell
On Jan. 15, 2017, the Yale-NUS International Relations and Political Association (YIRPA) appeared to be riding high. It had just hosted the third Yale-NUS College Asia Pacific Model United Nations (YNC-AP MUN), one of the largest Model UN (MUN) conferences in Asia. The event had six sponsorships and two partnerships, featured the Minister for Defence of Singapore as its guest of honor, and brought the organization one step closer to its final aim of hosting Harvard WorldMUN—the largest international collegiate-level MUN conference in the world.
Within 24 hours of the closing ceremony, the Dean of Students (DoS) Office informed YIRPA that it was suspended indefinitely, pending a review of their operations. The subsequent investigation identified seven policy violations and ordered six mandatory sanctions. The organization remains on indefinite suspension.
The apparent conflict between private interests of the founders and the interests of YIRPA as a student organization helped cause an implosion of Yale-NUS College’s largest student organization. Interviews conducted over the past ten months with over 20 students, former YIRPA members, and administrators paint a picture of how the overlap in leadership allowed The Global Citizen, a private company set up by YIRPA’s founders, to benefit from YIRPA’s access to Yale-NUS’s funding and facilities.
“It’s quite clear now that there is a conflict of interest [between YIRPA and The Global Citizen],” Petrina Loh, Manager at the DoS Office who oversees student organizations, said in an interview.
The suspension originated from a five-page student complaint to the DoS Office. The Octant spoke with this student on condition of anonymity. The student said the complaint raised two issues. First, there seemed to be an overlap between the leadership of YIRPA and three private companies (The Global Citizen, the Impressionists, a subsidiary company of The Global Citizen, and MUN Inc.). These companies were founded by senior YIRPA members. Second, YIRPA was late in handing out reimbursements for students who attended overseas conferences—over a year after the event in some cases.
On Aug. 15, the DoS made five of the seven policy violations committed by YIRPA public, during a Yale-NUS Student Government meeting, to serve as a cautionary example for other student organizations. These included YIRPA’s late reimbursements but did not reference YIRPA’s ties to these private companies. The other two violations were not released because they were related to YIRPA’s internal practices; thus, they were specific to YIRPA and did not apply to other student organizations, according to Ms. Loh.
On Oct. 23, The Octant reached out to The Global Citizen for comment and received a letter from their solicitor, Ignatius Joseph. The letter confirmed that The Global Citizen’s directors had been under investigation by Yale-NUS and the National University of Singapore—something Yale-NUS administrators had declined to do.
None of the people interviewed for this article raised issues with MUN Inc. or The Impressionists.
Conflict of Interests
The Global Citizen is a private education company founded by Walter Yeo ’17, YIRPA’s first President, and Jared Yeo ’17 (no relation), YIRPA’s first Vice-President for Political Affairs. The company is also staffed by several former YIRPA members, including the organization’s most recent President and Vice-President for International Relations.
The Global Citizen reportedly consists of over 60 full-time, part-time and freelance staff, and offers academic co-curricular activities such as debate and public-speaking workshops in six countries, with over a dozen clients in Singapore alone.
Ms. Loh said that she was initially not aware of the overlap in leadership between the YIRPA and the Global Citizen and this was only brought to her attention during the time after the investigation. She said that she was not at liberty to share further details about the conflict of interest because it affects individual student records.
The Global Citizen sponsored YIRPA’s flagship event, YNC-APMUN in 2016 and 2017. In addition, both parties also worked closely on summer activities for high school students; however, several senior members of YIRPA were initially unaware of this fact.
According to Denise See ’19, Under Secretary General of Sponsorships at YNC-APMUN 2017, one of The Global Citizen’s members said the company would be providing $1000 in sponsorship for this conference. In return, YIRPA publicized The Global Citizen. “The check was promised, but in the end I never personally received it,” she said. She added that this might be due to the suspension of YIRPA right after the conference.
The Global Citizen also said that it sponsored YNC-AP MUN in 2016 on its website. However, the $1,000 sponsorship cheque was also not banked in 2016, in the confusion caused by an exodus of YIRPA leadership. Thus, The Global Citizen was supposed to send a check totaling $2,000 ($1,000 for 2016 and $1,000 for 2017) to YIRPA in 2017 but See did not receive it.
The check was finally banked in August 2017 after the conclusion of the Yale-NUS investigation, according to Ms. Loh.
The letter from Ignatius Joseph did not comment on whether The Global Citizen did not pay two $1,000 sponsorship checks owed to YIRPA until over a year and a half after the first one was due.
Students should disclose any relationships or overlap in leaderships between their organizations and other parties when procuring a good or service, or discussing sponsorships with DoS Office and the Development Office, Ms. Loh said in an email.
“If a student organization were to seek sponsorships or a relationship with a private company and also had additional financial relationships between that club and the company, it would raise some red flags,” Christopher Bridges, Dean of Students, said when asked about possible conflict of interests between a student organization and a private company.
YIRPA and The Global Citizen were both involved in organizing activities for high school students over the summer of 2016.
Over the summer vacation of 2016, YIRPA booked spaces in Yale-NUS and invited a faculty speaker for a “global citizenship” summer camp which several members of YIRPA were unaware of. The Global Citizen offers “global citizenship” summer camps.
Steven Oliver, Assistant Professor of Social Sciences (Political Science), said that he was invited by a senior member of YIRPA to speak to pre-university students from East Asia or Southeast Asia, at a summer camp sponsored by YIRPA in the summer vacation of 2016. The event was held in a fully-filled Lecture Theatre 1. He said that there was no mention of The Global Citizen but the theme of the camp was “global citizenship.”
According to the Policy Violations and Sanctions released by the student government, YIRPA “lied about the nature of organization events, especially in regards to payments and the booking of Yale-NUS College spaces and a College faculty speaker.”
When asked to elaborate on this policy violation, Ms. Loh said, “YIRPA booked spaces and engaged a faculty speaker and told [them] that this [was the event] but it turned out that the event was something else.” She declined to comment on whether the event was related to The Global Citizen and whether Mr. Oliver was the faculty member.
When asked if YIRPA concealed information regarding the booking of spaces for The Global Citizen summer workshops, Mr. Bridges said he could not comment further because this could be an overlap between student organization violations and individual student violations and he could not comment on student records.
When asked if The Global Citizen ever received funding intended for YIRPA, both Mr. Bridges and Ms. Loh said that they would not comment.
Ms. Loh confirmed that YIRPA inflated its student organization allocation budget for additional funding but could not comment on the details to protect the privacy of students involved.
Students as Coaches
In August 2015, YIRPA adopted a student coaching policy, whereby senior YIRPA members could be paid as an MUN coach, in the form of flight and accommodation reimbursement. Coaches’ reimbursement terms were more favorable than those of other attendees. In all cases reported to The Octant, the policy was used by members of The Global Citizen.
YIRPA’s coaching policy was raised in the initial complaint, which questioned the rationale behind funding students to train other students. According to YIRPA minutes obtained by The Octant, the policy was adopted to “incentivize experienced members to go and train their juniors during conferences.”
Ms. Loh said there was only one instance where she approved paying a student as a trainer—the Pan-Asian MUN (PAMUN) 2016. However, minutes reveal that YIRPA intended to use the policy for the first time at PAMUN 2015.
Andrew McGeehan, the previous manager of student organizations, said the coaching policy was never made explicit to him, although he said that the position may have existed.
In early 2016, the President, Vice-President of International Relations, and two Training Directors all resigned in quick succession. The former Vice-President of International Relations, Seow Yongzhi ’18, cited the coaching policy as a key reason for his resignation. “I thought it was not appropriate for a student coach, not participating in the conference, to have their travel and accommodation fully paid for, when the highest subsidy for any other member would have been capped at 50%,” Seow said.
On Jan. 12, 2016, the YIRPA board voted to cap coach reimbursements at 55%. However, the next day a founder of The Global Citizen, in their role as an advisor for YIRPA, chastised the YIRPA leadership for their decision making, according to emails obtained by The Octant.
In the email, a founder wrote that misrepresentations were made in the meeting and that “directors voted on decisions without realizing their full impact.” The founder subsequently requested two separate meetings with 10 members of YIRPA’s senior leadership.
The President and Vice-President of International Relations of YIRPA’s third executive board were both members of The Global Citizen, following the exodus. Subsequent minutes reveal that the third executive board raised the 55% cap to 70%, provided the coach also attend as a chair.
Although they were no longer part of the executive board, the founders of The Global Citizen continued to exert a lot of control over the organization, according to former members of the board. These members added that the top leaders of YIRPA had close ties to one another and to The Global Citizen.
Relationship with the Administration
Still, the relationship between YIRPA and The Global Citizen was not the first time the organization had come into conflict with Yale-NUS. Timothy Lim, a former secretary of YIRPA said that the organization “expanded much quicker than the time it takes the DoS to formulate policies.”
As a result, changes were often applied retroactively to the organization. In 2015, YIRPA members attending the Yale-NUS Model ASEAN were retroactively un-excused from their Foundations of Science classes. The organization also had to stop charging membership fees, after a change in student organization principles of recognition. At the time, YIRPA spent many meetings debating whether it should sever itself from Yale-NUS and become an independent social enterprise.
The Global Citizen has continued to operate following YIRPA’s suspension. Earlier this year, it signed a five-figure deal with a top private school in Hanoi, Vietnam. In October the company coached teams from Anglo-Chinese School (Independent) for the Methodist Cup 2017 debate tournament.
Meanwhile, YIRPA has remained on suspension. Ms. Loh said that no students had tried to revive the organization. None of the former members interviewed expressed any desire to do so. The organization’s goal of hosting Harvard WorldMUN has never seemed more out of reach.