Benjamin Ong founded and developed the Rimba Project at Rimba Ilmu Botanic Gardens, a platform for community engagement and volunteer development, between 2014 and 2018. He helped train student volunteers as junior nature guides, and tripled Rimba Ilmu’s capacity to accommodate guided tours. He also facilitated novel approaches in garden interpretation, through two volunteer-led programmes: the creation of two new interpretive trails, and Rimba Ilmu’s first garden theatre performance.
Benjamin led the Greening Roundtable, a series of consultative meetings with the University of Malaya (UM)’s Estates Department to influence and improve campus greenspace management. This resulted in a framework for campus greening that introduced biodiversity impact assessments into UM’s pre-development checklist. He also ran several volunteer-powered pilot biodiversity surveys for Estates, including a landmark study on a 30-acre land bank known as Section 12 that helped convince UM to shelve a $300,000 development project.
In early 2018, he coordinated the Klang Valley’s participation as the first Southeast Asian metro in the City Nature Challenge, a global citizen science initiative. Nearly 400 students across 14 schools participated, putting urban ecology on the map and leading to Benjamin’s appointment as a Google Earth for Education Expert. In a volunteer capacity since late 2018, he developed Backyard Explorers, a modular education programme covering topics from freshwater to wildflowers. In diversifying and building environmental education capacity, Benjamin has helped revive public interest in Rimba Ilmu.
Through his book, The Backyard Before You. He has brought together interdisciplinary audiences from urban farmers and local authorities, to indigenous researchers and landscape designers, to address emerging challenges like urbanisation and growing disconnect from nature. He has organised seminars; co-authored systems thinking case studies linking greenspace with urban wellbeing; and coordinated an ongoing wildflower rediscovery project. In all of this, he is developing a new language for conservation: reframing where biodiversity is, who engages with it, and how it may be conserved.