the rise of the proudly disgruntled Singaporean

it’s come to my knowledge that Singapore is changing. ok, everyone knows that. But Singapore’s society is evolving. In the recent National Day Rally, PM Lee pointed out that there are three modes of help – government , the individual and the community.

what i find interesting is this aspect of community. does it relate to us as groups of people , or does it relate to us on a more organised level. are we talking about VWOs, NGOs and the whole cache of TLAs (three-letter-acronyms)? i’m a big fan of the concept of an united community – a people that can come together and celebrate major events together. we can have debates and discussions about policies and what happens in the news, but when it comes to our people, our celebrations, we celebrate together. we don’t put each other down, we build each other up.

“oh no, here’s another idealist”, “get real, Rovik” , I know these comments. but hear me out.

what’s the point in working so hard for our own livelihood if ultimately we’re going to feel alone when you go to work? what’s the point in fighting for your family when your kids have to grow in a cynical environment? what’s the point in chasing our dreams if we’re going to leave everyone else behind?

therein lies the opportunity for community to provide a salve. in my time, doing The Hidden Good  , I’ve had to interview and interact with more than a hundred Singaporeans. one thing strikes me , and slightly disturbs me.

we know we’re not a cohesive society. and we don’t see the need to do anything about it.

“i’ll be the first to admit I’m selfish when it comes to my decisions, but that’s just the way it is”


“i don’t really have time to think for others. my children ought to focus on their studies instead of the community “

i later found out the individual’s children were top scorers anyway


“i don’t feel like it”

it’s certainly not the majority, but it’s a stark percentage of people who remark with such comments. has our focus on pragmatism dulled our ability to seek fulfillment? i know i’m certainly not one to judge whether they’re living a purposeful life or not, but how can we accept selfishness as an end to itself?

one of the most worrying one was this comment

“there are others who will take care of it”

we’ve identified “community” to be the “others” who decide to take care of it. the proudly disgruntled Singaporean has something else off his shoulder to worry about.

and then they announced the National Volunteer Corp –

i try not to be cynical, but this was difficult to swallow. there are so many problems with volunteerism, globally. it has become a fad to fulfill our own innate desire to justify our exuberance. so many people donate to charity, or volunteer once a month to rack up CIP hours, or even claim another bonus boast title to their friends.

if one truly wanted to volunteer, he’d understand the following. he’d understand why he wanted to volunteer. he’d understand the problems surrounding the person or cause he wanted to volunteer for. and he’d plan how to best approach this person or cause.

volunteerism is a lifestyle choice , because you choose to care.

doing it once-a-month doesn’t make sense then for most causes (unless the cause really makes sense to do it once a month), because to build deep relationships or have consistent input, you need to be present more.

and so when people rush to acheive the objective of volunteering without understanding what they’re doing, we have unsustainable and damaging efforts both locally and overseas. we have economies ruined overseas due to flooding of our own products through rampant dumping. we have elderly people locally encountering a crisis of remembering who’s the last person they talked to.

and to set up a volunteer corp, it’s difficult to foresee how it’s going to do anything different. if it wanted to, it would have made it explicit.

not only that, but it will create another reason for the proudly disgruntled Singaporean to look away. someone else is doing it.

things have to be less organised. the community has to start truly from the people, because they choose to pursue something they care about. we need to have faith in ourselves again.

having done The Hidden Good for some time, I’ve across some of these aspects of community. Now they’re what I proudly advocate for – people who care, and who do something big about it. they’re successful, they have sizeable followings, they have professional strategies, but they’re informal. and they’re origin point is the people they care about. not a policy paper.



Hello Stranger is a movement aimed at breaking down barriers between people in society. They plan guerilla activities that just spread smiles. They’re noticed by their yellow signboards with black fonts. From welcoming back people at the airport, to playing games with kids at playgrounds, they just want to build that sense of community.

All you need to do to join in is volunteer, because you care.


Project I.A.M. was started by a friend of mine,HongXi when he was only 15. Now he’s 16, and he’s still leading this project actively. What do they do? They appreciate and motivate anyone who they think deserves it. They’ve ambushed bus-drives, cleaner aunties, and are on to do more. Again, started by someone because he cares. The group has a big community and they’re sustainable.

And they’re alive even though they’re informal.


One Backyard is an extension of Queenstown Backyard, started by Victoria and Chloe to bring back the kampung spirit to the 21st Century. Using a Facebook group, they coordinate events as and when people in Queenstown want to do things together. From playing board games to going for runs, it’s really awesome seeing things just come together, again because people simply choose to make it happen.

One Backyard is their strategy to bring the concept to other neighborhoods. Who wants to see a Toa Payoh Backyard for example? Nothing’s stopping a Sentosa Cove one as well.


The Morning Greeters do exactly what their name says they do. They greet people in the morning, while they run. Started by Adrian, Ashton and Arjun, they were moved to bring the greeting culture somewhere accessible. In my runs with them, I’ve taken away one thing – never underestimate the power of a smile and greeting early in the morning.

Join them for their runs. They’ve been around for nearly 10 months, and they’ve been running on pure passion.


While You Were Sleeping is not so much a ongoing project as much as it was an idea that started a self-propelling movement. Josiah started this because he saw that people were exhausted studying for their exams and saw an opportunity to start a trend of giving. His concept was meant to be accessible – anyone with a school and exams can download the cards off the Facebook or make their own ones and spread it in their schools.

Again, he did because he felt something and acted on it.


my hope is that Singaporeans start chasing after what they believe and care about. if you care about children, do something about them. if you care for the environment, do something about it. join a cause or start your own. don’t be apathetic. i’m friends with all the people above, and many more who have other movements or projects ongoing and they’re a small part of our society.

if it eats into your time, let it. because that’s the point. it has to be part of your lifestyle.

i’m not a pessimist though. i know Singapore’s improving. it’s changing for the better. and i’m glad to be on the cusp of it.


p.s. i’ve learnt from the previous blogpost something important about blogging about issues like these. i admit i don’t know everything, and so let me qualify that i’m very interested to hear alternative views and improvements. don’t be mean though, there’s no need for that. looking forward!