the semi-privatization of community

I reckon what I do to be always slightly controversial. Not for the sake of being controversial, but because for every ten people who believe everything is alright, I believe something can be done better.

And I feel like the way we approach society today can be done better.

Let’s undergo a bit of a context analysis:

Community issues are solved at a few levels:

We have the government that drafts policies to legislate and execute scalable steps to benefit society. We have the grassroots that plan ground level activities. We have the charities/NGOs that undertake activities with the hope of minimal governmental inhibition/intervention. These are valid solutions for sensitive issues such as people in poverty, The elderly, broken families etc. I’ve been a part of these initiatives and these require plenty of hard work and consistent efforts by leaders in the community.

But our society is facing a new breed of problems that definitely cannot be solved by the same approaches. I would call them first world social problems. problems such as the lack of graciousness, the stratification of society, environmental sustainability, loss of culture and heritage. These are issues that are solved not just by smart brains crafting policy or persistent efforts , but with sincere hearts deeply in touch with what these issues represent .

Now, we have all of a sudden committees and NGOs set up that tackle these issues. the process works like this :

policy developed by civil sector –> execution outsourced to events company/activation agency/ ad agency –> post-mortem held .

There’s a problem here though. First of all, the civil sector has shown to have little understanding of operational aspects of most measures or solutions and the private sector whose sole focus is not on community solutions is then worse off, because the direction given is not only too macro to fully appreciate, but they themselves most of the time lack the emotional capacity to connect with the issues deeply and develop the operational sensitivities to properly execute measures.

What you then have are wildly unsuccessful campaigns and measures that just frustrate society. I would love to name some of these campaigns, but I’m in close talks with some of these agencies and hence cannot afford to discredit the work that they do. The fact that they’re in talks with us is signs of progress, and that’s something worth noting.

But , what’s worth understanding here is that there arises a market solution for agencies fully committed to these form of community solutions. Instead of existing solely in policy or execution, there are a new form of enterprises that have developed immense emotional and social capital while working in the private sector and understand how to best curate and apply such measures. People call some of them social enterprises – I call them enterprises that work. They see the solution as deeply intertwined between policy and execution and seek to create experiences and events that truly address issues.

A year ago, when The Hidden Good first started, we saw The Thought Collective as our model. They understood societal gaps as opportunities to provide a service that was valued. It wasn’t a charitable act , though it arose out of a need to serve. But they understood what they provided had value and decided to make a living out of it. That’s how The Hidden Good runs as well. We see gaps in society and fill those up by providing solutions that are valuated. And we only get better at understanding society by doing more.

I was impressed by how The Thought Collective curated the whole Total Defence immersive experience in the National Museum. Even some of my friends in NEXUS , the MINDEF arm that deals with these campaigns, commented that they could not see themselves pulling these campaigns off by themselves. The Hidden Good is building its capital , but we’re already able to provide services and experiences focussed at the youth community to build a better society. There exists more agencies such as SYINC that conduct hackathons and innovation labs to build intelligent solutions for society.

This presents to me an immense opportunity for a new way to approach first world social problems.

  1. Encourage more enterprises to build social/emotional capital and to understand focusing on understanding society and applying possible solutions have not just a monetary but a meaningful social value as well.
  2. Lobby for the civil service to understand that this new breed of agencies are able to provide better solutions that they could process by themselves. I would even go so far to encourage the policy-forming process to start with consultations with these agencies, followed by engagement of services and a thorough post-mortem together.

This “semi-privatization” of community understands and accepts that few people “get it”. These people much rather work in the private sector where they don’t have to endure too much bureaucracy , and focus on these issues because they truly care for them.

It can potentially become a very exciting and effective space for social change in Singapore especially. I would lobby for this.