there’s something special here – Singapore turns 50

This country is and will continue to be the most successful city in the world. It’s almost weird to think that , assuming that I’ll live a healthy life, I’ll be 72 at SG100. I’ll be the next ‘Pioneer Generation’ . I hope to God I look good when I’m old, because I want to continue kicking and building society. During the National Day Show today, someone said a line that really hit home for me. She said ‘We grow with this country’ , and it’s probably the truest thing I’ve heard in a while.

We’ve been on a journey. Most countries have epic stories embellishing their history, but very few cities in modern history can claim to build a democracy while holding a siege mentality, and still supersede most large economies around them. Very few can claim to continue to produce people of superior caliber and an attachment to the country that is recognizable worldwide. Yet , you see, that’s our claim. We were presented with a nearly insurmountable problem, and we overcame it. The more I watch various presentations of history, from the veiled propaganda (which isn’t necessarily a ‘bad’ word) of the media, and the alternative interpretations of the deferred, there’s still one uniting tone – our pioneers were committed to bringing Singapore out of the Third World.

This National Day, this SG50 , we’re called to do two things – to remember this journey made, almost symbolically pronounced by the passing of founding father Lee Kuan Yew, and to envision our collective future, probably marked by the General Elections rumored to be in September.

You don’t have to look to the media for the truth , people are genuinely proud of the journey made.Naysayers will always exist, but they cannot reduce the pure joy experienced by people for making it to this point in the history of the world. We’ve made it. We’re here, a sovereign country defined by our own rules and aspirations – not anyone else’s.

But it’s perhaps the second call to action that’s more nerve-wrecking. What does the future mean for us? We’re facing our own set of problems. Starting The Hidden Good has given me the platform to interact with people from all sectors of society – youth, elderly, rainmakers and kingmakers; ministers and businessmen; the marginalized and the privileged. I challenged my generation to be an active force in shaping our own future, and not to let it be privy to the whims of the noisy and caustic minority online  (http://thehiddengood.com/2015/08/07/we-are-our-future/). Yet beyond that, I’m still conflicted on how our future should shape out. Solutions aren’t as straightforward as they used to be, and the uniting direction seems to point towards building a more inclusive and affirming society. We’ve built a society that is starting to , very slowly, fracture at the weight of the diversity it’s so proud of.

Creating a plan to solve that requires a lot more involvement from society than ever before, but there’s one thing I know almost definitely. We have to carry these problems with us and grow with them. Just like overcoming the pioneers gained resilience because of the problems they overcame, we can gain a deeper understanding into the human condition by trying to solve these problems. We became a successful city by the definitions of this day and age, but in the same line, no one’s a successful city yet by the definitions of the next age. We have that opportunity , but we have to commit. We have to commit to home, to Singapore. We have to commit to finding novel ways to contribute to the solution in our own capacities as businessmen, civil servants, students, families etc. , instead of contributing only to the noise around the problem. Let me be very clear – gone are the days when governments are the sole providers of solutions. Yes they hold the main onus, but it’s backward to expect capable people to be only present there. We , the people, hold the ability to shape our society.

I honestly wonder how I’ll be in 50 years time, but I hope to say lines similar to those shared by our forefathers. We did all we could, so that the generations after us could have a good life. We grew with Singapore.

After all, we are Singapore.

geronimo.

 

 

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why Singapore needs more stories

it’s finally here. 2nd of August. The day I fly to Germany, and then take an additional two weeks to backpack around Europe for a bit. I’ve been waiting for this long holiday for a long time. In order to get here though, there was a lot of closure that had to be done. I had to find a strong core team to take over The Hidden Good, I had to settle all my college and scholarship administrative matters , and I had to meet up with all my friends again before I fly off.

So yes, I managed to find a lovely partnership with Gushcloud that allows The Hidden Good to run and an amazing team to make sure things run smoothly after. I managed to close all my outstanding administrative matters. I managed to meet up with most of my friends. And the thing that came reiterating itself through these processes was the memory of things past. The stories that caused the present; the adventures and the decisions.

It was when I was at Gushcloud’s Office Opening , when Willie and Vincent , two entrepreneurs I deeply admire and now have the pleasure of being partners with, and they were sharing core stories that brought them to the establishment that was the office at 625 Toa Payoh Lor 4,  that i realised I too would share my own stories someday and would hope that they inspire a new layer of initiative and empowerment. And what if were able to bring these stories together in a good way – in a way that Singaporeans could be proud of.

We remember the Singapore of old because of the multitude of stories and the materials captured in the history books. Struggles, battles, deaths and sacrifices. But if anyone was to write a story on Singaporeans in the past 30-40 years, what would we write about? We need to keep creating history, to keep creating national memories. Right now, we’re nostalgic and remembering things from the 50s-60s. But are we are caring about profiling the memories we make now?

There are some that are capturing these stories, but I still think the missing ingredient is a good taste. No one has captured the heart of the Singaporean through his/her prose just yet , but more should try to. In their own way. A Singapore rich in its stories, find its people sharing these stories in times of doubt or conflict. These are what make a society.

I’ll continue making my own stories. I don’t really like the idea of YOLO – i think the concept of living once both liberates and constricts in so many way. But I do believe in Carpe Diem – in seizing the day . In living. And with those stories, I hope to continue to add to my wealth – of knowledge and application. And make the world a better place

geronimo

on turning 21 : in singapore, in 2014

Turning 21 was great – I’m a big fan of birthdays because you give yourself the opportunity to celebrate life. It can get easily abused into a day to celebrate “self” and “narcissism” but I’ve made it a particular focus to enjoy the people, events and moments around me.

From various meals and getaways , I had an amazing birthday week. I won’t bore you with the details of how I celebrated it although I thought it’s interesting how the older you get, the more displaced the notion of a birthday gets from the original day itself , but rather a certain milestone in life that can be celebrated over a longer period. We’re either too busy , or as I prefer to accept, more involved in the spirit of the  birthday itself.

But the reason for this blogpost is very simple. I’ve discovered that there are indeed fears that I’m facing moving forward with life – in Singapore and in 2014. With my humble experience as well , I’ve learnt that there are a few discoveries about life that I’m making. So I decided to write a bit about them – in hopes that I can revisit them sometime when I’m older and see how far I’ve fared.

 

3 THINGS I’VE LEARNED ABOUT LIFE

1. There are only decisions

I used to be afraid that the decisions I would make in life would turn out to bite me in the ass. Worse still were those supposedly moral decisions – those that if you chose the wrong option you would end up damned for life. I’ve learnt that decisions don’t tend to be supremely right over others. Yes, there are inherently better decisions than others. But every decision has it’s complications , it’s own nuances and it’s own consequences to deal with.

Suppose that you were to choose between starting a business when you’re young or working at a reputable firm as an intern. Now to different personalities, each decision seems inherently better. To the risk takers and independant personalities – starting a business seems the mark of a true wayfarer. But to the ladder climber and career seeker , working at a reputable firm definitely makes sense. But to each, there it’s own difficulties.

Working at a reputable firm ,you tend to lose a lot of freedom working for someone else , and you’re working to make someone else’s dreams. Having said that, starting a business you also tend to be on new strange ground and the amount of uncertainty can tend to be overwhelming. There is no “better” decision. There are simply decisions . The question has to be then – which risks are you willing to take, and which joys are worth fighting for.

2. Characters evolve, principles don’t

It’s not surprising to me that I’ve been getting a lot of feedback about my newfound constant presence on media. It’s true – The Hidden Good is doing well and as a result I’ve become more prominent online. I’ve also become bolder with my statements – wanting to encourage others to truly champion the causes they believe in by seeing what we’ve achieved. It’s only because I’ve become positively reinforced with the successes we’ve achieved as a bunch of under 30s that I’ve been shouting it out. I’ve always believed in empowerment of the community and allowing for collaborative models. That’s a principle that I’ve always kept to – even internally for The Hidden Good.

But my character has changed. I’m a lot more plugged into what’s happening in society and I’ve become a lot more aware of how society operates. There’s exuberance which I have unabashedly indulged in – and I’m severely trying to reign in. I’ve become a lot more aware of society’s pain points and am trying to find ways I can apply myself to them. From a silent fighter, I’ve become a prominent advocate. My strengths are flexed, but I am also very aware my flaws are exacerbated.

My ego has always been my biggest stumbling block, and with the friends I have around me , I’m able to regularly keep it in check. Ambition and ego are character traits that tend to be associated with one another – and it’s a constant battle to grow the former while keeping the other to a healthy level. I’ve been very honest about my struggles though. As a youth, it’s important to get the right steps forward. Where my character is allowed to change, my principles cannot. Those of collaborative models, those of loyalty and compatriotism, those of risk-taking – I won’t let go.

 3. Anything’s possible – if you put your mind to it

The most remarkable thing a person can discover for himself is that his own limitations were just that – his own limitations. Having surpassed them , he discovers a new version of himself ; one that is able to achieve more and seeks to discover whether other misconceptions he previously had still hold true.

I started out loving YouTube , and more importantly wanting to be a part of society. The various projects I’ve embarked on thrashed any fears I had of being able to positively influence people , as well as making a mark. With the support of an amazing team , without which The Hidden Good can never be what it is today, we managed to make a space in the online content-sphere for our experiments.

We managed to build an organisation that empowers youths. We managed to champion messages that organisations don’t have the courage or expertise to champion themselves sometimes. We partnered with amazing brands , agencies and organisations to produce meaningful content. It’s amazing how much we’ve achieved and I still remain humbled at the distance we have to go before we can properly make deep impact in society. I keep asking myself – what else do I not know about myself yet? What can I grow in?  That drive helps me stay on the edge – and it’s why I’m looking forward to college. I want to unlock the next treasure chest in life.

2 THINGS I’M FEARFUL ABOUT

1. Financials

The thing that worries me about current policy stances is that they tend to encourage Singaporeans to reach high , to  innovate, to compete and succeed – but when it comes to our needs we’re encouraged to keep them low. I can appreciate the need to be frugal and careful with expenses and desires – but I honestly think the minimum I would need as a working adult is a house, the ability to have a beautiful marriage and family, a mode of transportation and safety/security. These costs are costs that I have to consider as I grow up, because I need to save up for them – and the honest truth is that I don’t think our generation has been educated enough on how the systems and processes work in Singapore. Some of the PSAs that I see throw numbers so magically that they fly past me – and I’m an A Level Graduate.

I’m honestly a bit cautious on how I move forward because I have to take care of so many financial needs – and the last thing I want to do is to fall into debt. I want to have a good quality of life as well – and I don’t think that’s a privilege – I think that’s a basic human need. To live without fear or unwarranted worry.

2. Morals

I’m probably not the best person to talk about this but I’m learning the need to appreciate the shades of gray we exist in. Relativity is probably one of the biggest obstacles we’ll face as we grow up, because relativity is the greatest escape to accepting that there are struggles in this world we need to be concerned about.

I just found out that one of my Secondary School teachers lost the battle to cancer today and passed on. However as I saw as a bunch of students wrote memorial posts to him, myself included, I imagined how proud his family must be of the soft impact he created and left behind. He cared, beyond his need to, and that made the difference. We can be remembered for many things – principles included. But our moral decisions define our lives a lot more. And in this changing society, where morals are constantly being debated and redefined , I as a youth have to truly figure out what my morals mean and what I stand for.

My faith is a good indicator, but I have to ensure I practice my faith because I first believe in it – and not take it as simple rule of law. It’s definitely a struggle.

1 THING I WILL ALWAYS APPRECIATE

People Matter

From family to friends, I’ve realised the value of deep and meaningful relationships. As I’ve always believed, there’s no point scaling the tallest mountain if you don’t have someone by your side to share the sights with.

To abandon the people in your life for anything else would be a dangerous and unwise move – unless it contravenes your principles or morals. People make mistakes – it’s a empirical fact – but we never should let that affect the value we have in the relationships we’ve built. We’re able to build emotional and intellectual connections that cannot be replaced.

I’ve loved the people that have made my past 21 years truly remarkable. I’m indeed grateful to so many people for loving me back.

Here’s to many great years ahead.

geronimo.

truly.

soft-spots for policy – why the #trainofdreams could have been better

Photo by Chris Mcgrath

It’s been a long time since I last blogged. There’s been a lot that’s happening on my side – I’ve got a few posts that I want to do. There’s of course my birthday post where I reflect the significance of 21 years of living ; there’s a post on the corruption of the volunteerism ideal that I’m still working on and finally some more for the e-publishers I freelance for.

But the one that has got me going the most is this one – the need for soft spots in policy making. Let’s contextualize things first. In the duration that I’ve been championing building spaces and mediums for communities to come together, I’ve realised that there’s a need to work with government in achieving these goals. For various reasons , the primary one being that of regulation and authority. As much as the Hidden Good prides itself in conducting guerilla activations and social experiments – we’ve always stayed in the legal zone, sometimes even playing very close to the lines.

The Train of Dreams was a tussle from the get-go.

Let me begin by saying that the people I worked with in LTA were extremely collaborative with the process. I’m very grateful for the mediating and brokering involved and the amount of effort that went into helping us achieve the product we finally achieved.  However the video you see, as happy as I am about it, is not the product that i had envisioned.

We’ve all heard of the busking on trains in New York and other subways in the West. When I was in the States last December, not only did I truly enjoy the performances , I noticed that the general mood in the trains was a lot happier and pleasant. The performers had an informal stage to reach an audience and the community was being truly integrated with the arts. So i decided in the spur of the moment that Singapore not only would benefit from this – but that it sorely needed this. It needed a way to invigorate its public spaces. Not only would this help to quell the frustration on the public commute; it would also give the creative arts the chance to truly be integrated in society.

It was daring – to take on public transport so fiercely, but I decided I wanted to do this and so made the necessary arrangements with National Youth Council to fund the project. National Youth Council again was such a great help throughout this process, helping to connect us to the people that we needed to be connected to and mentoring us throughout the journey. I recall NYC managed to help us pull together a meeting with LTA/SBS TRANSIT/ SKM/NAC for us to present our initial concept and get comments. We told them that compared to doing this without permission , we wanted to prove that collaboration with authorities could work and address potential safety and security concerns we had the maturity to accept we may not be aware of.

Where there were performances like these , rather regularly in Singapore:

We saw an opportunity for a mass activation across different stations on the trains themselves , spreading joy and officially approved. We had seen Proof of Concept through these videos – audiences generally really enjoyed the performances and wanted to see more. Regulators would not pursue illegal performers because the terms and conditions don’t directly prohibit it – they prohibit forms of it such as “those who create a nuisance” even though it’s so ambiguous. There were stakeholders to convince : LTA had to have a strong reason to back  this and they saw it as encouraging graciousness and improving commuter experience ; SMRT/SBS Transit had to be balance possibility for negative backlash with the more favourable possibility for a positive response; MHA had to be concerned about security threats.

However due to the uniqueness of the project , the operators and MHA were reluctant to allow the performances to occur. They could not reconcile the project with the existing systems and policies they had in place and were afraid of security threats. I had a few issues with these:

  1. There was a precedence of performers already performing on trains, showing Proof of Concept. Why is our activation being so critically analysed?
  2. Security-wise , threats could be mitigated by having us go through a security check. We had curated our performers and volunteers and so there was no random variable.
  3. The effect of performing on the trains would be a lot be more powerful than anyone else, as it is here where most frustration or apathy occurs. It is where we could spread the most joy.

Yet, because we had already begun engagements with the stakeholders, we couldn’t go rogue and betray the trust we had built with them. It was just not in our DNA. After 3 months of back and forth pushing, we finally accommodated for performances not even within the station, but outside.The whole process became a tiring one – that ultimately made me evaluate the value of bureaucracy and collaboration with authorities. I was appreciative of where we had gotten, and the final video did eventually communicate our message still (with a lot of focus on editing, you can’t imagine) – but it was not optimal, and as a content creator and creative juicer I was not satisfied.

It was from this series of events coupled with MP Baey Yam Keng’s speech in Parliament that I’ve decided  there’s a strong need for soft spots in policy in Singapore.

We need to have departments and teams in agencies that focus on collaborative projects with the community – not sidelined as a means to relieve pressures from society, but as an actual policy focus to build strength to strength solutions in society and tap into ideas that a humble agency would not be able to generate by itself. We need to accept risk as a natural side effect of policy work – and work to understand that not all solutions are zero negative effect solutions. We must learn to accept the possible spillovers as long as they do not harm or impede others’ rights.

We must have teams that recognise the inconsistencies in policies and realities and seek to if not address them in policy itself, address them in interim practice. Discretion and maneuverability become the words of the day as we realise that putting not just smart but decisive leaders will ultimately the agency move forward in capturing new possibilities. There is space for innovation in all agencies, even in regulatory agencies .

Through this process, I’ve learnt a lot about working with bureaucracy and civil servants from a community activist perspective. I’ve learn to empathise with the people that I work with, who are at the mercy of the policies and systems themselves, but strive to still help us achieve  our goals.. But most importantly I’ve learnt it’s necessary to modify the way our civil service interacts with its community and serves it. A much more real understanding is needed.

That’s something I will continue to fight for.

geronimo.

P.S. LTA has a division that we’re actually recently working with to explore new collaborative solutions. It’s pretty cool how they’ve involved us and are working with us . For the sake of respecting confidentiality, I won’t comment on the process, but there are plus and minus points here as well.

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.

geronimo