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.




sweater weather and how I want to solve the world’s problems

we start by identifying that we’re all imperfect. that there’s an infinite flaw in each one of us, a regression that cannot be fixed, but instead worsens with time. and I’ve realised that it’s prevalent. people display it quite prominently – and of course, to some one’s flaws are instead an adorable quirk but we’ll call a rose a rose in this case.

i believe i have quite a few flaws. many in fact, i’d go so far as to say I’m heavily flawed. but one of my biggest flaws is my constant dissatisfaction. i’m a very happy and undepressed person, don’t get me wrong. i’ve found joy in so many people and places. but yet there’s a longing to do more – i want to fix things, to solve problems.

i want to create beautiful things. i want to do , to be.

i want the Singapore music scene to throb with its own culture, for us to be able to export it. i want Singaporeans to create their own future rather than depend on corporate or governmental entities. i want the world to listen to  itself once in a while. i want education to be free – for people to get the opportunity to access resources. most importantly, i don’t want anyone to die or suffer because of a lack of access to basic healthcare and services.

there’s so much i want to do, and i realise I can’t solve all the world’s problems. i learnt that a long time ago.and that’s should be the starting point for all of us.

to realise what are the problems we want to solve. what are the pains that we want to live with? my hope is that our generation chooses pains that are worth living for – not selfish, ephemeral ones, but pains that require effort and thought to reconcile.

i think i’ve had my heart and soul broken so many times in the past 6 months .

but i don’t mind.

i really don’t

because i know that these things are part and parcel of the goals i’m building towards. to build a better society.

if you’re not having your soul tested regularly, then maybe it’s time to consider that your life is a bit too comfortable. it’s okay to be comfortable, it’s okay to sit in a comfortable chair and read a book – i do that a lot. but consider your life as a runway – there’s going to have to be a point where you’ll want to start flying.

find your pain. 

i think by the very nature that i want to solve so many problems, i get regular bouts of migraines as i consider ideas to reconcile them. most of them are transient and i toss them away. the rest i store .

and one day  i hope that i can make progress in solving these problems. i know myself. i get to my destinations – it may take a while but i’ll get there. trust God.

and always, always