Sunday, April 4, 2010

Symposium Neue Thinken

Yesterday, I had the great opportunity of attending an eye-opening symposium organised by NUS AIESEC. FYI they are one of the participants of Project Ahead, so that's how I managed to get involved. As you can see from the subtitle, the symposium is about "new thinking for social action" and basically the theme revolves around social enterprises.

In the morning, I listened to a mini-lecture on social enterprises by Prof Albert Teo from the department of philanthropy and social enterprise in NUS business school. So I got to understand the concept of social enterprises better, since after all, it is a new concept to a physics student, who has been living in the world of equations for near eternity. Following which, we went off for our combos of workshops and 'conversations for inspiration', followed by a great panel discussion and a 'world cafe'. There were a few combos available for the participants, I attended combo B, (and I was the head facilitator of the conversations for inspiration section in that combo)I shall talk about them one by one.

Workshop: Creating a good social brand.

The invited speaker was Ms Kuik Shiao Yin, founder and creative director of the School of Thought. For those who do not know, the School of Thought is somewhat of a tuition center specifically aimed at GP. It was a really interesting talk as she described how the School of Thought actually came about. I found the concept particularly interesting since the original idea was not actually a tuition center, but rather it aims at the 'apathy of the middle class'.

Seeing how Singaporeans love to complain to no end, 3 friends, including Ms Kuik, decided to target at educating the middle class in current affairs, to give them a better understanding of what was happening around them. General Paper was a great medium, because it was precisely this subject that allowed discussion of current affairs.

It was a great success, and it has been running for 8 years. There have been many success stories especially how one of the graduates actually jumped from a C6 to an A1 under the guidance of the School of Thought in a few months. He was one of the facilitators and he also attended the workshop.

Anyway, during the workshop, Ms Kuik told us about the 7 important principles in making a social brand. They are the 7 Ps, passion, purpose, purity, possibility, perserverance, product and people. The things that particularly caught me were passion, purpose and possibility.

From the workshop, I learnt that passion was seriously overrated. And I could easily relate to that. Passion is not permanent, the heart is a fickle thing, and during times of crisis, passion can easily fade away. What is really important is purpose. When you start to feel a passion, you need to think of a purpose, in times of crisis, it is ultimately your purpose that will sustain you.

It reminds me of what I put up 2 posts ago, on "design thinking on a personal level". Ultimately, the purpose would be like "what the world needs". So I now feel it is important to question your own passion, on whether you feel you have a purpose behind it to sustain you when this passion fades away.

And regarding possibility, Ms Kuik brought up this touching story on "The Maid internship". A housewife, using her rights to hire a maid, used the opportunity to ask her newly-hired maid what she would like to achieve, write them down, and she will send her for training. In return, the maid was to work for her like other maids. This way, she was giving her maid the power to make a difference to her life when she returned back to her home country.

In a sense, it goes to show that wherever you are, whatever you are, there is always something you can do to help. The housewife did not think of starting a social enterprise or whatsoever, she just wanted to help the maid make a difference in her own life. It is pretty inspiring and I think I am inspired to think about what I can do in my position to make a difference.

Conversations for inspiration: "Creativity for social service"

This is my show, I was the head facilitator for this session, and it was an opportunity to prototype a session on creativity exploration that I had designed about 2 weeks ago.

The session works like this. I got the participants into 3 groups, and each group had a 'problem picture' on their table. I also arranged several objects and pictures around the room, and the objective was to get the participants to 'stand up' and 'explore' the room, trying to gain inspiration for solutions to those problems.

The idea was to get them to associate the items and pictures that they find with possible solutions. Sometimes, 2 seemingly disparate objects have some kind of intimate connection between them. Probably the best association that I've seen yesterday was with my 'yingyang' necklace. The problem was world hunger, and the necklace was associated with astrology being used to predict the weather. As such, with a system to predict the weather, technology could be used to help agriculture find the best time to grow their crops. I thought it was really cool.

I managed to see other good uses of associations during this session, and I thought the groups did a pretty good job. In the end, I gave everyone a reward, I sent them all my slides along with the slides for Ms Kuik's talk (she used my laptop).

Panel Discussion

This panel discussion was really on fire! Jack Sim, founder of World Toilet Organisation, Bernise Ang, founder of Syinc, Eugene Tay, founder of TEDx Green and another Dr Tay ( i forgot his affliation), was on the panel, and it was moderated by Victoria Chen, AIESEC member commitee Vice president, business development.

During the discussion, we really got to see the firy entrepreneurial spirit of the panel. Dr Tay and Mr Sim really had a lot of angst inside them, so strong that it made them want to change the world. A lot of meaningful things were said along with quite a load of bad language. After the firy exchange, I felt that my eyes were somehow massively opened to the demographics of social entrepreneurship in Singapore, and how we really need to change our culture, from being mindless robots to actual human beings with creativity, if we were to have any sustainability at all. It was definitely the highlight of the day, with lots of laughter and a lot of applause. I had a lot of fun.

World Cafe: Happiness and Thankfulness, can social enterprises promote those?

My show again, and I had not prepared for this at all. I was too caught up with my creativity session. Well, great opportunity to practice thinking on my feet. So I did a very classic science research sort of analysis with the participants, mindmapping associated words for happiness and thankfulness, then after that, trying to link these associations with the concept of social enterprises being able to promote happiness and gratefulness for their beneficiaries.

The participants brought out interesting insights, because I really had not thought much about the topic. One good insight is that those who work in social enterprises themselves must be thankful for what they have before they try to bring happiness to others. Other insights include the fact that the beneficiaries are already thankful.

In the end, to kill time, I made everyone say what they have learnt during their short stint with me. I was glad they all have learnt something, so I did not have to bury my face in shame. Well, I guess in future I should prepare better for my topic, and I also feel that the World Cafe should be held in a cafe, and not in a classroom, since the whole idea was to be free and easy and move about seeing different discussions. (I mean, if you're in a classroom, it wouldn't feel very good just leaving right?)


So that about sums up all the events for the symposium. I felt it was a good way to spend a Saturday, getting to learn more about social enterprises and meeting new and awesome people, making new friends, getting free food... I collected several name cards, met 2 fellow polymaths (it's very rare to find a polymath, and can you imagine there were 3 of us in the same room?) , and got inspired to make a difference to society, by doing what I enjoy doing, exercising my creativity!

I went home happy and fulfilled. This symposium was a success, for me and for everyone.

Here's the group photo with the organising committee and other facilitators, as well as the chair, taken at the end of the day. It was a lot of fun and they are great people.

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