Dreams we all have them. Too often than not, they get chucked aside all in the name of work. Work was like that cup of coffee. It stimulates you, it helps you pull all-nighters driving capitalism, but in the long haul wears you out. Feeling restless, you start to search for meaning in the talents you’ve been bestowed. I stumbled upon IDEO David Kelley’s TED talk on creative confidence. After reading his book, I decided to try one of his methods – to do something new.
I signed up for two courses: Acumen’s Storytelling for Change and IDEO’s Human-centred design. Through the Storytelling for Change course, I met the founder of Storytime. His assignments triggered my chucked aside dream of giving back my talents to society. He was in his twenties, like me. But he was impacting society, I was a bummer driving capitalism.
Joining storytime was a dream come true. It was here that all my years of work experience finally made sense. This is the story of how Storytime Singapore kick-start:
Part I: A Series of Serendipities
First book donation: My sister, Alicia, was clearing her storybooks and I thought of Storytime. I shipped 5kg of books to India. It was costly.
Real-life design challenge: IDEO?s Human-Centered Design course got me fully on board Storytime. It presented an opportunity to explore and solve a real-life design challenge. I approached Noel to find out if there was a design challenge that Storytime needed help with solving. The design challenge was: How might we create sustainable learning commons for children in low-income schools at the lowest cost possible while delivering child-centric design and world-class experience.
Book collection process: In October 2015, plans were made to visit the Chennai School in Jan 2016, to gain a better insight into the people we were designing for. I thought since I had 30kg of luggage allowance, I might as well maximise it by bringing books along. We were looking for books aged 5 to 15 years old and most of my friends had given their books away.
I refused to give up. I approached people I crossed paths at work and was encouraged to find like-minded individuals who believed in the power of putting books in the hands of children. It made me realise that there were many individuals like me who want to give back but either did not know of a platform to, or a suitable platform that they could see themselves giving back.
To date, we have collected 200 kg of pre-loved storybooks and board games. What?s surprising is that the bulk of the books came from strangers. Some of them through cold-emails, others through referrals. Kenny Leck of BooksActually was the first to respond to a cold-email and he donated from his personal stash. Meiling of Supermama donated from her personal stash and bought some new ones too. Heajun was this amazing lady who collected more than 100kg of books through friends. She filled her car to the brim with books when a school was moving out. I was touched by her enthusiastic support.
Inspiring young designers to give back to society: I returned to my Alma Mater, Nanyang Polytechnic to share about storytime. It was my first design talk and the biggest talk I have done ? a lecture theatre filled with year one to three Visual Communication students. When I met Ms Lee, my lecturer at an art gallery, she egged me on to share my design experience at poly, uni, work and giving back my talents to society.
I forgot I had stage fright and I was thoroughly enjoying myself.
?When you want something so much, you will find the courage to do things you have never done before.?
Finding ways to support the program financially: I contributed some. It came to a point where I realised if I were to take the project to the next level, I needed support from others for it to be sustainable. I shared with my friends and family about storytime and how they could contribute.
In December 2015, I put my love for hosting a great party into a successful high tea fundraiser and invited my friends. Even though only a few could come, my friends were very generous.
Shipping books over: After we received the massive amount of books from Heajun, we froze collection. We had to figure storage space and shipping options. I was quite optimistic at first thinking that the airlines would be happy to waive excess baggage allowance for a good cause, but they replied saying I had to follow the rules. I wrote to shipping companies to waive shipping costs but none replied.
Another option we were looking were people travelling back to Kerala to carry books so we can save the shipping costs. For several months, we found none. We thought we had to mobilise our last resort to pay for shipping costs when the funds could be better used to build libraries.
On 30 Jan 2016, Daylon donated his personal stash of books, board games and stationery in the morning. In the afternoon, he connected us with Shab who was travelling to Kerala and happy to carry 20kg. Recently, his dad helped to carry 40kg. It renewed hope that there were like-minded people who could help make book collection in Singapore sustainable.
Part II: Some of the best advice
In November 2015, I met Stoney who had built a school in Nepal for the past 15 years. She knocked some sense into my head.
- I cannot expect people to think like me or follow what I want to do.
- Implement what is needed, not what I think is right for the school and learn to manage my expectations.
- Be careful about driving materialism and concentrate more on values-based teaching programs etc. A lot of things do not need so much furniture or infrastructure. Keep things simple.
- Do halves. Do not spoon feed people, if not they will be too dependent. Just go halfway and ask others to go the other half so there is a fair share of effort.In December 2015, I had a cuppa with Jean of Logue. She shared some advice on setting the right frameworks and foundations. She said, ?It?s a marathon, not a sprint.?
Part III: Some lessons learnt
- You do not need to wait till you?re retired to give back to society. The time is now. The reason I resonated so much with the founder?s story was because we were both in our twenties. He showed me that ordinary people like you and me can do extraordinary things. Extraordinary things do not necessary need to be big things, they can be simple things and you will be amazed when you give selflessly.
- Don?t be afraid to ask strangers for help. It was refreshing to meet people who were happy to help and humble about it.
- There is a delicate balance between waiting and doing. There is value in waiting it out when you do not know what to do next. Let things solve naturally. Other times, you just got to make things happen. We gained a lot of momentum and support from people but now we are at this stage when we need to figure how best to maximise the talents of others. We have not figured everything out, but that is okay, we will figure out along the way.
- Sometimes, we need to go slow in order to scale faster and better later.