thoughts — Reflecting on #HowCanIHelpSG
It’s already April 2022 and 2 years since Singapore officially went into circuit breaker mode — A lockdown of sorts allowing people to only visit the essential places like supermarkets and healthcare providers. By the way, using the word circuit breaker is a pretty ingenious word (Kudos to the speechwriters in public service).
Now things seem to be looking up… we can finally head to the outdoors without masks and meet ten friends together, while the lockdown memories seem to be filled with disbelief (like really?? we went through that??) and somewhat became routined (and increasingly blurry as time just zaps past..) So I wanted to note my thoughts of this pandemic (even though we’re still far from complete virus decimation) to not waste this time and experience gone through — From the initial wow moments of being able to work from home, later on with amazement at how fast humans adapt in navigating this future of work till now living in somewhat endemic times (“You’re on mute. Can see my screen? WFH or WFO?” are just some examples).
Writing this thus gives me the opportunity to recall when I first initiated the #HowCanIHelpSG project, just minutes shy away from the time when tighter measures kicked in, and when I was fortunate to be able to work from home officially then. I shared my experiences with Thir.st here, and here and also had the opportunity last year to do an interview recording with Kiss 92FM as part of their Kiss of Life campaign.
People asked me what made me start the project? What made me initiate this? In all honesty, I didn’t do much and the website was never meant to be a permanent fixture either; I am even amazed when other creators like Canigo.sg and Tribal Worldwide Singapore’s Iamaccb.sg linked to the website because people just wanted to do something. But through my experience setting this up and working with people, there were a few thoughts and learnings I wanted to pen down so I can remember.
- Before the act, it’s about the resolve and that push to act — I thought about what made me act on setting up the spreadsheets (#HowCanIHelpSG started with Google Sheets first, before becoming a website), and there were many questions in my head then. “Do you think people would actually care about this? Why would they use this spreadsheet? Are you digging a can of worms to allow people to edit? How do you govern the accuracy of information?” Some entrepreneurs and founders have all that gung-ho in them to push forward with their ideas, I somehow get a teeny glimpse of that in my experience. A lot of times the questions and thoughts we have in our heads are pull factors, pulling us away from what is achievable in really just.. an inch. Achievable in the sense of being still realistic, yet all we need to do is just.. do. And in our own critical eyes of seemingly doing “just 0.01%”, this is actually already numerically and tangibly better than 0% but we often let that 0.01% overwhelm and cripple ourselves. I read an interview recently from lead singer Paul Jason Klein of LANY (yes LANY, they have nice songs) about where they are as a band now, and his reflections just nailed it — “I spent the last couple of years obsessed with the idea of being the best band or the biggest band, but that’s so subjective. But you know what? Who’s the most improved band? We are. 100 percent.” The spirit behind most improved lies in the fact that there is action in making music, whether that action leads to best band, best decorated band in terms of awards, or purely improvement in skills or personal growth, but it’s a 100% given — I think that should be sufficient to start something.
- Collaboration makes possibilities realities — As much as there is still evil in the world, believe in the good of mankind and what we can do when we work together. As the spreadsheets got shared through word of mouth, many people requested for access to edit the Sheets (It was actually completely available for editing without the need to request!). There’re definitely downsides, when I was still concerned about the veracity of information (after all it’s a ground-up initiative that people are allowed to add anything including fake phone numbers or bank accounts), it turned out that people genuinely wanted to help. I received emails from people of all walks of life — law firms, an expat living in Singapore, church staff, engagement groups from the government, content and community creators, advertising firms and just ordinary Singaporeans who just wrote in wanting to play their part. Also through my interview, I got to know a fellow brother in Christ, Si Han and his interest in making the project into a more accessible website for everyone. In five days, he coded the backbone structure, and we decided on getting a one-year domain so people could check and share the info simply and time-sensitively. That’s what I love about technology, there’s just a lot of empowerment here in making things that have real impact.
- Clear communication in an information-loaded world is important — In fact, I thought about what to name this spreadsheet at the start. “How to make this sheet layman? How can people find this easily? What would people think when they want to find initiatives to help? What if it’s too messy?” So I went back to basics, as I laid down the 5W1H we all have learnt in elementary school in the Summary tab — “How to read these sheets? What is this about? Who is this for?” — and kickstarted it. Maybe my experience previously in digital marketing also helped, since people google “How-tos” often, and so… How Can I Help SG!
- Even managing Google Sheets can add to your product management skills — This point is relevant to the previous, bringing the idea of user-centricity, taking the user’s lens and thinking about how and what would I myself search? Is the current user experience (UX) and interface making it easier for me to know all initiatives and navigate to where I want straight? I started off with a creating a Summary tab to introduce the project and detailed steps that people should follow. Then, separate tabs for different categories of initiatives and a tab for people to freely put others that do not fall into the dedicated categories. How were those categories selected? User research and just general news interest! At the start of restrictions, schools and businesses were the most visibly impacted, from shift to home-based learnings for children to only food takeaways allowed, and later on increased cases across specific communities like migrant workers and senior citizens living alone. There were also increasingly more ground-up initiatives set up for those categories, supporting the need to better categorize them. Later on when Si Han helped built a beautiful user-friendly website, the UX further made it easier for users to navigate on mobile, on-the-go especially. Reminded me on how similar it is in building a prototype (in my head), a minimum viable product (the Sheets) and the first version launch product (website). Just like building a product, it’s about tweaking along the way and finding what’s best and easy for your user.
- Can we de-duplicate work? Can we pool together resources and remove duplicated efforts to channel into other more needed areas of help or money? — People may beg to differ on this point since competition and a variety of choices could encourage innovation. But in the area of help and time-sensitive information, I find a duplication of information more confusing instead, and it could even make well-intentioned people question the need for that many of the same initiative. Is one not doing well that’s why we need other similar ones? Do we really need so many same initiatives to help migrant workers? Help hawker stores deliver to same places? Could we actually make use of existing connections, combine it with the other initiator(s) and make it more impactful? This was also the catalyst in what made me start #HowCanIHelpSG, I wanted it to be a directory where if people had the intention to start something, to do something, they could already join an existing one or combine forces with one another and make it better. Better than what one can do, and better to tap on everyone’s strengths to create more impact. It was thus great to see for example, different migrant worker support groups coming together to form Covid Migrant Support Coalition (CMSC) that allowed them to reach more communities.
I intend to close off the project this year, after all we should be helping in whatever ways we can now that we can all head out, and hopefully this pandemic will end really soon so there’s no need for this website anymore too. There’re in fact many ways you can help, just whether you want to do it or not — The next time we’re hesitating, I hope we can all think about the best improved quote ;)
I started the above five points noting that I wanted to remember — To remember the humbling feeling of creating and starting something, and hopefully able to use this experience to spark off something in the future, whatever that will be. For now, off for a short break!