Photo credit: JULIAN TAY

Here’s how these youths try to make hard conversations about race easier

Talking about sensitive issues is never easy, but these youths are committed to making them happen.

Low Jia Ying

Can be found watching true crime documentaries or tending to my growing collection of houseplants.

Published: 9 July 2021, 11:39 AM

With all that’s been happening in Singapore in recent months, having conversations about difficult topics like race and equality have never been more important.

But as some of us may have experienced, these conversations may not always go as planned. 

In a hackathon last year organised by StartupX and the Ministry of Culture, Community, and Youth (MCCY) called Mission:Unite, teams were tasked to explore solutions for how to connect people with diverse racial and religious backgrounds to encourage social cohesion.

Youthopia spoke to two out of the ten finalist teams of the hackathon to find out more about their youth-led projects.


TONVO, a portmanteau of the words “tone” and “convo”, was started with the realisation that online conversations can often turn sour because of misunderstandings about a person’s tone of voice over text.

Isaiah Chia, 20, who led his team in the hackathon, was inspired to find a solution to have better conversations online after falling out with a friend after a conversation they shared.

He said: “I wasn’t coming in aggressively at all, but I think she started reading my texts with an aggressive tone and, in turn, I started reading her tone as aggressive as well.

“That conversation became very intense and unfortunately ended in the loss of our friendship.”

He shared that he finds that situation very regretful and realised that what online conversations needed was a safe space, and to be able to account for tonality.

The TONVO team managed to come within the top 10 at the hackathon, earning themselves $30,000 from the Harmony Fund grant, which they are using now to pursue the project further.


Some members of the TONVO team. PHOTO CREDIT: ISAIAH CHIA


The team consists of Isaiah, Lionel Lee and Lee Ying Hui, who are from Ngee Ann Polytechnic’s Business and Social Enterprise course, as well as Ryan Tan and Tan Tiong Guan from Singapore Polytechnic’s Game Design course.

The app, which is still in its beta phase, makes it possible for users to use their authentic voice to have these difficult conversations.

“When people use their authentic voice to speak, they tend to be more careful about what they say and allows for deeper emotional connections to be made,” said Isaiah.


TONVO hopes that it can give people a safe space to talk about difficult and sensitive issues. PHOTO CREDIT: ISAIAH CHIA


The app will feature different “rooms” where people can engage in various topics of discussion, using their real voices.

The TONVO team hopes that when their app launches, people will be able to turn to their app to have sensitive conversations on topics such as race and religion to develop mutual understanding and clear misconceptions.


Another team came up with the idea for Candid, a platform where people from diverse backgrounds can come together to have honest conversations.

Au Yeong Wei Bin, 21, the team lead, said: “The main gap we were trying to solve was the lack of interactions between people of different races. We want to create a safe space for candid conversations to occur.

“At least from our experiences, people end up being racist or say racist things because of a lack of interactions of people from another race, and then rely on stereotypes to form their judgements about them.”

In its current format, Candid hosts small-group discussions with a trained facilitator on Clubhouse, where participants are given guidance on how to navigate sensitive topics like race and religion.

Even when deciding on the focus of their project, the team, which also includes ‘Asyura Iklil Iman and Kang Aderyn, both 21 this year, had their disagreements over whether racial inequality was something they should try to tackle.


The Candid team during their first meeting with facilitators. PHOTO CREDIT: AU YEONG WEI BIN


“We had a lot of intense discussions over the direction of the project. I felt that talking about race was something that we really needed to do and I tried to get my teammates to see my point of view,” said ‘Asyura.

The Candid team managed to reach the Top 10 of the hackathon and secured $10,000 of funding for their project, which they are using to develop an app.


A prototype of the Candid app, which will feature live chat rooms for participants to discuss a certain topic. PHOTO CREDIT: AU YEONG WEI BIN


The team hopes that by offering this platform for people to discuss sensitive issues in a safe space, that people will begin to challenge their biases and come to a deeper understanding of each other.

“A lot of the times when we’re hanging out with our friends, it’s just to have fun. If someone were to slip up and make a racist remark, or do so in jest, you might not feel comfortable calling them out because you don’t want to spoil the mood,” said ‘Asyura.


The team also runs an Instagram page, where they provide a lexicon for people to engage in better discussions about race. PHOTO CREDIT: INSTAGRAM/@CANDID.SG


During the sessions, Candid encourages people to share their experiences of microaggressions and racial inequality, in the hopes that they can create a more open and empathetic society.

The Candid team hopes to reach out to as many Singaporeans as they can in the future, as they believe that having these conversations are the first step to achieving a more harmonious society.

The Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth have started an initiative, SGinHarmony, to grow mutual understanding and respect for Singapore’s racial and religious diversity through everyday actions. Find out more here.

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