Photo credit: CHERYL CHONG

IMPACT 0199: CREATING CHANGE NOW, TOGETHER

Cheryl Chong, 35, is one of the co-founders of The Social Co., a team with a passion for finding ways to help catalyse change in society. Since 2014, they have worked with over 40 charities to help raise funds and start movements and events that raise awareness in Singapore about different groups facing challenges. As of 2020, they are focusing on challenges faced by the older population.

Dear Youth,

I’m Cheryl and I am passionate about rallying different stakeholders to amplify impact together. I believe in the power of “now”, and that no action is too small when you combine your passion with your purpose.

Sectors which I personally feel for are the elderly, women empowerment and youth-at-risk. Having benefited from several mentors who positively guided me along my journey as a young professional, social entrepreneur and now a new mother, I truly believe in the importance of mentorship, and I want to be a good mentor to younger folks just like my mentors were, and still are, for me.

The idea for The Social Co. started about seven years ago, when I visited my co-founder, Rebekah, in London. At that time, we often heard the phrase, “young people don’t care” – but we both believed that young people do care! We had many friends around us who did, they just did not know how to start giving back, or wanted to wait till they were older and richer to do so.

Just 20 minutes into our conversation, we had this thought: what if we made it easier for young people to give back? What if we pulled our strengths together and did something for this cause?

What we did not think about or realise was that we were merely two young punks with absolutely no track record in this area. It became obvious when we approached several figures of authority, who flat-out rejected us when we shared our ideas and asked for support, validation or advice.

It was discouraging, but we believed in our vision and finally found our first supporters – a group of advisors who believed in our team and were aligned with our vision.

Things got a little better from there, and we had our first five “changemakers” and our first corporation on board.

However, we did not anticipate the initial reactions of the charity organisations when we first approached them. There we were, young idealistic dreamers wanting to change the world, and we expected any charity to be happy to see us. But boy, were we wrong.

We faced rejection and scolding, with one charity thinking we wanted to “sell” them something. We then realised that we could not just show up insisting charities take our “help” – but to take the time to find out what their needs are. We had to start by learning about the needs on the ground.

So, we started speaking to every single changemaker, corporate and charity organisation. In the end, we managed to create a platform where 80 young people could contribute in ways which they knew best, to help 70 charity organisations in ways they needed most. This was supported by our 100 corporate partners who raised funds and awareness.

Through this journey, I have gained three big realisations.

The first realisation is about “the power of now”. 

I come from a typical middle-class family. The narrative has always been to study hard, work hard, build a great career and maybe someday, when I am retired and comfortable in life, then I can do something more meaningful.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with that. But one day, it hit me that life was really fragile and uncertain.

It started when my grandfather passed away from old age on the eve of the Lunar New Year reunion dinner.  Instead of gathering at my grandparents’ house as usual, our extended family attended his funeral. Just about a year later, my grandmother also passed away from old age, this time, after the reunion dinner.

In between their passing, an uncle died after contracting a rare virus, and a friend of mine succumbed to cancer. My uncle was in his early fifties, and my friend was barely 20.

These experiences made me decide that I did not want to wait to do what I wanted to do with my life. If there was something that I was passionate about, I was going to do something about it now. When there were opportunities to be taken, I was going to take them now. This “power of now” has since become my life’s mantra.

The second realisation is that no action is too small. 

Our youngest group of changemakers were only 15-years-old at that time. They were taking part in a national school competition and wanted to leverage on the opportunity to raise awareness for children’s cancer research.

Their cause had absolutely nothing to do with the competition they were participating in, which was about cars, but they were passionate about children’s cancer research and wanted to do something to support it.

Everything, from their competition uniforms to their booth and their model car, were designed in the colour and theme of the children’s cancer research foundation they were supporting. They had a donation box at their booth, and they spoke about the importance of children’s cancer research to the hundreds of people who stopped by.

Another changemaker organised a flea market, where she brought along 50 other partners who each contributed products and part-proceeds to a common charitable cause. And yet another held a charity movie-screening and invited his friends and family.

Overall, through the 50-For-50 platform, we witnessed first-hand the power of collective amplified impact. These 80 young people used their own spheres of influence to create ripple effects through society, by involving the people around them in their journeys of giving back.

Till today, this group of changemakers are still giving back in ways they know best and supporting one another in various initiatives.

The third realisation is that it is possible to combine passion and purpose. 

Both my co-founder, Rebekah, and I are lucky to have understanding employers, colleagues, friends and family who are supportive of what we do through The Social Co. When it is something you truly believe in, you will find a way to combine your passion with purpose.

I hope we will always remember this: that when we combine our passion with our purpose – the power of now – there is no action is too small.

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