IMPACT 0485: LESSONS FROM THE WORLDS OF TECH AND ART
Abigail Han, 33, works for a multinational tech company by day and is an artist by night. She enjoys building transformative digital and in-person experiences that engage communities and tell powerful stories that matter today. She is passionate about pottery, hospitality, social justice, and gender equality. Today she shares some lessons that she has picked up on her journey!
Learn to put yourself in someone else’s shoes
At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, I partnered with a friend to champion the cause of migrant and low-income mothers through a project incubator called Project Cookoh. I was working with Bakes By Heni and one of the things I was teaching her was how to ice a cake with buttercream. I didn’t understand beforehand how difficult it was to frost a cake in a warm HDB kitchen because I always had the luxury of frosting all my cakes in my air-conditioned living room.
After that incident, I’ve always reminded myself to put myself in someone else’s shoes. What works for me does not necessarily work for others, so we need to think creatively about how to solve the problem at hand.
Structural poverty is real, but not insurmountable
Through the work that I do with these women, I am reminded that structural poverty exists even in a place like Singapore. I’ve always had a discussion with family and friends about how sometimes we feel like if one works hard then meritocracy will churn its wheels to lift one out of poverty. But in truth, the cards are stacked against the less fortunate and the weight of inequality is more palpable than we realise.
Despite that, all the women I have worked with have demonstrated tenacity and strength and are motivated to seek a better life for their families.
Women are everyday champions
Seeing how these women have grown thriving businesses while managing childcare, meals, and other needs, I am convinced that one of the chief advantages that women have is their ability to multitask. These women are unafraid of failure, always seeking new ways to promote their businesses, and open to trying creative ways for customer acquisition—all while managing their households.
One of the mothers I know puts her six-month-old baby to sleep at 10pm, amidst several middle-of-the-night breastfeeds, wakes up at 3am to start baking and fulfilling the orders for the next day, and then sends her other three kids to school at 6am.
When you give back, you receive even more
I started the journey of working with these women at a time in my life where everything was uncertain and in flux due to COVID-19. I felt that I needed to find time to do something meaningful and give back to the community. These women have taught me so much about persistence, failure, and contentment. The joy I receive when I sit with them in their home, hear their stories, play with their children, and partake in their cooking is priceless. They have given me the precious gift of friendship that money cannot buy.
Be patient as social justice takes time
I learned that working to bring real change takes time and patience. It requires an immense amount of effort to change mindsets and behaviours not by any fault of these individuals but because of years of reinforcing negative mindsets, low self-esteem, and unwise spending habits, amongst other struggles. It may take time, but these women have always demonstrated a posture of openness to learning. They are like a sponge ready to absorb everything I am able to teach them.
Money is not the only resource you can give
Someone once told me that they wanted to donate a baby cot to one of these ladies. When the intended recipient declined the offer, this well-intentioned person asked: “Why wouldn’t they want a baby cot that’s fully functioning?” Little did the donor know that most of these ladies live in a one-room HDB flat with as many as six others in their family, which means they just do not have room to fit a baby cot.
Many times, we forget that simple luxuries like space are not things that are always afforded by others. While a small donation to help them purchase essentials for their home-based business (like a stand mixer or kitchen utensils) goes a long way to helping them start a business, there are more elements to social justice that are at play. In my own journey, I had to learn that investing time in these ladies helped me to understand what they really needed and how to best help them. Building a relationship of trust and mutual respect is one that takes time and effort.
Learn how justice and generosity intersects
Through my experience, I am more certain that there is an inequitable distribution of both goods and opportunities in this world. The money, talent, capacities, and resources that we have today is due to the time, place and even family in which we were born.
One of the key ways to help redistribute these goods and opportunities is to give of my time, connections, and resources into the lives and needs of others. Especially those who are the least represented in society, those with the least economic and social power, whose stories also deserve to be recorded, highlighted and told.
Don’t stop doing the good work despite the setbacks
Building brands, strengthening communities, challenging the status quo and changing mindsets are things that take time. Not every strategic move or calculated risk results in success but the “never say die” attitude is essential to ride out the storms and difficulties when encountered.
Find like-minded people to work with because it takes a village
The work cannot be done alone. Finding like-minded people to share the passion, bounce ideas off and find creative ways to help these women and communities helped me to keep going when I hit a wall. I currently volunteer with Her Rise Above which is a volunteer-led initiative that provides business essential skills mentorship to women facing financial instability, who are running or would like to start home-based businesses.
Within Her Rise Above, there are other women who can weigh in on the different aspects of starting a small home-based business and I can leverage their strengths to help the woman I am mentoring through this programme.
Be Flexible & Kind
When working with people from different backgrounds and have competing priorities that seem to be vastly different from mine, being flexible and kind is an essential skill to practice. A sick and crying child is as important as a customer delivery made on time. Being supportive to these women means being kind enough to see from their perspective though I may not fully understand the situation all the time, and being flexible to help them to overcome their obstacles.
This article was published on Mar 31, 2022