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The Challenges And Promise Of Ground-Up Social Innovation

Kuik Shiao-Yin, Co-founder and Director of The Thought Collective recollects his start-up journey and the challenges faced.

The Challenges and Promise of Ground-Up Social Innovation


2002 to 2007: How It All Began

In 2002, I was a 25-year-old creative director at a digital design studio startup when an old friend asked if I would help him develop an idea to bridge a social gap as well as a market gap he had identified.


As a rookie General Paper (GP) tutor, he was excited about the great potential in the subject to help broaden the perspectives of youths. However, he noticed a concurrent social problem: many young Singaporeans were graduating from the education system generally well-read but surprisingly selfcentred and apathetic. Many believed the whole point of their education was to prepare them for individual success but it had nothing to do with enabling them to help others in the community find success collectively.


He also observed that GP tuition was not widely offered by the market. It was certainly not for lack of demand: good GP grades are a prerequisite for university admission so students have vested interest to be as good as they can at it. The market gap was largely due to two factors. First, a common assumption among youths that GP was ‘unteachable’, too thick with knowledge to learn so attending tuition seemed pointless; second, commercial tuition centres were disinterested in offering GP tuition in a big way because it was difficult to guarantee one’s ability to ace it. They preferred to focus on offering tuition aimed at a more ‘teachable’ younger customer bracket (Primary and Secondary School) where a scalable ‘repeat-rinse-drill’ style of teaching could still generate decent results.


He pitched an intriguing proposal my way: Could we deal with both problems through one solution? What if we started an experimental tuition group that developed innovative new approaches to teaching GP not just for the short-term purpose of conquering an exam but for the longer and larger purpose of conquering societal apathy?


It was the sort of ridiculously senseless suggestion that makes most sense when you are young and idealistic. I bought in.


We began with 20 students but by the end of the first year of the venture, we managed to raise that number to a 100. That was sufficient feedback for us to put $40,000 down to officially start the School of Thought. 


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