Shiao Yin is an entrepreneur who built a series of ventures on all things good.
Starting with the School of Thought (a tuition centre that advocates empathy and civic-awareness), the business expanded into an umbrella of social ventures including Food for Thought (a socially-conscious restaurant group that has been supporting nine children in less developed nations through World Vision’s Area Development Programmes since 2007), Think Tank, Think Scape, and Common Ground.
Shiao-Yin is also a board member at *SCAPE (which focuses on youth development), and sits on the management committee of OnePeople.sg (which looks at building up interracial and inter-religious harmony in Singapore). With just the right mix of idealism, creativity and business skills, this changemaker proves that today’s entrepreneurs are indeed making the world a better place.
The School of Thought was borne from the idea of bridging social and market gaps. Since then, you’ve expanded the business across multiple platforms. Where is this all headed?
“We started the company in our 20s out of gut instinct. We’d met through volunteering for our university’s crisis hotline, so we already shared a common hope to do something to help people deal with their emotional problems.
As teachers in the private and public sectors, we noticed a social gap – many youths were coming out of the education system apathetic, learning to care only for their own grades and own success rather than the success of their family, community, their world, or their nation. The market gap then, was that nobody was offering General Paper as a tuition subject because of the assumption that it was impossible to teach ‘maturity’ about current issues. Interestingly, General Paper presents a unique chance for youths to learn about why the world is broken in so many aspects, and what ordinary people can do to be a part of the solution.
We wanted to help develop the knowledge, empathy, and initiative of the next generation. Those three words are still the core objectives of The Thought Collective today.
We evolved into the different businesses because we needed multiple touch-points to reach young people and young adults – running a school only had its limits of outreach. Today, we are running a school, designing public engagement exhibitions, developing learning journeys, running restaurants and producing various media, events and programmes.
Our mission has broadened, but everything that we do is about the business of empathy and resilience. My hope for The Thought Collective is that we find a way to better structure and document what we do, so that we can translate our work to other countries. We want to create a cross-cultural social franchise model for youth development that can strengthen the social and emotional capital of other Asian cities.”
Everyone faces stumbling blocks along the way, what were yours?
“The biggest stumbling blocks we will encounter in our lives is really within ourselves. I will always struggle with feeling inadequate and unworthy of accomplishing the grand goals we have set for ourselves. But I have learnt that when it comes to creating meaningful change, the harvest is plenty, yet the workers are few. If I keep getting the opportunities to do good work, then I will receive the opportunities with gratitude. Knowing my inadequacies will help me stay humble and ever-learning, so that I can do better work.”
With 14 years of entrepreneurial success under your belt, what has your experience taught you?
“Entrepreneurship is not for everyone. It puts you in a position to be at the front of the wheel and you see the action in all its crazy, fun, and honestly, frightening glory. Not everyone finds that interesting or exciting. And frankly, you don’t have to be an entrepreneur to make a difference. All I care about is that people find their strengths and calling in life, and have the courage to live them out. If you are a great stay-at-home mum and feel called to do so, then do it with joy and confidence. If you are built to excel in a certain profession and don’t feel called to be a boss, then do that with joy and confidence.”
“Nothing belongs to me and me alone. All that I have been given is for the purpose of blessing someone else in the world.”
In addition to juggling work, you’ve also taken on the role of a Nominated Minister of Parliament. What are your NMP responsibilities like?
“They include attending Parliament sittings once a month. That can last for at least two days. Aside from that, it is a personal choice as to how much time you want to spend on researching issues, talking to your community in your own version of ‘Meet The People’ sessions, and translating what you discover into Parliamentary Questions or speeches. It does help somewhat that part of my regular work already involves reading and researching into current issues.”
You’re a ‘mumpreneur’ with a toddler, what’s your strategy for keeping things in check?
“I try to leave work on time and I refuse to work on weekends. I’ve started a new habit of getting up at 5 am to get in personal quiet time to pray, journal and get centred on the work I need to do for the day. I’m usually working between 8 am to 8 pm, and work mostly consists of meetings, appointments, writing, speaking, creating and thinking. I never manage to finish my to-do lists, and there are always new things that get added to it. When I am on holiday, I am on holiday – no checking of emails or Whatsapp for work-related things, although I am definitely contactable in any work emergency situations. I write down family-related to-do items, like ‘read storybooks’, in my work to-do list, to remind myself it is just as important to accomplish.”
What life goals are you working towards?
“I had a life goal in my 20s to someday support 100 children in 100 different countries. I don’t know if I’ll ever get there. Recently, I’ve started giving to Rural Orphans Widows AIDS Network in Uganda as well. I believe philanthropy starts at home, but it should also cross borders so that we can see we are all constituted of one another.”
Text: Candy Lim
Photos: Eddie Teo