What I learnt from organising Makan For Hope Festival 2021
Updated: Aug 21, 2021
The Back Story
Makan For Hope is inspired from Mentor For Hope, a charity fundraising and mentorship initiative. I set up Mentor For Hope in April 2020 without much expectations or knowing what it would lead to. Then, I was leaving my previous company and deciding on my next step. Seeing the dismal news of the COVID-19 pandemic playing on the TV endlessly, I just thought that it would be a good distractor for me psychologically (I was trying to decide on the next step of my career) and meaningful to do something to alleviate the negative effects of the pandemic on businesses.
I knew that I won't be able to serve on the frontline at the hospitals since I had a one year old child and that I don't have a lot of wealth to donate. Finally, I decided to do what was most straightforward yet most impactful. I would just do what I have already been doing for years-- offering to introduce startup founders to people who may be able to assist them with their growth or to pivot and ride the storm and survive.
When I first started sharing about the mentoring initiative (just an excel spreadsheet) to my global investor network, I was pleasantly surprised to see that there were 60 interested mentor within a few days. Before I know it, there was a team of volunteers who joined me to organise Mentor For Hope within 2 weeks, 250 mentors signed up to mentor for free (we stopped registering more despite the interest as we didn't have enough bandwidth to onboard more mentors) Over 300 early stage startup founders across Southeast Asia signed up for mentoring and received over 520 hours of mentoring within 1 month and a half. With the support of Temasek Foundation, we raised over S$43,000 for Beyond Social Services and Willing Hearts Soup Kitchen, which were supporting individuals and families affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
I was so inspired by many kind-hearted, passionate and generous mentors I met. One of them, Thibaut Briere, did over 17 hours of mentorship!
I'm so grateful to everyone who pitched in to support the initiative and the startup founders. The outpouring of support and people offering their time to help and mentor the founders within the startup community was so amazing, encouraging and motivating.
Starting Makan For Hope
To be honest, I didn't expect to organise another fundraising drive this year but one thing just led to another. Andrew Tan and I conceptualised and started Makan For Hope in the beginning (end March 2021) simply to meet up physically with the kind folks who were part of Mentor For Hope. We also decided to intensify the social impact part by organising the meet-ups only at locations which are social enterprises or support a social cause. Prior to creating the Makan For Hope Festival, we piloted 9 sessions at places like Professor Brawn Cafe, Draper Startup House and Pizza Face.
What I learnt from organising Makan For Hope Festival
It was a really intensive and exhausting experience organising Makan For Hope Festival -- trying to raise $120,000 and gathering nearly 500 people within 2 months. It wouldn't have been possible without my teammates, Andrew Tan, Thibaut Briere, Sarah Tan and many others. I feel so blessed to have met awesome people like them! MFH also wouldn't happen without the immense support of our generous sponsors, warm hearted hosts and shepherds too.
What I learnt on Leadership -- The 5 Cs
(This is adapted from the 4C's Formula (Commitment, Courage, Capability, Confidence) by Dan Sullivan) I added one more C: Care.
1. Commitment and Courage
Leadership is not a destination but a process. It is also an iteration process that makes a leader better and better over time. Each assignment to disciple a leader starts with Commitment first, followed by Courage, then Capability and finally Confidence. Completing the assignment will give the leader confidence to take on a bigger task next.
If you ask Lena Ng, our counterpart from Fei Yue Community Services, there was a time that I wanted to back out from organising the fundraising campaign. I felt it was nearly impossible, for one because the desired fundraising target was three times how much I raised last year. And for two, we were aiming to raise the amount by end of July 2021, and it was already end April when Lena and I crossed paths. Eventually I stuck with it and committed to it because of my faith (this is a story for another day) and that personally I want to help children from low income families (the nominated beneficiary group). I plucked up the courage and throw myself into this seemingly impossible task.
There were many times when I felt fear that I would not be able to deliver. I'm thankful for my cofounder Andrew, all my teammates, especially Thibaut, Sarah, Caroline, our hosts and everyone else who encouraged and inspired me to keep going.
2. Capability: Know thyself and be open to Growth
This sounds cliched but trying to organise the campaign in a short time with little resources forced me to be search within -- where my strengths and weaknesses lie. To make things happen quickly, I realise that I needed to be disciplined, capitalise on my strengths and bring in others with different strengths and skill sets so they would 'make up' for my weaknesses. My strengths include selling, inspiring others and managing stakeholders well so I focus much of my time on it and the rest of the time to manage my team's time and tasks.
My leadership style is servant leadership and I find humbling myself to listen to feedback and be open to change being so important. Our volunteers are mainly college students but I'm so impressed by all of them. Each of their background, experience and skill sets is unique. Even though I'm easily ten years older but I learn so much from each of them. Their inputs supercharged the route to success for the Makan For Hope Festival and also inspired many areas of growth for me, especially in the area of leadership. The key areas I worked on were effective communication when assigning tasks, prioritisation and being realistic and doing only tasks that are truly strategic to be done as well as building a system to be as productive as possible.
2. Care for and nurture the strengths of your team members
To lead effectively often means understanding everything about your teammate, their background, strengths, skill sets and then empowering them. In the process of guiding them to realise their potential and be the best version of themselves, the leader also learns more about him/ herself and grow.
My cofounder, Andrew Tan, is good with outreach, operations and relationship management so he was managing the food ("Makan") part of the initiative. He started a social enterprise before, Shiok Collective, so he already know the social enterprise ecosystem well, such as RaiSE and NVPC.
Thibaut Briere, founder of Growth Marketing Studio is our in-house marketing expert! Much of how we get to 15,000 impressions on Linkedin alone was due to his efforts. It was really crazy times for both Andrew and Thibaut because they were both holding full time jobs and helping MFH Festival at the same time. There were many days that they woke up at 6am/ 7am to do MFH stuff before they started their work day. Kudos to these determined guys! I was so inspired by them.
Also, as a leader, especially in Asia, it is often easy to focus on getting the task done and forgetting the person who gets it done. But care and empathy for your team members is so essential. Our team members are not pieces of the machinery that does work but people with emotions, fears, desires and dreams. Being part of the same team also provides the opportunity to journey together and support each other emotionally, having each other's back.
3. Confidence and Courage: Market yourself and your team
My team and I ran a lot of experiments to see what works in acquiring and converting our potential 'customers'. I still cringed when I see this photo but over time, I try to see the humourous angle of this photo and laugh at it instead.
Fatima Rizwan, founder of airschool.com, whom I met back at the Entrepreneur First, wrote in her blogpost "Failure teaches us who we are". She commented that she was surprised by my transformation from someone who is 'calm, quiet, and reserved person'. Actually, the truth isn't that I changed, but I stepped out of the shade and finally embraced who I truly am. For a long time I didn't have the confidence that if I show the world my authentic self, I would still be accepted. I judged myself too harshly and didn't allow my unique personality to shine.
For Makan For Hope Festival, I realise that I had a mission to serve and I have to get myself out there so that at least the people in my immediate circles know about the initiative and participate. I also recognise that making my team members super stars is essential in spreading the word and gaining credibility and getting buy in more quickly. Every time I post about the achievements of MFH Festival on my Linkedin or in the email newsletter or broadcast myself on Youtube, I still cringed or judged myself. But I just keep telling myself that I have to do this to complete or further the mission and try to be comfortable with it.
Recently, I came across a Linkedin learning course by Alexandra Galviz, one of Linkedin UK's Top Voices. She also admitted in her Linkedin course on Thought Leadership that she cringes whenever she markets herself as a thought leader. She shares that we need to be aware of our limiting beliefs and our 'judge' which hold us back and reframe it.
To grow as a leader, we have to put our best self out there, for better or worse. Cheers to our future better self.