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Syinc Blog

Here we muse about creativity & innovation, and document (some of) the work we're doing about it in Singapore.

Can you hack urban poverty?

Bernise Ang

Auntie Alana*, a Bukit Ho Swee resident we spoke with

Auntie Alana*, a Bukit Ho Swee resident we spoke with

For the last 5 months or so, we've been working on a small project in a tiny part of Singapore. Small in scope - or so we thought. What started out as an idea to "come up with some ideas" for low-income families has grown into a project that's part anthropology, part data, part design.

The Syinc team synthesising findings for the community brief

The Syinc team synthesising findings for the community brief

Under The Hood is a civic experiment to crowdsource hyperlocal solutions for urban transformation. We seek to better understand urban poverty and struggling neighbourhoods in Singapore - and co-design solutions with the wider community. And in this case, we're focusing on one particular neighbourhood - Bukit Ho Swee.

From the design process

From the design process

The project brings together motivated geeks + designers + citizens (and more!) to tackle the critical issues underlying urban poverty. Starts with ethnographic research and data analysis, then online brainstorming, which leads to a 2-day hackathon in the heart of Bukit Ho Swee. 

Hackathon weekend is Nov 22-24, and selected teams will present at Social Innovation Camp Asia Nov 29 - Dec 1.

Also, this is our first partnership with the UNDP and partners in tech, higher education, social services, government sectors, and more. We're excited!


Sign upRead upPin upStep upShow up.


Awesome graphic design by Monique Ang

Awesome graphic design by Monique Ang


Hackathons are great, and we love them - and been mentors at UP Singapore and Lean Startup Machine ever since they first started in Singapore. We love them because of the creativity they harness from the community, and the great sense of collaboration they generate. We would love for there to be more context, more analysis, and better problem definition. 

On the other hand, professionally we practice a kind of consulting that uses empathy to get emotional/behavioural insights which we innovate around (for products, services, sometimes social policy). It's good for getting deep insights about users, and to actually define clearly the problem/s people will be trying to solve. But this closed process doesn't benefit from everyone's crazy ideas bouncing off each other.

And so it hit us: why don't we apply what we do - like the investigative bits and problem identification - and integrate it with the creative, open bits about hackathons? Enter Under The Hood.

On the backend of this is an attempt to develop a process/method/approach to make ideating and innovation informed by behavioural insight, data-driven, and hyperlocal to any particular city's context. We invite you to explore with us how such a process could be understood, and then adapted, for other communities in Asia (or beyond). Talk to us.

*name changed to protect identity.


Shaun Koh

FORK is a celebration of neat side-projects; especially ones that make the world a little better (and more authentic!). We bring (mostly) "unknown" independent tinkerers doing stuff they love – makers, entrepreneurs, educators, hackers – together with other creative geeks making impossible things. 

In the spirit of creative collaboration, everything is shared under the creative commons license – so expect to adapt/remix/collaborate the night away. We’re all here looking for a bit of inspiration and fun.

Check out previous FORK events hereStay in the loop on FB and twitter


Celine Lim of Resonate

Celine Lim of Resonate


Having to watch as a loved one suffering from dementia gradually disconnect from reality is disheartening. However, fighting it isn’t a lost cause. Music could be a way to traverse time and memory, as a means for them to reconnect and for you to see them as you once remembered them. 

The idea for Resonate crystallized when Celine encountered Leonard who had met an artiste manager looking for a volunteer program. Inspired by a book by Oliver Sacks, a writer and neurologist, and a program in the US called Music and Memory, the two proposed a form of music therapy that could be introduced to nursing homes and day-care centers in Singapore.

The Resonate project will use MP3 players to provide customised music playlists to people with dementia and other conditions, including depression and Parkinson's disease. With the help of the artiste volunteers, the playlists are infinitely customizable and will be created with input from family members and background information for individual patients.

The National Neuroscience Institute estimates that there are about 28,000 people, aged 60 and above, with dementia in Singapore today - not including people with early-onset dementia. This figure is expected to rise to 80,000 by 2030. Resonate is not a purely altruistic project – it’s a musical investment for our old age too.

Resonate is looking for volunteers who will assist nursing home staff in implementing and monitoring the progress of the initiative. While the first pilot will be in the Novena area, your placement can be according to convenience as they hope to reach out to all nursing homes around Singapore. 

Resonate is also kick starting a donation drive for MP3s and headphones. They require only that the MP3s be in working condition and have at least 1 hour worth of capacity. Headphones, however, should be new (hygiene!). Get in touch.

Debbie Ding sharing how she recorded her dreams over 6 years

Debbie Ding sharing how she recorded her dreams over 6 years


Debbie Ding is a Singapore-based visual artist, programmer and independent researcher. She facilitates the Singapore Psychogeographical Society, which is devoted to promoting a better understanding of the world through ludic adventures, independent research, digital documentation, and data/archival activism.

Debbie shares with us the cool things that have evolved from her obsession with archiving. She began a movement to collect and trade rocks between people, springing from what she calls “psychogeoforensics”, which means to approach the various psychogeographical ambiances in an urban city from the domain of forensics. Through psychogeoforensics, one may view the city as the scene of the mystery, or as the missing artifact itself. As she muses, it was fun to see people begin to ascribe value to these essentially worthless rocks, as they constructed or reconstructed their own stories around them.

Another cool result of her archival tendency was a project on collecting and recording her personal dreams in map form. This work was 6 years in the making, and grew from a notebook permanently by her bedside that she would scribble in immediately upon waking.  

For other ‘weirdos’ who want to make stuff happen, this is her advice: “spend less time consuming, and more time producing”. We agree.


Kelly Koh and Eugene Tan from State of Buildings

Kelly Koh and Eugene Tan from State of Buildings


The State of Buildings project is a repository of places and memories. In the ever-changing landscape of Singapore, the State of Buildings project serves as a kind of diary where both the hard facts and emotional significance of the city’s past and present architecture will never be forgotten.

Initiated by three friends, they began by taking snapshots of buildings they love to accurately document the facts and stories that people associate with it. They even managed to interview the original architect of Pandan Valley, and documented things that would have never been known otherwise. Some people have also shared how a certain place was intricately linked to memories of a blossoming love and growing up.

Spread the word, or share your own stories and photographs to enrich the emotional wallpaper of your favorite buildings around Singapore. is also open to collaboration!


Anotherbeautifulstory being told right here.

Anotherbeautifulstory being told right here.


'anotherbeautifulstory' showcases stories about artists, artisans and craftspeople and celebrates their commitment to their passions through storytelling. The videos produced are never scripted, so what you get is a dose of stunning visuals with a generous dollop of sincerity from real people sharing real stories.

'anotherbeautifulstory' is a non-profit and self-funded project, started by 3 friends with regular day jobs - Christopher Ang, Darryl Chan and Winfred Kwan. They intend to keep it that way, because self-funded means not having to answer to anyone.

When asked what prompted them to start, they talked about coffee. “We would meet up for coffees and talk about doing this. Eventually we realized if we kept meeting for coffees, we would have spent more money on coffee but wouldn’t have done anything. So we decided to just do it.”

“Sometimes, we aren’t impulsive enough to do the things we really love.”

'anotherbeautifulstory' is always looking out for new stories to be told, and for beautiful stories to be shared.


The  Adrianna Tan.

The Adrianna Tan.

5. "WETHECITIZENS.SG" ADRIANNA TAN and WINNIE LIM was started by Singaporeans who live several time zones apart and hardly spend time in the country, but love it all the same and care deeply about where it is going.

Adrianna is best known as @skinnylatte online, tech goddess and political geek. You might remember her as the one running Nicole Seah’s digital campaign during the last General Elections.

Provoked by the online conversation that went on in the background during the National Day Rally, wethecitizens is a website that asks visitors to answer a not-so-simple question in 140 characters: “what does a better Singapore look like to you”? Adrianna collates the data, and runs sentiment analyses as a form of real-time polling information on any topic. With this open platform that censors nobody, she paints an alternative picture of what paths Singaporeans want their country to take.

Some answers have been frivolous, some have been thought provoking. Join in the dialogue right here.


Syinc's Bernise sharing stories from Under The Hood

Syinc's Bernise sharing stories from Under The Hood


The folks who faithfully bring you FORK have also been working hard on something really close to our hearts. It's a cross between anthropology, data, design, and crowdsourcing solutions from the community. 

Under The Hood is a civic experiment to crowdsource hyperlocal solutions for urban transformation. We seek to better understand urban poverty and struggling neighbourhoods in Singapore - and co-design solutions with the wider community. And in this case, we're focusing on one particular neighbourhood - Bukit Ho Swee.

The project brings together motivated geeks + designers + citizens (and more!) to tackle critical issues worth working on. Starts with ethnographic research and data analysis, then online brainstorming, which leads to a 2-day hackathon in the heart of Bukit Ho Swee.

This is the first time we’re partering with the very international United Nations Development Programme, and super local Bukit Ho Swee Family Service Centre; the best ideas from the hackathon will be able to present at Social Innovation Camp Asia. It’s going to be exciting times.

We’re looking for creative wizards to help in publishing and layouts to create awesome project briefs. We’ll also be launching the website real soon to call for participants!

Super Special Edition of FORK5: 

All 5 speakers will be drawn from Under The Hood participant teams: yes we're making our own FORK speakers… Fork5 will be happening right after the hackathon!

We Are Pivoting

Bernise Ang

There's lots of crazy going on right now, as we transition from a consulting/service-based company to building digital tools/products for social impact. (That's right folks, all these fun events on our blog isn't actually how we earn our keep!)

This is a shift in focus, not a binary change. Just sayin. We're likely to still do some consulting here and there; we'll just be a bit pickier.

Right now, for those who asked about our consulting practice - forgive us while we leave you with a (very rough) description here.

In summary: We use a niche form of consumer insights methods to help social/public sector clients innovate on services, programmes, and sometimes (social) policy for those often left on the margins of society.

Fork 2: Cardboard Robots, Kids Hacking, & Evil Biosensors



Shaun looking particularly dashing

Our second edition of FORK was a blast! It was truly a coming together of peeps in the community who believe in making things out of curiosity, and love. And about creating something in a safe space, where you can tinker with unfinished ideas, and infect someone else in that same space with the same passion for the $h*t you love.

Many came for the event alone, but by the end of the night, something about the vibe (with the help of some beer) had strangers were chatting away like old friends. 


Abuzz with anticipation

Some of you folks asked what FORK means: it's a reference to open source software coding, where hackers might "fork" some code and branch out to make something else. It's about building upon, and a kind of creativity that is…combinatorial

For those curious about FORK1: check this out. Also, 2 of our pitchers from FORK1 - Yen the fine artist and Hanyang the 3D printing geek - are now collaborating in this project!


Hanyang showing off the product of their collaboration: merchandise to support the art project!


They made tiny houses! With windows!

Also, we heard you:

 Yup, we gottit (from FORK1) - you want a more tangible way

of connecting (apart from the obvious mingling). So here is the rudimentary "sign-up sheet" we tried out so people could connect with pitchers they found interesting! 


William appeared to be quite popular!

Without further ado, our pitchers for the evening!:


William with volunteers showing how, with a bit of technology, you can have human presentation clickers

William Hooi | Hackidemia

William was an engineer by training, and a teacher by profession at the Singapore Science Center. He combines the two in Hackidemia, workshops which allow children to try out sophisticated technology and make stuff. The eventual dream is for children to have a change in world view: from being helpless in the world to adopting a tinkerer’s disposition, a belief that the world can be acted upon, that they can do stuff.


William is looking for venue hosts, volunteers to help in facilitation and sponsors to keep the program free for all participants! 

Get involved here


Bartholomew Ting | Cardboard Playground

Bart has only one slide with his name and a photo of a huge cardboard robot assembled outside Artistry  (which was taken that very afternoon). He gets onstage and sheepishly admits that the massive robot, put together with cardboard lego blocks, was his creation. We are impressed, and are collectively peering out the window at the nearly two-story tall giant.

He tells us his story: it all started from his time in NUS, when he built sculptures with recycled materials for the charity event Rag & Flag. He then worked at a cardboard packaging factory, where he got the idea to work with cardboard in more creative ways (and started learning how to navigate 3D software).

His cardboard lego blocks are visualized and turned into templates with the help of 3D rendering software. He then manually cuts out the pieces, and puts them together using hot glue or cable ties.


Bart is looking for volunteers to help with putting together a cardboard playground in the National Library from 13th May to its opening on 31st May. Shaun had at a go at assembling the giant robot, and swears it was the most fun he’s had in years. You can too.

See past projects, gifs and Bart’s contact at!


Sahasrangshu Sinha | Sreejan

Saha is a change maker working on rural development in eastern India. After a trek to the Saïd Business School at Oxford, He’s back in the village of his boyhood to effect some very real changes to poverty, sanitation and environmental issues.

While at B school, he realized that these issues were all inter-related, and unlike the silo-ed nature of many government agencies, he developed a holistic approach to successfully tackle several problems all at once. Through the synergy, he effects greater social impact with less resources.

He calls his approach "livelihood convergence”, and has been running programs for several years. 24,000 households have benefited thus far.

His second project, a non-profit collaboration between Spandan and Sreejan, is another brilliant example of synergy. The project expands the micro-finance model to include micro-insurance, micro-loans, market  access and capability building. Each would not work individually, but together, they make sense. There is immense potential to revolutionize current “bottom of the pyramid” (BOP) models here. 


Saha invites you to check out the website, have a think about what they’re doing, and email him if you'd like to know more.


Brandon Leong | Interfsce

Brandon started a curated online journal on design after being fed up with the enormous amount of unfiltered stuff floating around on the interwebs.

He spends about three hours a day working on his blog, filtering cool stuff to share with other people. When asked if he loved what he did, with absolutely zero hesitation Brandon replied “Yes I do”. The best takeaway from Brandon’s sharing was his personal philosophy “Do what matters to you, the rest, so what” (add casual shrug for effect).

Follow his blog here.


Shanmugam Mpl, EvilBioSensors

Shan comes up on stage, and asks for a volunteer. When his presentation has the word ‘evil’ in it, you want to be wary of volunteering for this sort of thing. “I wanted to wear this tshirt but it’s too small”, he explains.

A girl comes up, dons the tshirt and we watch as she gets hooked up to a whole bunch of wires. What follows is an interesting commentary on the dualism of ‘good’ and ‘evil’ that accompanies any kind of creation.

Shan demonstrates how the tshirt, with a big graphic heart on it, lights up in rhythm to the volunteer’s heart rate thanks to a biosensor clipped onto her finger that measures her pulse. We all go ohhh on cue.


Makes you think.

Then things get serious. The project was born out of a hackathon “Future Jamming”, on the future of governance (incidentally, co-founders Shaun and Bernise were part of the organising team behind that).

Shan paints a pessimistic picture for us: “imagine a world where everything you are feeling could be on display. Anyone would know when you were nervous, or angry, just from your displayed heart rate. Or if you had AIDS, or diabetes, and the government forced you to wear a tshirt that showed this from other bio data”.

open me in a web browser tooo.gif

Hmm..... ahh!!


 The whole idea behind FORK is to create a space for a creative vat of randomness and fun. People working on interesting side projects out of curiosity and passion pitch, or simply share, what they’re doing. In the spirit of the Creative Commons, they can run with the idea in their own way, or say “hey I love your idea and I want to work with you!” The folks who pitch often aren’t famous - a big part of FORK is pulling people out of the woodwork - but they’ve always got something cool to share. 

StartingBloc: Musings, Insights and Takeaways


I recently had the privilege of attending the StartingBloc Conference this year in Santa Monica, LA. Imagine an amazing group of change-makers, each with their unique interests - some finding their way, some well on their way - all in a beach house together for 5 days. Listening, learning and most importantly, being vulnerable together. That is essentially StartingBloc. 
Here are a couple of things I took away when I was there.
Vulnerability is power. People often have the impression that social entrepreneurs have to be tough, tenacious and temerarious. We are supposed to define our own reality. But that isn't easy. It's like putting a marshmallow over a fire; soon you get this hardened, slightly charred, crisp outer layer. But really - we are all soft and squishy on the inside. Allowing oneself to be vulnerable though seems more daunting than facing the world at times. Yet, the greatest conversations sometimes happen when one simply takes a leap and allows themself to open up - and gives permission to others to do so, too. And by sharing how you feel, it is amazing just how many people have gone through similar situations or are in the same situation as you are. And because you asked - because you had the courage to be vulnerable - everyone can then learn from each other. 
Resilience is a skill. Perseverance is not this innate ability that only some possess. Each experience we go through introduces us to new levels of stress, and challenges us to push ahead. There were so many speakers and even participants who spoke of the tribulations they went through - internal emotional struggles and external societal barriers - and how overcoming these obstacles spurred them on. So, take each difficult experience as a sort of training - a training for your resilience.
Find your ubuntu. It is a powerful feeling to know that at whatever stage you are at, no matter what you are doing - there will always be a community of people that you belong to. The connections I made at StartingBloc are my greatest takeaway; now, 3 weeks after the conference is over, we are still constantly learning from one another through FB, through phone calls, through text messages etc. We teach each other and share with one another. It is the idea of Ubuntu. Not the operating system (though that was probably so-named with the same intentions), but as Archbishop Desmond Tutu describes it:
'A person with Ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, based from a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed.'
Don't underestimate the power of community - not just for the mutual support one can get, but also because in a community that shares openly, the possibility of learning and making new discoveries is so much greater. Find such a community for oneself, or yet greater - be bold enough to try to create your own community.
And here's another reason why community is important: because we, the human race as a whole, whether we want to accept it or not, are a community. And how we choose to respond, react and interact with this community will shape how our future will be.


FORK Wrapup: Recaps, Photos, Reactions, and More!

Bernise Ang

Can't believe that FORK is over. It's taken this long to really *get* what we did at Artistry last Thursday: our collective hopeful uncynical creativity made tangible. FORK seemed to strike *something* – hanging your "work" out there at it's most raw point, and trusting that no one would tear it apart, but to aid in putting it together. Brutal criticism is too easy, but so too is a casual "that's nice" too. Finding that creative middle-ground is what FORK is all about. So thanks to all our terrific speakers: you guys really did insanely great – giving raw, heartfelt, innovative, and irreverent presentations.

Shaun referring to his speaker notes. Hey, "it's a work-in-progress"!

Hanyang from Funbie Studioes shared stories from their 3D printing adventures – yes, they have a makerbot folks! – building stuff like a Mario Cube Side-Light, just for funsies. As people found out when they touched it, it does indeed light up, and make that da-ta noise we're all familiar with. No magic flower power yet though. Something for the todo list Hanyang!

If you're interested in knowing more about 3D printing, or getting someone to make something, Hanyang's your guy.

He was also the reason why we were so lucky to have the giant red robot. More on that later.

*Update: *Just 3 days later, Hanyang's already created a 3D printed model of Yen's Social Art Project at 13 Wilkie Terrace. Creative collaboration woot woot!

Norvin's starting a movement – to rid the world of rote learning, and build one where students really grok what they're learning. That's easy to say, especially when you've been doing it the "right" way all along. But Norvin wasn't: for much of his student life, he excelled at memorising stuff – so much so that he went on to compete in national memory championships (memory palaces FTW). Yeap. He was the model for rote learning.

In fact, he demonstrated his abilities with a feat of memory daring do – asking the audience to pick out any of the first 1000 digits of Pi (kindly providing us mortals with a pre-calculated list), and with furrowed brows, recalling the accurate number sequence at will.

"Not magic, just memory association techniques. Remember TOA/CAH/SOH?"

This changed when something obvious occured to him – why do I spend so much effort on creating artificial associations between concepts, when I could try to deduce what I need from understanding the fundamental underlying concepts. He illustrated by blowing through puckered lips in contrast to an open mouth exhalation. One feels warm, the other cool. Why? HINT: speed. Bonus HINT: email him!

His plan to turn this into a movement involves bringing together successful professionals on Facebook to share what's really needed in the real world. I'm imagining a Pixar type "It gets better" video now.

At a semi-secret location in Singapore, Yen Phang is transforming an old bungalow into a temporary collaborative art space ("Displacements") challenge artists to engage with the world around them (their immediate physical space and surrounding geography), and encourage them to actively embrace and shape our local cultural identity.

And that's all we're allowed to say :x by Ling Fu

Ling Fu introduced us to, an online creative craft marketplace dedicated to raising funds for good causes (with crazy, spunky creativity). Gorgeously designed, we're definitely putting some of our work there, if we ever get into making "stuff". She's looking for cool stuff to bring on, so if you know anyone who's made something cool, get in touch!

Also, we really really love that domain name. I mean seriously,!

Yang from Swarm Studios

Yang (Swarm Studios) blew our minds with a real-time data visualisation of mobile phone gyroscope tracking. That means that he asked everyone to log on to a website, and in real-time, coloured dots started to appear on the black screen in front of us – which moved as we waved our phones around. Neat!

He also explained that he hadn't figured out "the point" to the visulisation yet, just that it was for fun. Which is entirely the point of FORK. Thanks Yang, for explaining FORK better than Shaun did!

Also, we've got a few ideas to use that tech – collaborative art project anyone?

Sid with QuirkCycle

Quirk Quirk Cycle! We're super proud of these guys. Born at UP Singapore's Environment Hackerthon, QuirkCycle was a group of hackerthon misfits (castoffs from their original teams) that found common cause – in enlisting hipster chic in making recyling not just cool, but artistically fun too. It matches people's unwanted "junk" to artists that repurpose them into fantastic works of art. We've got a close eye on them, and you should too ;)

And that's our very first FORK line up. We'll be back in April! Sign up on our mailing list+FB to get notifications.

Thanks to everyone that came, and special props to everyone that helped make FORK a big success!

*Speakers: *Hanyang, Norvin, Yen, Ling, Yang, and Sid

*Venue: *Artistry's Prash, Sam and Marcel (who were incredibly gracious in letting us use their space)

*FORK Team: *Pinji, Shree, Bern, and Shaun

*Photographers: *Eddie, and Josh (gorgeous photos no?)

And special thanks: *NYC for their kind support, *Bart for his (big red robot!) and Hanyang again for helping assemble it!


Amin from Qiscus:

It was really awesome. The crowd’s amazing. The pitches are really cool.

And spotted on STOMP (yeah, we know...):

S'pore's got talent: Meet the giant red transformer of Victoria Street


– BIG RED ROBOT. The breakout star of the night, who ended up staying over at Artistry over the weekend. T'was designed by Bart, and painstakingly put together under the hot sun by Bart and Hanyang. FUN FACT: We didn't plan to have a big red robot! Hanyang showed us a picture the day before FORK – and after we saw how it dwarfed Bart (who was standing next to it) we just HAD to have him here!

– MORE Q&A time! Yup, we heard you – there will be some group Q&A time at the next FORK. We wanted to spend as little time as possible with FORKers on-stage, and more time with mingling discussion. But we noticed that there wasn't large enough crowds around FORKers as we thought. So more group Q&A time! Also, we're gonna try to nurture discussion clusters – more on that soon.

– WANNA BE A FORKer? Inspired by what you saw, or know anyone working on something cool too? Tell us – we'd love to have them in our next lineup!

– As you can tell, we could use some people help! If you're into marketing/graphic-design/presentation-management/helping-hands, drop us an email. We're super friendly crazy people who love making nice things happen.

UP Singapore, Part 2 (2013)

Bernise Ang

NB. This is Part 2 of a post on reflections about UP Singapore. The first part is here.

This year's Environment UP was great. It had the energy you would expect at an event by the good folks at Newton Circus, and a motley crew of students, geeks, educators, and even a professional design team who flew in from Melbourne specially for it. Talk about commitment!

The super slick Bonobo Labs team demo-ing their app

Similarities and differences between 2012 and now:

  • Obviously themed for environment-related ideas this time
  • SAP was still a huge partner for the data sandbox
  • Less pomp & circumstance on Friday night launch, and more focus on the teams
  • Team sizes tended to be smaller (between 3-5 as compared to 5-7 last year)

On the use of the data sandbox

Also, this time round, as opposed to several mentors last year, there was just 2 of us from Syinc. We didn't realise that, and when we did descend upon the teams on the Saturday afternoon, we had to cover ground quickly.

We shared with a team about using Pop app for prototyping

 We found that: 

  • Many teams didn't use (or didn't have to use) the data sandbox, relative to last year anyway (seeing from the sheer number of taxi apps last year)
  • Teams experienced more ups and downs in the process of developing their concepts (no single generalisable cause though)
  • Teams seemed less personality-driven (it's possible there were less overtly dominant personalities this time)

The biggest difference though, was in the whole set-up and context of this particuarly UP. This one was backed by WWF Earth Hour, and seemed commissioned by them to produce apps specifically related to their "I will if you will" campaign. It's the idea of going social via peer challenge - I will jump off a hot air balloon if you will switch off your aircon, for example. Has to be documented with pics etc. 

The winning team was .. *drumroll*...  5 Degrees! Feat. Soh Ju Hu, Loh Chuen Lum, and Lilin Phng. The (very rough) notes I jotted on their app was: I will if you will. Create challenge / select from list of challenges, invite, participants submit pic, challenger verifies ("Well Done" / "OK" / "Er..")

Congrats guys! 

5 Degrees, the winning team from Environment UP

We're impressed by Newton Circus' ability to pull off events spawning innovation from a community of Sg-based folks, and ability to pull together large institutional partners that makes this whole thing real. More importantly, the (increasing) presence of such events is something that we see as not only fun, and makes for a more vibrant community, but is also something that provides more space for hacker/geek culture and social sector to intersect. Coz it's really at the crossings of different worlds that you begin to take in different mindsets and philosophies, and create something new and of value.

We're looking forward to the next one - Health UP!  


UP Singapore, Part 1 (2012)

Bernise Ang

Back in June 2012, the fabulous folks at Newton Circus did a pilot of what has become a very interesting social innovation event series in Singapore: UP Singapore. We were involved as mentors, and also gave a presentation on community-driven innovation. (Serendipitously, that was followed by another collaboration on a similar theme, with IDEO.)

Images from UP Singapore except where they obviously aren't.


On the nature of community-driven innovation

This year, we were involved as mentors once more, and got to see yet another batch of great ideas come outta it. 

So this time, we thought we'd do a comparative reflection on our experiences there, from the perspective of mentors (a rather peripheral role!). (Yes, this is overdue, but hey as they say, better late than never!) This post is Part 1 of 2.

What it is: a weekend of geeks, designers, researchers, etc coming together to form teams and build an app over the 2 days, and sharing them to everyone at the end. The whole process is supported by big data from big partners (eg. SAP, Singtel, Comfort Cabs, etc), as well as mentors, and pizza+beer (of course). 

Hacking away

The first one was on various themes - well actually, it was unthemed. So people could just bring all sorts of ideas and rock up, and see what comes up. Which is what happened. 

In particular, there was a lot of pivoting around many ideas, and several of them went through some major evolution over the 2 days. The way we saw it, the mentors were a sounding board, but also a source of tough questions - the toughest of which were typically around challenging the very need for what the team was offering. But well, gotta push if you want quality ideas coming out yeah?

The ideas: lots, and lots, of taxi booking apps - but also a bunch of other pretty unique ones too. We particularly liked:

ClimateRight: crowd-adjusted aircon temperatures that uses real-time data from in-building users, via an app, to save energy on unnecessary chill. 

SurePark: Find a parking lot in the city, before you even head out. Lets you know how many lots are available in a major building, predict how many will be free at your estimated time of arrival and help you reserve a lot in advance.

Postcode Postcard: lets you visualize the local mobile network data (and other datasets), render it, and print to physical postcard on the spot. They have a working prototype (mad props guys!) - check it out here.

Visualise cellular mobile data, transport network data, etc - and BOOM! there's your cool postcardGranDate: A web app that helps you plan a date with your gramps! The app uses crowd-sourced data to identify the best venues and activities catering to the older generation.


We are particularly proud of GranDate - they started out with a pretty disparate group and not much of an idea, but pivoted majorly at least once, if not twice. They ended up with a really clever concept that isn't terribly techincally difficult to put together, yet could really help the young professionals in their 20s and 30s make spending time with their folks way easier. Also, they were the winning team from UP Singapore 2012! w00t!

Call for Open Mic Pitchers now Open!

Bernise Ang

Clue: Wizard hats? Yes really!


Once again, we're looking for folks-with-crazy-world-changing-ideas! If you've been struggling alone with questions like "is this actually a good idea?", or looking for potential teammates/mentors/funders, get in touch.

We'd love to provide you with an audience of 50-60 such folks eager to help you "figure it out".

See what our previous open mic shenanigans looked like. (Spoiler: folks from Saught, The Everyday Revolution, and others)

Email with a brief description of your idea by Feb 14.

Jamming with IDEO, again

Bernise Ang

Hi y'all!

Thanks to everyone who came along to our creative jamming night this week - we had a truly terrific session, fuelled by your unbridled quirky creative idealism.
This was our second Syinc IDEO collaboration this year, but in a totally different style from the first, and it blew us all away. For those not in the know, we had a night of creative concepting, coming up with weird, wacky and wonderful ideas. Everything sprouted from a single OpenIDEO challenge
How might we inspire and enable communities to take more initiative in making their local environments better?
So what happened on the night? (Not everything was an app!) Here's a snapshot of the concepts - and there were many more: 
THE TIME MACHINE: Mobile App that crowdsources the history of spaces in Singapore (like Foursquare check-ins, but for events in our past). Also by getting folks to submit old photos, a virtual world alá PhotoSynth could be generated – now imagine scrubbing across the screen to jump backwards and forwards in time.
PARTY TRAIN: Late night MRT trains wired up to party – with speakers, a DJ, and moodlights – it's not to difficult to imagine that revellers can continue their partying all the way home, secretly getting them home without drunk driving. It's like the best anti drink driving solution ever. Maybe?

(also, this was voted crowd favourite!) 

COMPLAINTEREST: What if complaints were creative opportunities? Well… they are! This team decided that by aggregating complaints, they'd be able to craft community calls-to-action: getting community innovators/entrepreneurs to take on the challenges. After all, one man's complaint is another man's business case right?

(COMMUNITY) LIBRARY OF EVERYTHING: So how do you solve the "I'd like to use something, but only need it infrequently" problem? Well, that's what we've used libraries for (books). Why don't we extend that metaphor over to -hardware tools, cooking implements, instruments, "stuff", or even services?- everything else? Imagine walking past to what appears to be a wonderfully curated garage sale – but year-round, and with no money ever changing hands. It's like a community Library of Everything.

Now go make it real, or someone else will. ;) Start here.


L-R: Khairu, Haresh & gang. Quintessential Dave. In the thick of it. More great pics here. Credit: Shawn Danker

But seriously. We'd really like to see some of these ideas (and the others, and others) happen. With a little bit of TLC, we can cause a little creative joy & spontaneity. If you've gotten just as stoked as we have - and have already posted a bunch load of things on the OpenIDEO challenge page - get in touch. We may have fun(d) things for you.

TalkingShop: Embrace up close with Jane Chen

Bernise Ang

For some time now, we've been fascinated by the story of Embrace. 

"On one of my first trips to India, I met this young woman, Sevitha, who had just given birth to a tiny premature baby, Rani. She took her baby to the nearest village clinic, and the doctor advised her to take Rani to a city hospital so she could be placed in an incubator. But that hospital was over four hours away, and Sevitha didn't have the means to get there, so her baby died."

The story of Sevitha, and many others like this, are what inspired the birth of Embrace, an infant incubator Jane and her team developed. 

On Friday we finally got to meet her in the flesh, in a fireside chat with us about her work and her story.

It was a really great chat. She shared with us her journey of working in management consulting, in HIV and healthcare work in China and Tanzania, and how the founding of Embrace was made possible by being in a special little class at Stanford while doing her MBA.  

Some things we took away: 

Being in the field is super important. We've all heard how "theory is only abstract", but Jane's experience showed us how something like, finding out what midwives thought was really important in birthing in rural India could only happen if you were there. Seeing the expression on their faces. Them fiddling with your prototype. Them trying to find the words to describe something, and gesticulating to tell you. 

Big MNC money isn't always the jackpot. Sometimes, when you're offered plenty moolah for the rights of the baby you've developed (no pun intended), it's tempting. But sometimes, you need to make that (very hard) call on what it is that ultimately advances your mission more.

Mentors matter. Day to day, they keep you honest and accountable. But when it comes to bigger, or more difficult decisions, their experience and wisdom can really help you see what you need to see. Clarifying your compass, as it were.

Check out Jane's TED talk, embedded below, where she shares the story and impetus behind Embrace. (We recommend!)

Think&Drink13: A "design night" experiment

Bernise Ang

So - we've been having a bunch of TED-style talks and a coupla talkshow-style panels. ADD-esque as we are, we were itching to try out something new. 

We'd been toying around with the idea of, well, toying around. We've always got lots of ideas we want to get our hands on, and lots of challenges out there we feel are problems worth tackling. 

It just so happens that we had recently concluded a consulting project* on migrant workers, which reveal some really good insights about the situation of foreign domestic workers in Singapore. (Our client was HOME.) Along with that, our investigations threw up a whole bunch of opportunity areas on particular dimensions of the issue - industry practice, socio-cultural attitudes, power dynamics, motivations and aspirations, etc. We had such rich data, and not enough resources to take the concepts we'd developed further!

So we thought: Why not throw it to our (very awesome) Syincommunity to (semi)crowd -generate some more concepts?

*We'll be putting together a mini-series of presentations on this. If you're keen, watch this space.

Here's what happened. 

PS. Larger images of resulting concepts: Aid network hotline, Daycare NS -meets- MaidBook, Gov unit bridging employers and employees, Back-to-basics Kampung Spirit.

The spread | Shaun, our host extraordinare   



Team C deep in discussion | Team D hard at work  



Team A: aid network hotline (go figure!) 



Team C: Bridging the employer-employee gap
Winner! Team D: Kampung Spirit  



Team B: NS Daycare meets MaidBook
And *that's* how it's done.

FailStock: Talking failure in Sg (yes that's right)

Bernise Ang

A bunch of friends from Syinc, Conjunct Consulting, SGE, and (yes he is practically an organisation unto himself!) came together to host a small un-conference discussing the very-taboo-in-Sg notion of Failure.

Singapore's first, it seems - even before FailCon Singapore! (It was, of course, on a much smaller scale though.) FailStock did, unfortunately, succeed. In its modest goal of simply getting people to talk about the nature of failure, and more importantly, their failures.

Some takeaways for us:

i) An environment/culture that accepts failure is really helpful. While we're getting there, the framing of our own failures is even more important.

ii) Framing of failure also helps you learn from it more effectively.

ii) The path to success is often not linear at all. And, being open to serendipity helps.

Which led us to ask (not out loud lah, we're Singaporeans).... uh, should we really be starting up stuff in Singapore? Hmm.

Here, a (brief) visual story of some things we ended up talking about.

The way failure is framed makes a huge difference.The S-curve of changeFour attributes of foundersSharing startup experiences


L-R: Hellos; Isaac from SGE; 3 co-founders hangin out (not from the same startup)

Think&Drink12: A Special Syinc-IDEO Collab

Bernise Ang

Our latest Think&Drink was a special one - our first (public) collaboration with the good folk at IDEO. We're particularly excited about this one - we've been exchanging ideas with the guys at the Singapore office for a while, and now we're co-designing a small project together (more details later lah). But doing a Think&Drink together and sharing some creative craziness with a larger crowd was too fun an idea not to do.

Some backstory: During UP Singapore in mid June, an urban innovation festival in Singapore which Syinc is a partner of, we presented some of our ideas on ground-up innovation. What it looks like, what are the conditions neccesary for it to flourish, and to what extent government should step in (or rather, step back). Less than 48 hours later, we find out that our friends at IDEO had been thinking about pretty much the exact same theme, and got approached to co-host a Think&Drink. How's that for serendipity.

And so the topic for Think&Drink12: Community Ownership and Ground-Up Change. Moderated by no less than Paul Bennett, Chief Creative at IDEO (who happens to be in town!).


Daryl Arnold / Newton Circus as innovative+sustainable business guy
Allan Lim / The Living Project as ground-up community action guy 
Leon Voon / Public Service Division as enlightened civil servant
Bernise Ang / Syinc as creative+social+business gal
Paul Bennett / IDEO as Oprah



More pics on our FB page here - like us if you, well, like!

Some of the more poignant dialogues between the panelists and our moderator proved to be very insightful, such as Daryl’s response to Paul’s question on why he was so positive regarding active interaction between citizen and government, saying that it was because the Singapore government has found positive results with such a method and was trying to make it systemic, quoting that Singapore had “incredible openness, but it is hard to notice it from the inside looking outward.”
Another issue that came up was on the capability for social media to evoke change in which there was a unanimous call for responsibility by both citizen and government. Allan mentioned that the government and policy-makers needed “thicker skin” by trying not to read anything that is politically slanted, while Paul suggested that while there would always be naysayers, it was essential to include these naysayers in the design process to make the product better.

As Paul went into the subject of how do we keep the conversation simple and away from hysteria about measuring every phase and yet staying on track, he came up with an alternative meaning to the acronym KPI: keeping people interested. Bernise suggested the reason for this phobia of KPIs is that the majority of mistrust is due to misinformation about these indicators. She suggested having more success stories of organizations that have met their objectives while hitting KPI targets, while returning these KPIs to first principles so that there is understanding at a human level, which coincided with Leon’s point that there are many individuals who have much to contribute, but have fallen through administrative cracks.


Another update coming soon - stay tuned.

Think&Drink11: Everything is a Remix

Bernise Ang

Yes, everything is a Remix. We've always tinkered around with creativity, concepts, stuff that comes outta brains.. the whole, "ideas having sex" thing. It kinda came to how all this stuff is... combinatorial, really.

So when we came across Kirby Ferguson's video series by the above title, we were totally inspired! It came across to us as part history lesson on the borrowing and mixing of ideas, and part socio-political commentary on intellectual property. Eye-opening. 

The evening: A no-ads, no-frills, beer-in-hands screening of all 4 videos. (We highly recommend 3: The Elements of Creativity and 4: System Failure. Actually, we just recommend you watch the whole thing, it's so good. And support Kirby's effort if you can.)

Best surprise of the night: Kirby coming on Skype (!) to answer our motley Q&A! Thanks Kirby for being such a sport.

This event is a tribute to Remix as a framing of all things cultural and creative. Cheers.





The audience (and we should mention, the great venue at Pigeonhole!)Kirby! Kirby! Kirby! (no lah, the chanting didn't actually happen. It IS Singapore you know. Lol.)The thinking before the drinking (oh wait, beer's already in hand)Ceteris paribus, drinking aids thinking. (Except for you kids under 18!)Good conversation, we reckon, is also combinatorial. (Of interesting people. ;))That's all folks ;)

T&D10: The Open Mic Experiment

Bernise Ang

So we realized that since we were sick of lectures and that after all it is T&D’s 10th edition. We wanted to do things really differently.

So as our guest speaker for this time … we had you.

Ten unknown speakers from startups or not-yet-started-ups pitching their ideas looking for support, funding or just simply your facebook like. 

The very very quick low-down on the line-up:

Pamela & Adeline • Saught

Jewellery from scrap metal from decommissioned mines in Cambodia. Instruments for war into pieces for peace.

Sophia • The Everyday Revolution

Art from autistic adults who slip through the cracks after their education. And they can draw really well.

Alan • Unheard Theatre

A performing arts group for the hearing impaired.

Dione • Kenyan Riders

So that talented athletic Kenyans can have employment – through having them cycle professionally. Because there has not been an African Lance Armstrong yet in history.

Ivan • BagoSphere

Providing employability training for rural Pinoy youth so as to bridge the gap between call centres saturated in Makati City, and rural youth seeking jobs and opportunity.

Kenneth & Linan • openlectures

Quality, free education through video lessons online. Because education should not be given to only those with money for tuition.


Because Singapore isn’t that boring. So why do people say so? Shadowing cool Singaporeans and their lives might just show otherwise.

Hui Ying (and Yong Hao)

For soil, people and community. Promoting urban gardening to help the community at large.

Brennan • Geeks & Gov

Connecting geeks and government. Because geeks have good ideas, and gov could use some of them.

After the 9, we made an impromptu call for anyone else who felt inspired to pitch after hearing everyone - and we had one! Rusydi from Reactor, which builds up students with entrepreneurial skills through mentorship in schools. The plug: for alumni of all schools to join the effort!

Rusydi plugging Reactor, impromptu

At the end, we had the pitchers in a firing squad-ish formation of sorts, as they took questions via paper aeroplanes thrown by the audience.

We were really chuffed 1) because the turnout was good and even made Broun Café rather cramped, 2) because the number of people wanting to pitch were way beyond our expectations and 3) because the participants shared that they found it useful - whether this was because of the feedback they got from the flying paper aeroplanes or the people. 

You can bet that we’ll be having another such event soon. And that all the other people who we didn’t managed to squeeze within our time will have another chance to engage a crowd as large as this time. Watch this space.


Think&Drink 9: The Kid


It’s not often that we ask fourteen year olds to speak at T&D. And it’s not often that these fourteen year olds can boast to have been involved in getting a million trees planted.

Actually the number is 12.5 billion. But then we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

Felix Finkbeiner was working on a school assignment about climate change when he was nine. His research led him to Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai and her campaign to plant 30 million trees in Africa. That inspired him to plant his own tree in his school in Bavaria.

It’s been five years since that first tree was planted, and now his campaign has gone global. Since then he has spoken in front of the United Nations (his biggest challenge so far according to him), and with his team has conducted 112 "academies" (workshops run by Plant-for-the-Planet) in 16 countries. The entrepreneurial youngster even has his own new retail product, Change Chocolate, coming up this year.

He does what he does because, in his own words – “the year 2100 is within his lifetime”. The future which is abstract to many adults will be a reality for his generation (and ours!). And it’ll be too late by the time he’s an adult.

At the moment, he already has twelve and a half thousand children with him. His goal for 2020 is for a million people worldwide planting trees with him, and to even create the world's first global political party. “When people work together, they have power – and enough to make our own revolution if necessary."

His dad, who was there with us, shared (rather candidly, and in good humour) that he doesn’t think that he’s all that special (his words!). He just reckons it’s in Felix’s personality to be speaking about these things. But as Felix mused, all this could not be possible without his family – his father to travel around with him, and even allowing the first employee of Plant-for-the-Planet (Felix’s organization) to use their house as an office.

Despite having the facts about climate change at the tips of his fingers, and (from what we understand) a fairly substantial young female fan base, Felix is humble. Upon being asked why he thinks adults make the bad decisions he’s fighting against, he just shrugs his shoulders and says frankly “I don’t know”. 

But don’t take him too lightly. Just a few days ago Felix gave a presentation to a business conference. Usually the applause and the standing ovations come at the end. This time it came in front, and not just any business conference – two thousand CEOs stood in applause as he walked into the room to give his speech.

During the evening, he also said that there are always people who don’t take you seriously. But then, there are always people who don’t take the issues seriously too. Neither should stop you from doing what you do.

So thank you, Felix (and dad), for an inspiring evening – a night with a fourteen year-old who has planted so many trees, and who we reckon will inspire many more over his lifetime.

Activating Empathy in Schools

Bernise Ang

Ever wondered if school could be better? So have we. 

School was always about Math, Science, and so on - and we always wondered, while watching kids scurrying around in the canteens during break, if any of these young minds ever wondered what goes on beyond their classroom, beyond their own little worlds.

That’s where you could do something.

Organised by Ashoka Changemakers, “Activating Empathy! Transforming Schools to Teach What Matters” is a global collaborative competition that aims to do just that, and it is now open for entries.      

The competition seeks the best ideas, programs, and learning models from around the world that equip students with the skill of empathy by: 

  • Encouraging social and emotional development       
  • Unlocking new ways of viewing problems, opening the door to a new world of potential solutions   
  • Addressing bullying or aggression in ways that advance understanding of others' perspectives 
  • Promoting community diversity and a respect for differences    
  • Championing children as real-­‐world problem solvers rather than simply bystanders    

Not that this should matter, but there's 70K USD in prize money, and some mystery special prizes, so apply online to share your ideas, gather support for your project, or just to connect with others.

Final final registration closes on March 30, so look up the site to sign up or find out more.

DISCLOSURE: Syinc is an official Network Partner of Ashoka Changemakers. No, they did not pay us to share this. We just think you’d think it awesome anyways.