WE FIND OUT HOW TWO INDIVIDUALS TOOK THE OPPORTUNITY TO TURN THEIR PASSION FOR YOUTH INTO ACTION.
As Halogen celebrates its 10th year of building young leaders, we find out how two individuals took the opportunity to turn their passion for youth into an action that has reaped a mindset of influencing young people towards positive action and influence.
Meeting Halogen’s co-founders Martin Tan, 36 and Jeffrey Yip, 37 for the first time gives you the impression that the two men are constantly chatting. Ten years ago in 2003, they met through a mutual friend and have sat down for countless conversations since. The first conversation between them revolved around an event called National Young Leaders’ Day (NYLD) that Jeffrey had attended in Auckland that was organised by the Young Leaders Foundation in Australia.
Jeffrey, who was a research scholar at the National Youth Council working on the pioneer Youth.sg book, witnessed the NYLD event where 3,000 to 4,000 students filled a stadium to learn about leadership from different speakers in the community, business, and sports arenas. “The speakers spoke about their passion, taking action and having influence in their sphere of work. I thought it was cool and inspiring and was moved to tears at some of the speeches,” he said.
The idea stuck in his head when he returned to Singapore. “It hit me on the value of pursuing our passions and our dreams and I thought that this would be something that would work out well in Singapore,” he added.
Jeffrey was later introduced to Martin who was then the executive director of RiverLife Community Services at RiverLife Church and the two struck a chord when they realised that they had a common interest and passion for youth work. As Boys Brigade boys, both individuals had benefitted from having people invest in their lives throughout their youth and were keen to pay it forward.
In May 2003, Martin, along with two other student volunteers from the National University of Singapore, travelled up to Sydney to witness the NYLD event. By October 2003, the first NYLD took place in Singapore at the Singapore Expo for 1,000 students. The event was funded by the North East Community Development Council and the entire programme was run by volunteers including Martin and Jeffrey who were still employed in their respective organisations. The first Guest-of-Honour was Singapore’s Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, who was then the Minister of Defence.
From the first event, Halogen built its philosophy of “passing the baton on”. This is where influential leaders from different fields share their stories to pass the baton on to young people, so that he or she may be inspired to do something similar with their lives. Through feedback from the event, it became evident that NYLD served a need in Singapore. “People were asking us why we were just doing events when leadership programmes were needed in school and teachers also needed to know how to develop young people as leaders,” said Martin.
Based on the feedback and planning, the organisation Young Leaders’ Foundation Singapore was formed in Au- gust 2003. Martin took on the full-time role of executive director and co-founder while Jeffrey continued lending his expertise as a co-founder, and also as a board member for a period of time. Martin said, “We decided that we had to grow this beyond what volunteers can do. Our next biggest challenge then was to raise funds as sustainability was important”.
The idea that no one thought about combining youth and leadership together in the early years spurred Martin and Jeffrey further. “It’s really debunking the myth of leadership – that it is not about position, seniority or experience, but a daily act. Young people can be more effective in doing leadership in different fields,” explains Jeffrey, who is presently pursuing his PhD in Organisational Behaviour at Boston University.
“The idea that no one thought about combining youth and leadership together in the early years spurred Martin and Jeffrey further. “It’s really debunking the myth of leadership – that it is not about position, seniority or experience, but a daily act. Young people can be more effective in doing leadership in different fields,” explains Jeffrey.”
“Once that idea took hold and we learnt to communicate the idea more effectively, it helped to overcome the barrier of the perception that young people and leaders are not to be combined together.”
Today, Halogen Foundation Singapore (previously known as Young Leaders’ Foundation) has organised 18 NYLD events in 10 years, grown to include five different arms of Academy, Events, Projects, Social and Lab, and has launched the National Young Leader Award. All this is our response to cater to the different needs of schools, students, educators and parents when it comes to leadership.
While the journey to growth may seen remarkable, Martin and Jeffrey’s core question to themselves remain the same: “What will benefit young people and what do schools need today?”
“What Halogen emphasises about leadership, helps. It is about serving a felt need. Halogen opens up the win- dow for young people to understand this and to make their choices and know what they want to do. Leadership is not about themselves but it is about serving others,” says Martin.
Both feel that acknowledging the independent-minded youth of today is also important as Halogen is not about prescribing a set pathway but opening a window to different life stories and giving youths an insight into the many paths they may be curious about. “I look at education in the last few years where the focus is on different pathways to success. The idea of bringing in different types of speakers on the same platform is still part and parcel of our DNA which has not changed in the last 10 years,” adds Martin.
What lies ahead for the organisation in the next 10 years? He says, “Perhaps because of our last 10 years, we can have a glimpse into the future needs of the country or the type of young people and education that we can potentially build”.
#WHATSNEXT for Halogen in the next 10 years?
Article by Daphne Lee