After 10 Years of Halogen, #whatsnext?

The incoming CEO of Halogen Foundation Singapore, Sean Kong, shares his heartbeat, dreams and plans for what lies ahead.

I come from a heritage of educators – my grandmother, parents, elder sister, uncles and aunties are all educators. I grew up familiar with the joys and challenges of teaching. Seeing the impact, It was a natural choice for me to join the education sector.

In my past five years of being involved in youth development training, I have spoken to nearly 40,000 students and 500 educators across multiple topics and platforms. One question that drives me to find an answer is: What happens to a young person after he finishes his years of formal education?

If education is meant to prepare a young person for the rest of his life, then the measure of our success as educators lies not in how well they fare in tests and exams, but how well they fare in life. That is why I strongly believe in youth leadership development.

Taking over the reins of Halogen from Martin, I want to continue his legacy of building a generation of young leaders who lead themselves and others well. I want to continue to champion them to practically change our world through issues they believe in. To us, we want to continue to broaden the definition of leadership – one that is not limited to positions of power but positions of influence.

We see leadership as influence. And influence is powerful.

Young people need to know that. Uncle Ben said to Peter Parker (Spiderman) before his death: “With great power comes great responsibility”. This is a message that our young people need to hear today. If we help young people realise how much pow- er they can yield just through their influ- ence, we can help them grow in taking responsibility over how they use their influence.

In a leadership camp I conducted for a motley group of students, there was a group of boys who were constantly making crude jokes and using foul language, thinking it was cool. As one of the chief trainers, I had the option to let that pass, making an excuse for their behaviour because “boys will be boys”. Instead, I chose to publicly admonish the boys who were crude and the girls who acquiesced their irreverent mannerisms.

I communicated that the boys’ crude behavior was far from impressive to the girls. They could be so much more than the low expectations people have of them and the girls did not have to put up with low standards of the boys around them. In living up to higher standards, they will inspire and influence others to do the same. If enough of them work at keeping these high standards, there will eventually be a critical mass to start a positive culture of respect.

As the camp progressed, there was marked improvement in the behaviour as they began to realise the power of their influence not just over one another, but also over the overall dynamics.

In the feedback form, one boy wrote “Thank you for treating me like one of them (referring to those from branded schools)”, and one girl mentioned “Thank you for teaching us how to deal with unacceptable behaviour. You inspire us to live by higher standards and uphold them”. Through this experience, it further reinforced in my heart that leadership is influence.

This is the core of our message each time we engage with youths, educators and parents, be it through our events, our academy workshops, our action projects, or our media channels. It is a message that we wish to spread with great intensity and “virality”, and more so in an increasingly digitised, volatile, uncertain, complex, am- biguous (VUCA) world.

As I lead the charge into #WHATSNEXT, Halogen aims to increase our engagement with youths through online media. With Singapore youths spending an average of 5.5* hours a day on their mobile devices, the physical touch points of spreading this message that leadership is influence, is no longer sufficient.

We need to be where the youths are.

Beyond the youths, to truly create a sustained impact in developing young leaders, Halogen recognises that educators are key stakeholders in the ecosystem. We can inspire and equip young leaders, but eventually the follow-up and long-term development rests on educators. Therefore, we want to intentionally partner with and equip educators to engage this generation of youth with new resources, tools and skills.

Zooming out of the education world into the wider society, we have also observed that good businesses have the power to change communities and societies for the better. Therefore, this October 2013, we have inked a partnership with the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship to launch an entrepreneurship education track next year. In the long run, we want to build an ecosystem of local entrepreneurs who conduct ethical businesses that help make communities and society better.

As Halogen takes a leap into the future, we will evolve to meet the changing needs and address pressing issues with vision, understanding, clarity and ability. We will remain committed to our mission of developing competent young leaders of good character, who will contribute generously to communities. We want to share with young people that with great power does come great responsibility, but this power is not restricted to the realm of super heroes.

I invite you to join my team and me in building young leaders.

Article by Sean Kong


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