Have you ever sat in a theatre with an orchestra performing before? It’s a spectacularly elaborate affair, an ensemble of 23 instruments and more than 100 musicians, all playing a single symphony, beautiful. If you have never heard an orchestra before, I’d highly recommend the Chicago Symphony Orchestra playing Beethoven’s 9th Symphony here: https://youtu.be/rOjHhS5MtvA
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Each instrument is played with such confidence and impeccable timing! Weaving together an inspired tapestry, where every instrument is distinct yet beautifully blended together. If one goes off timing, it would be so obvious a mistake as to be almost deafening.
As we take a deeper look into the process, we will learn that in order for one to participate in an orchestra, you must first spend 10 years in primary training. This is followed by 6 years in a reputable music institute, where you will need to freelance in various gigs in order to gain enough experience. Once you pass the orchestra’s audition, you will need to rehearse for another 2 years before you can achieve tenure position. These 2 years are important to develop chemistry and trust with your team members as you play each piece to the best of your ability. Of course, this does not include the obsessive hours that you’ll spend daily honing your craft so that you do not lose your technique and endurance.
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What an elaborate process. Yet its reward can be gloriously witnessed and enjoyed by many. In order to perform a single symphony beautifully, the concerted participation and commitment of every member in the orchestra are absolutely vital.
Perhaps we can consider it requires an ensemble of diverse talents and roles in order to do good well.
I love this story of a man named Seng Choon, who came from humble beginnings and built a successful management consultancy. At the same time, he wanted to give back to the community. It began with the occasional volunteering, taking time off his schedule to take elderly on bus tours, and even conducting entrepreneurship classes for inmates. But it took meeting a polio sufferer that forever changed the way he did good.
Photo by CNA
Tony, a polio survivor, dreamt of becoming a chef. Many thought it was impossible. As he only had one functional hand, it was difficult to learn how to cook, and no employers were willing to take the risk of hiring him. It was then that Seng Choon thought it was not a good enough reason for that dream to be impossible. As an engineer, he could design tools and systems that could be managed with one-hand. He considered the strengths of everyone he encountered, which led to many innovations: from braille cash registers to height-adjustable worktops. He sought the expertise of chefs to design menus and conduct the necessary training. With all the preparations in place, in 2010, he set up 3 stalls at Balestier Market and Food Centre.
Today, Dignity Kitchen is an award leading social enterprise that trains and employs a mixture of people. They include people with disabilities, former inmates, single mothers, victims of domestic abuse, school dropouts and essentially anyone struggling to be socially accepted, to cook and run hawker stalls. Dignity Kitchen began with only 2 people. 10 years later, they have grown to a team of 56 full-time staff, training and placing more than 500 people in employment!
Seng Choon was like a conductor. He created the right processes for people to be trained. He collaborated with those who could offer skills that were valuable, from culinary to finances. Chefs were involved in designing the recipes, they experimented and practised relentlessly, honing the craft of every person. He modelled commitment by funding his startup despite having little to no support. He learnt from his mistakes and taught others to strive for excellence by doing the same. He built trust among his teammates, fostering a strong team spirit – to be gracious with one another, yet strive for excellence. Dignity Kitchen worked tirelessly to involve others in the same industry, conducting training and consultations; not only increasing the employability of those who are differently-abled, but actually getting employed. If Dignity Kitchen was part of an orchestra, it certainly produced a melodious sound; one that energises others to collaborate in the same orchestra and brought inspiration to others listening.
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Dignity Kitchen sets an exemplary precedent for how good can be done. They did not just do things well, they involved others to participate and collaborate with them. At Solve n+1, we have the privilege of facilitating various projects with the same ideology. With every project we take on, we make every effort to involve the necessary stakeholders. The model of inclusion in doing good allows us to facilitate communities that act with civic-mindedness, ensuring value and longevity to those we serve. Here are a few steps one can consider as they do good:
Explore – Learn as many things as you can, use every opportunity to volunteer. Your exposure will allow you to develop insights about any issues, and discover your own conviction on important matters. (More can be found here)
Hone & Learn – Develop a set of skills that you want to be competent in. Practice them deliberately, and often seek feedback on how you can improve.
Volunteer and Collaborate – Offer ways you could strengthen/support an organisation. Many charities need support beyond just volunteering for 2-3 hours a week. From social media to volunteer management, you can only be as creative as you are clear about the issues they face. Consider befriending their staff teams, learning about their work and you will be able to see new opportunities to meaningfully contribute.
Set a goal – Set a goal and commit to seeing it through. Your commitment will inspire trust with your teammates.
Coordinate – Invite friends and partners that can be your fellow volunteer teammates. Communicate and direct one another. Many hands can make less work if we have a plan with one another.
It truly takes an orchestra to do good, well. As a single instrument can only excel so well, does the extent of good a single person can accomplish. Our world certainly needs more to do good, and we need to do good, together.
How are you doing good today? Wherever you may be at, however talented you might think you are, you certainly have much to offer. Consider your involvement, set aside time to grow in-depth, and discover opportunities with one another to do good, well.
Photo by Kat Yukawa on Unsplash
Whether we like it or not, we are in the same orchestra. We can choose to blow our trumpet our own way, or realise that our communities are much closer than we care to admit. We need to prepare ourselves for the symphony of life, to perform the values and ideals we believe in. With different instruments all over, playing that ‘one’ sound. A mesmerising tapestry that we can be truly proud of.
The Bezer Initiative is our response to the need for communities to be more involved in helping the underprivileged. Check out the project here.
The Orchestra of Doing Good is the fifth in a series of six articles. They are perspectives written by the Solve n+1 team and volunteers on how we can do good, better. Many of Solve’s projects are a fruit of the way we understand these issues. If you would like to find out more about the projects and issues we deal with, feel free to contact us . Stay in touch with our latest projects and blog posts by following us on Facebook and Instagram.