By Izyan Nadzirah
Have you seen the social experiments online where Singaporeans are made to help one another with a broken down car? Perhaps the one where an unsuspecting National Serviceman is made to stop a snatch theft? You’ve almost definitely seen the flash mob with a thousand Singaporeans participating in the MP3 Experiment at Resorts World Sentosa! These and more are a series of concepts executed by the ground-up organisation, The Hidden Good.
Started by Rovik Jeremiah Robert (RI, 2011) and Leon Heng, from ACS(I), The Hidden Good was a response to the torrent of negativity in the media-sphere last February. Faced with a situation in which shaming and defaming have become commonplace, these friends decided to take action by containing negativity with positivity. Despite the comments from their friends and mentors that such a project won’t reach an audience, the duo pushed forward with the clear vision of building a better society.
‘We knew how it was going to look like. It was going to be as sexy as the content on STOMP, but more engaging and definitely more worthwhile,’ revealed Rovik.
A year later, their vision has produced a movement that is slowly transforming society. From a simple duo, the team has evolved to one with 40 members, with a quarter being Rafflesian alumni. With a subscriber base of more than 3,000, they command a sizeable reach online and reach out to masses of youths. They work on multiple projects, all with the core goal of building a better society.
‘It’s simple. We, the youth are going to inherit society in whatever form it ends up. We have a chance to shape that form right now, and we’re deciding to make it better,’ shared Rovik.
We chat with a few members of the team [Rovik (Co-Founder of The Hidden Good), Ding Hao (RI, 2011, Executive Producer of ON: a satire-based talkshow), Foo Yihui (RI, 2012, Marketing Head of MP3 Experiment 2013) and Aiysh Sheikh (RI, 2013, Project Manager in The Hood Factory’s hidden camera series)] to understand the motivations behind the organisation and its people.
What made you join The Hidden Good?
YIHUI Personally I wanted to gain experience working with a new movement and being part of the team from the beginning. I liked its energy.
AISYH I believed in what The Hidden Good was doing, and so I reached out through my friends who knew Rovik and joined the group.
DING HAO Rovik asked me to lead ON: and I believed in the goal, which was to bring back logic to the discussions online. It was my kind of project.
ROVIK Almost 60% of the people in my team are Singaporeans who reached out through Facebook or mutual friends to join us. Very few are originally my friends, but all of them have become close companions of mine after all the magic we’ve created together.
Please take us through a social experiment journey from start to finish.
ROVIK We start by identifying the goal. What aspect of society are we trying to bring awareness or change to? We look through what already has been done and analyse why things are as lacking as they are. We then let loose and go wild with the hypotheticals to see what kind of situations would best bring out the result we believe would improve our view of society. This is the most fun part as we come up with some pretty wild ideas. We then work backwards from the idea we all find to be the most effective and see if they actually create any form of tangible impact or awareness.
DING HAO Most of the time, we’re looking at ‘pain points’ in society and discovering ways to tackle them head-on. We need more people to be opinionated when it comes to constructive discourse.
Could you tell us the different projects under The Hidden Good?
AISYH The Hood Factory is our iconic Hidden Camera series where we set up situational conflicts with the faith that Singaporeans will respond favourably. We capture these genuine reactions and edit them together to make for an enjoyable and sometimes hilarious watch on how uniquely Singaporean we are, and ultimately proving that there’s a hidden good waiting to be captured.
YIHUI The MP3 Experiment originated when Rovik emailed the founder of ImprovEverywhere (the juggernauts of social experiments) in New York for collaborative opportunities, and identified The MP3 Experiment as having the opportunity to break down barriers between Singaporeans. It’s a simple audio file that people have to download and play simultaneously at a given location. No one has prior information on what the track contains, and is compelled to follow through some of the seemingly awkward tasks such as interaction with the public and spreading hugs because of the nature of the experiment. We’re the only organisation that has worked with the official creators from New York and the most successful thus far, with a 1,000 participants last year. The aim was to present Singapore with a visual depiction of what a warmer, friendlier society could look like.
DING HAO ON: is our way of bringing a voice to the middle-ground. We’re definitely biased in the sense that we’re pro-society building, although that’s difficult to define in itself. But we reason both sides of any argument out and we conduct a comprehensive study of opinions, using satire to shed light on the ridiculousness we sometimes fall into by subscribing to popular opinion. We’re inspired by Jon Stewart’s Daily Show and CBS’s Eyewitness news; these shows are able to be critical and yet entertaining at the same time.
ROVIK There are a few more projects in the works that we can’t share too much information about just yet, in case the surprise element is compromised, and our Good Ol Days (Lifesize Kampung Games) which we bring to different districts and communities as a package but essentially all our projects unite in shaping and building society. The MP3 experiment, which was conducted in Sentosa, was a huge success! It united 1000 strangers in a series of surprise tasks embedded in an mp3 soundtrack which everyone had downloaded.
What’s the most powerful aspect of The Hidden Good?
DING HAO Our core values. We strongly believe in change, and we utilise our platforms to launch positive change in society. My team is made up of amazing people who all continue to do this in their free time because they believe in the impact it’ll create, and believe in shaping society.
AISYH We’re daring in what we do. Most of the projects we undertake are fresh and slightly controversial. When we rigged up the elevator for our latest hidden camera episode, we were taking a risk and intruding into a personal space, but we knew we were doing good and were professional about it.
YIHUI Our youth. The team age range is from 18 all the way till 28, but everyone’s committed to shaping society. The energy is powerful.
ROVIK Our independence. We work with partners frequently, but we’re not backed formally by institutions or foundations—our ideas are ours and that gives us the mandate to rally community without a hidden agenda, such as hitting KPIs. That’s why we’ve become a platform for people to come onto easily, and why The Hidden Good is a force to recognise in shaping society. We’re probably one of the more successful ground-up initiatives that still has not run out of steam. How has your time as a Rafflesian contributed to your involvement in The Hidden Good?
ROVIK My time in Raffles opened my eyes to the power of an idea. With a powerful idea, one can easily rally resources and people around you, and Raffles gave me the experimental playground to realise that. That gave me the courage to take The Hidden Good to where it is now. That being said, I’m proud to say that The Hidden Good’s core team is made of people from all around Singapore, with a range of educational backgrounds and opinions, but concentrated on the goal of building a better society. Our diversity is one of our biggest assets as we want to represent youths as much as possible.
DING HAO It’s helped me understand how to think. In Raffles, I was told to always question what I was given. With ON: we’re consistently questioning the mainstream opinion, the counter-opinion and even the fundamental facts. The show is thorough and provides perspectives that you won’t be able to see on any other independent show.
YIHUI As a Rafflesian, I could leverage contacts to get people on board as well as to pool resources. My time in Raffles also taught me that nothing’s the limit and that anything can be done if you really want it.
AISYH I learnt to care about society, about people around me. We’re given a responsibility to use our capabilities to better society. This is how we do it.
‘The Hidden Good is a strong representation of the power of community. When we talk to companies and government agencies, most people are surprised at our age. One CEO commented to me that the problems we were tackling seemed like the kind a Prime Minister only should care about. I quickly rebutted her; the community must aim to solve its own problems wherever it can. This is the new civic society and we’re leading the charge,’ summed Rovik.
The Hidden Good has a long road ahead of it and is always excited to make new partners and develop new ideas. Who knows, the next time you’re caught in a surprising situation, you may just be a part of The Hidden Good?