Ground-Up Initiative nurtures resilient, grounded stewards of society by empowering them to discover their sense of purpose.
Breaking the Stereotype
Outward appearances can be deceiving—even obscuring the scale and importance of one’s work. Mention “eco-village”, and an image of a hippie community of tree-hugging environmental activists might come to mind. In fact, many visitors to Ground-Up Initiative’s (GUI) Kampung Kampus arrive on the erroneous presumption that GUI is primarily involved in urban farming.
But unbeknownst to many, the inconspicuous 26,000 square metre space harbours a grand masterplan of nurturing a 5G (Gracious, Green, Giving, Grounded, and Grateful) nation. Nestled in Lorong Chencharu (Yishun) and tucked away in a part of the former Bottle Tree Park is Ground-Up Initiative (a non-profit organisation) and its social enterprises. In Kampung Kampus, visitors will find an incubator for many green initiatives and platforms that nurture hearts while aspiring to serve as a showcase for sustainable living for Singapore and the region. It is run by professionals with hearts for volunteerism.
Vision for a 21st Century Kampung Culture
When kampung chief Mr Tay Lai Hock was in the Sahara Desert and in New Zealand years ago, he realised that Singapore had lost its village culture and that Singaporeans had become too risk averse and disconnected from the land and from one another. He felt that Singaporeans needed to redefine their understanding of success, happiness, and education in order to discover a new narrative for Singapore. His vision was to nurture resilient, grounded stewards of society by empowering them to discover their sense of purpose. For this reason, GUI was mooted to empower Singaporeans to take creative risks; be unafraid of making mistakes; and make the world better by reconnecting with themselves, their environment, and community.
To do this, he needed a plot of land to put his vision to action. “I showed them (the Singapore government) what I did since 2009 in Bottle Tree Park, and all the programmes that we ran over the years and what we want. What we want in education, what we want Singapore to be in terms of innovation, national development. A 5G nation—Gracious, Green, Giving, Grounded, and Grateful. This was the masterplan,” says Mr Tay. 1
Mr Cai Bingyu, the kampung architect and built team lead who spearheads the building initiatives at Kampung Kampus says that the 5Gs are a response to the five-Cs (car, cash, condominium, credit card, and country club membership)—a phrase which Singaporeans
are familiar with.
“The 5Gs are not a list of key performance indicators (KPIs) but a reminder of who we are. We believe these 5Gs can bring Singapore further and make her better. Graciousness is the first G because a nation of gracious people will make a happy city. The second G—Green involves the 6Rs (Rethink, Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Repair, and Recycle). Just like how Palo Alto is the birthplace for many famous startups, Kampung Kampus hopes to do the same for Singapore. It aspires to be an exemplar of best practices for sustainable living in Singapore and the region. Through our 21st century kampung culture; hands-on learning approach; and eco-friendly buildings, we hope to achieve a zero carbon footprint with energy-efficient green technologies and nurture an eco-conscious community. The rest of the Gs: grounded, giving, and grateful involve understanding one’s inherent symbiotic connection to our environment. The more we are nurtured spiritually and psychologically by it, the more we will understand how important it is to conserve this inspiring life-giving force by being grounded, giving, and grateful. These values are put into the programmes we do.”
To enable GUI to do this, Mr Cai says it is imperative for its building structures to go up so that people can see tangible results on their projects. Its “HeartQuarters” (Kampung Kampus’ office block) and the re-sculpting and earth-filling of its ponds (named “Learning ground”) are works-in-progress.
As a non-profit organisation, GUI is sustained by the programmes it runs. Occasionally, they receive monetary support from volunteers and corporations. “We would like to show our visitors, participants, and volunteers that while money enables us to do the work we need to do, it should not be life’s chief pursuit and the sole exchange for commerce, but that there are other meaningful avenues of getting things done.”
“In order to share with the government, our corporate partners, benefactors, sponsors, and volunteers about the work we do, we keep a record of the number of volunteers who come and share through their stories about how their lives have been impacted. Many of them start as participants in our camps and return as volunteers.”
“Our efforts to build the Kampung Kampus are gathering momentum and we are indebted to the consultants who willingly provide their advice and services pro bono, builders who offer their services, and companies and benefactors who believe in our work and offer discounts
and/or product/material sponsorships.”
Kampung chief Mr Tay believes in becoming the change we would like to see and that meeting people in a conducive environment generates synergy that makes this change possible.
1 Toh F, 2014, SA ArchiFest 2014 Crowd Interview, Singapore Institute of Architects.
Copyright © 2016 Singapore Institute of Management