Current Issues / Inspiration / Technology

TEDxKRP: What is ‘helping’? Don’t ever help.

TEDxKRP ended a few hours ago. It boasts of an astonishingly 15-programme-lineup in a mere 4 hours. The organizers must have thought that an event that has a little of everything will cater to everyone’s interest.

They might be right. There were a few dull and uninspiring talks, but I enjoyed many of them too. From the Bishan taichi group who creatively made use of centripetal force to perform a dance, to the very important contribution made by Gerard Rego with his company, VayuGrid. From the awe-inspiring digital sand animation platform, SandCanvas, presented by Shendong Zhao to the playful volunteer speaker, Shariffudin Mohamed Raffi, the founder of TeeDaily who gave us the memorable tagline, “A shirt a day keeps the boredom away”. Indeed, his presentation definitely eased away the lethargy that was evident in the room after the extremely lengthy video presentation of Kenya’s iHub.

The two TED videos featured during the event were good choices too. The first featured the inspirational Anil Gupta, the Honey Bee Network, and his goal to make technology more relevant to the poor. As a contrast, the second featured the witty Sebastian Wernicke presenting his funny and yet, insightful TEDPad: The calculated way to produce a good TEDTalk.

I liked Margarita Quihuis’ presentation on the power of persuasion to create revolutions, based on B.J. Fogg’s findings. It was relevant and pertinent. I dedicated an entire page scribbling notes during her talk. I also liked Robin Low’s talk on having an Abundance Mindset. It rings true to those of us who always find excuses to not help, to not feel happy now, and ultimately, to be our own barriers towards ‘self-actualization’ (a bombastic term for ‘reaching our fullest potential’).

But, the one that I loved most was Carlos Miranda Levy’s talk. His was the last presentation, but the most impactful one to me. We all want to help, but, sometimes helping is not helping at all. Carlos gives an example: During the Haiti earthquake, it was admirable that medical staffs from around the world rushed to help; setting up state-of-the-art field hospitals and helping the needy. But, by doing so without taking in the holistic approach, they have forced the only Haitian hospital in the city to shut down because of diminishing market opportunities and its inability to continue operations.

He cited another example. Singaporeans are very charitable. They are willing to fly all the way to Indonesia to build houses. But, have we ever thought of the impact of it? Why spend money on air flights when you can pay locals to build houses? By doing so, you are creating job opportunities for the locals and more importantly, you are making full use of the local capabilities.

I know there are some counter-arguments to the ideas he has sprouted in his talk. One such argument is sending youths or passionate ones to foreign countries have educational and inspirational benefits, not merely just to build houses. I am not saying that this is a wrong mindset to have. In fact, I think that this is the same dilemma we face when we talk about zoos. To isolate and keep animals in captivity is a terrible idea, but it is extremely beneficial for educating people and bringing them closer to nature. So, I think there is a need to find the right balance. Not too much, not too little. I won’t go further into this because it’s not in my expertise to speculate the right way.

Back to Carlos’ talk: When he gave those examples, my mind just went blank and I asked myself, “Yeah, why? Why do we do all these unnecessary, low-impact stuff? And worse, we feel proud of it!”. Carlos answered that question a few minutes later. This is because we have a tendency to “measure our success by the things we do, not our impact”.

And, why helping is just not good enough? According to Carlos, this is because of our failure to see the whole picture and yet, we make life decisions for those we are helping. Thus, we destroy the very same environment we try to help by displacing local capacity.

So, when helping is simply not good enough, what can we do? He says: “Never HELP. But, Engage, Enable and Connect instead.” That is what his idea is all about. Relief 2.0 is a system for international organizations to harness local capabilities during emergency situations. He has strikingly labelled his idea as “Disaster Relief with Dignity, Inclusion, Generation and Distribution of Wealth.”

I can’t find the exact words to describe my emotions after his talk. To say that his presentation was interesting would be a terrible and insulting understatement. It gave me an entirely different perspective in looking at the word ‘help’. I came across an article about this before but I dismissed it right after reading it. It wasn’t convincing enough, I suppose. But, Carlos’ presentation really just stunned me. Right! That’s the word I’m searching for. His presentation was just simply stunning. An idea truly worth spreading.

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3 thoughts on “TEDxKRP: What is ‘helping’? Don’t ever help.

  1. Looks like someone’s been up and attentive throughout the entire 4 hour long session 🙂

    Great post. Sums it up well. I’m sure you had several moments of epiphany in the course of a day @ TEDx 😉

    Stay inspired and keep up the great job in sharing moments of brilliance with others 🙂

      • Glad you loved the video bit. Thanks for the well wishes and yes we will keep you posted on our impending launch 🙂 Feel free to blog away about yea

        And yes.. We’ll probably hand you a tee or two to get your t-shirt collection going 😉

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