Leading, Learning by Example

Article by:
Bernard Oh, EO Singapore
Bernard Oh
EO Singapore

Bernard is the Founder and Executive Creative Director of The Audience Motivation Company (Asia) Pte., Ltd., a company that provides versatile solutions in ensuring an immersive, interactive and experiential theatre of sorts applicable to corporate events, conventions, product launches, meetings and exhibitions. He can be reached at [email protected].

The importance of giving back isn’t lost on me. For years, I tried convincing the rest of my business team about the joys of giving. Living in a world that’s engulfed with expectations of receiving—the proverbial “me” culture—the element of selfl essness often gets lost. It wasn’t until a natural disaster hit close to home that we started to really understand the importance of communal charity work.

Until Boxing Day in 2004, most of the world had never heard of a place called Banda Aceh. That all changed when a tsunami devastated South Asia. I remember like it was yesterday. My staff and I stayed glued to television screens and watched in awe as the death toll reached 250,000 people. No one could speak of the tsunami without tears welling up in their eyes. We had friends who were affected, our clients started to steer clear of damaged countries and we couldn’t rid our minds of the horrible footage.

When the opportunity came up to assist in the rebuilding of a community centre in Banda Aceh, I couldn’t help but assist. Having previously helped in lesser-devastated areas, this experience shook me to the core. Gut-wrenching scenarios were aplenty: recently orphaned children kicking around a rusty can of soup to pass the day; toddlers’ faces covered with grime, streaks of tear tracks running down their cheeks; the people of Banda Aceh zooming past, their hand-me-down clothes too big for their recently slimmed fi gures.

After seeing these atrocities, I returned to the offi ce and shared the sights, sounds and smells with my teammates, watching as the color drained from their faces. Then and there, we decided that the upcoming years of our organization would be spent giving back. It was something we were already doing, but we wanted to step it up a notch. Our care for the environment was already in full swing. We made it clear that we were an eco-friendly organization that avoided contributing to the earth’s deterioration. We weren’t afraid to educate and convince our clients to join us in the same carbon footprint war.

Continuing our goodwill crusade, we headed to Jogjakarta, Indonesia, to build a disaster relief center for village residents. Instead of employing just my team to assist in the recovery, we offered our clients a chance to help. They jumped on the opportunity. By doing this, we grew closer with our key clients and benefi ted greatly. They saw us not simply as a business, but as a group of people who backed up the organization’s mission.

Soon after this initiative, we decided to create a campaign that focused on helping others. Instead of handing out gifts to clients, we informed them that the money was instead awarded to a nonprofi t organization in Cambodia. Why did we do this? It’s simple: We took a stand. We had the perfect opportunity to give back to underprivileged communities, and our clients supported us all the way.

The thought of doing something so small, yet so enormous, is enough of a fix for all of us. I share these stories with clients and friends, but there’s no better feeling than doing it yourself. Throughout this entire experience, I’ve learned that charity is something that doesn’t need to be disseminated from top to bottom. It can’t be. You can’t force it on your teammates. It needs to be a personal experience. It needs to come from the heart. Then and only then will you truly make a difference.

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