A Conversation with the Founders
The article was written based on an interview conducted with Daryl Lim and Tze Min. Daryl is the founder of IlluminateSG while Tze Min is one of the founding members who joined him when he first started in September 2018. This series will be back to cover the other founders in the future. The interviewee's answers have been edited for clarity.
* The author, Samihah, is a member in the writing and research teams of IlluminateSG.
It is 10pm on a weekday night and this is when I am able to finally grab hold of IlluminateSG’s founder, Daryl Lim. Together with him, I had Koay Tze Min, one of the earliest members on board IlluminateSG.
Though I’ve known them for more than a year now, it was surely a bit awkward for me to interview two people I’ve grown close to. Regardless, I thought this was the best opportunity for me to think back to my own journey in IlluminateSG and reflect my purpose in being part of this organisation.
Starting simple, I asked Daryl to introduce himself. With a tad bit of confusion on his face, he said, “I am a Year 3 NUS student studying Economics, FASS. What else? I like to play tennis and eat steak.”
Hearing that, Tze Min laughed. “I’m a Year 3 Business Analytics student,” she said, “I’m also in USP, though I feel like a lot of my interests lie outside of my major.”
Business analytics and economics - two completely different majors, but IlluminateSG brought them together.
“How did the two of you meet?. And how did the idea of IlluminateSG even come about?” I asked.
Daryl, before joining university, had been very interested in the political sphere and his discussions with friends were almost always political and philosophical in nature. After talking to people and witnessing how simple debates turned into full-blown fights, he had started to wonder why this was happening. Why did conversations with people of differing perspectives transform into ugly fights?
“A lot of times the answer is very simple. It may seem like a dumb one, but I realised, it was down to miscommunication, right?... You just assume what the other guy thinks and I felt like there has to be a better way for society to communicate with one another. That was the reason why I started IlluminateSG. It wasn’t just politics, it is about everything in life,” answered Daryl.
"...You just assume what the other guy thinks and I felt like there has to be a better way for society to communicate with one another. That was the reason why I started IlluminateSG. It wasn’t just politics, it is about everything in life.”
Tze Min, on the other hand, had joined Daryl after he pitched his idea at a team formation session in NUS Social Impact Catalyst (NUS SIC). “Daryl’s sharing of the conversations issue in 2018 was different from the other social issues brought up, where if I wanted to help, I’d have gone straight to the Voluntary Welfare Organisations working on the ground”, expounded Tze Min.
Being a university student myself, forming, developing and maintaining a project is no simple feat. I was curious as to what difficulties the founders faced when first starting the project.
“It was really just about defining the problem and coming up with the matrices to track. I mean it is so abstract... it is just not easy. There is a reason why there are very few people in the world trying to solve what we are trying to solve”, said Daryl.
“I remember when I first started, I mostly didn’t really know what I was doing”, said Tze Min.
Daryl chimed in, saying, “No one knows what they are doing.”
She went on, “I asked if we should do more research and Daryl said that we should just try it first. I think my usual approach to things is to read and speak to many people before starting things”.
Smiling, Daryl said that he believes in the start-up approach instead of overly researching something. It was a start-first, think-later approach that was unlike Tze Min’s way of doing things. Wondering how they reconciled such contradictory starting approaches, Tze Min said that she thought she would just give it a shot and try something new.
So, thus far how did Tze Min and Daryl view their journey in IlluminateSG? I asked them to describe their journey within five words.
“Fun and having potential,” remarked Tze Min, saying that this project was still in its early stages, so seeing the path that it has taken and the future directions that we are working towards showed the immense potential that IlluminateSG had.
“Mine would be... exciting, messy and fun. The messiness [we had] then led to the fun, I mean we are just a bunch of students trying to make an impact on the world, in whatever way we see fit. So that’s the beauty of it”.
"I mean we are just a bunch of students trying to make an impact on the world, in whatever way we see fit.”
It was such a simple line but it encompassed the essence of IlluminateSG - wanting to make a difference in a sustainable manner.
Then with such experiences, what could one have learnt?
Daryl went ahead saying that his learning was mainly, “about ensuring the organisational purpose is adhered to and communicated to everyone - an underrated but important thing”. He added, “the other thing is how beautiful the social issue community is. All the Common Space events we’ve managed, there're so many repeat participants…[it] shows how vibrant and small the social cause community in Singapore is, which is pretty amazing. A lot of people want change, but what’s stopping them is being connected, having the platform to come together and have a civil discussion”.
Commenting on what Daryl said, Tze Min admitted, “when we first started, we weren’t sure who to reach out to for guidance, or who we can ask for mentorship. Now, I am quite surprised by the support that Illuminate gets”.
"When we first started, we weren’t sure who to reach out to for guidance, or who we can ask for mentorship. Now, I am quite surprised by the support that Illuminate gets.”
The two and a half years with IlluminateSG had shown the founders the beauty of the vocal community in Singapore that fights for what they believe in. They were able to view Singaporeans in a different light compared to the quiet and obedient stereotype that they have always had.
But based on what they learnt in the two and a half years of IlluminateSG, did the two of them have anything they would like to do differently?
Speaking out on his wishes tackling research and community engagement, Daryl wished to “at least have [had] a bit more thought towards it at the beginning, since at the beginning we were more focused on how to carry out the events. The lessons I learned in Illuminate Singapore, I wouldn’t be able to learn anywhere else. And I wouldn’t say change, but something I’d do more of”.
“Similar to what Daryl said, our problem at the start was we didn’t know how to define this issue we felt was prevalent... if we had this knowledge beforehand, that’d be something we can do differently. Another thing we missed was to dare to reach out to more people.”
"...Another thing we missed was to dare to reach out to more people.”
As I was nearing the end of the interview, I was eager to know where Daryl and Tze Min saw IlluminateSG in five years. To this, Daryl hoped to have a community of people following IlluminateSG regardless of the social issue. Similarly, Tze Min wanted IlluminateSG’s name out there with the members themselves becoming more confident about the organisation’s problem statement.
In parting, Tze Min told the readers to be more daring while, in a very Daryl-like manner, Daryl simply ended our conversation with “get illuminated, peace out”.
It was 11.15pm by the time I ended my conversation with Daryl and Tze Min. Within that one hour and fifteen minutes, I was able to understand why I was so attracted to IlluminateSG in the first place: it was the members in IlluminateSG and their hope to make this world a better place that brought me to IlluminateSG and made me stay.
Written by Samihah Niquat Safeel and edited by Koay Tze Min, Simeon Neo & Aseera Shamin