Singapore less travelled

Singapore less travelled
OPEN APPROACH: Artist Hafiz Osman (centre) posing with homeowners Evie Ruymbeke (left) and Andrzej Pyrka for his artist-in-residence programme in the basement of the Joo Chiat shophouse home.

IT would seem that every company based here is clamouring for a piece of the SG50 pie, shining the spotlight on their contributions to our shiny, happy city-state.

But several multinational businesses are taking a different route, opting to not only re-tell the stock swamp-to-riches story, but also to help Singaporeans and foreigners alike view the country through a new lens.

One such company is US ice-cream maker Ben & Jerry's, which will be launching a series of "Diverse-City" trails from March 16 through Little India, Toa Payoh and Jalan Besar.

Those expecting a fun afternoon checking out indie cafes while snacking on sweet treats will be in for a shock ruder than Kanye West at awards shows.

With deliberately vague descriptions - the Toa Payoh edition is titled A Beginner's Guide to Social Innovation - the trails are designed to engage the public on a deeper level about current affairs.

"From marriage equality to supporting diplomatic efforts to resolve political conflict, it's not new for Ben & Jerry's to get involved in issues that are serious, and spreading the word through ice cream is a great way to get people engaged," says Ilaria Ida, the company's global social mission manager.

Far from being an excuse to slap on the red SG50 logo on its collaterals, the tour zeroes in on less shiny aspects of living in Singapore, and instead focuses on the uncomfortable reality of life under the radar.

For example, participants will be shown a block of flats in Toa Payoh where murderer Adrian Lim lived - not for shock value but as a reflection on a lack of integration in some communities.

Because despite the high density of residents, the people living in the block kept to themselves rather than raising arms to track down the criminal.

Another stop on the Toa Payoh trail is Block 15, Lorong 7, a "rental block" inhabited by low-income families.

Jail-like in appearance, with little natural light streaming through the corridors, the visit to the block aims to raise questions about social responsibility and what everyone could do to help others in their community.

Mission to raise awareness

Arriving in Singapore a year ago, and tasked to look into local social platforms that fit the brand's mission of encouraging dialogue and social cohesion, Ms Ida conducted interviews with universities, think tanks and non-governmental organisations before chancing upon trails conducted by The Thought Collective, a social enterprise.

It hopes to attract 1,500 visitors on the trails and will be planning a call to action for participants spurred on to do their part to help.

"It's not all gloom and doom," says Ms Ida.

"People go on the trails not knowing what to expect so it's good to get everyone across various backgrounds, whether they're Singaporeans, expatriates or foreign visitors to think, 'Hey, what can I do to improve the situation and make the next 50 years of Singapore just as successful?' "

As much as ice cream and Gini coefficients might have very little in common, Tong Yee, co-founder of The Thought Collective and the guide for the media preview trail, says that the partnership provides the series much-needed exposure to a much larger audience.

"I always knew Ben & Jerry's took their social mission very seriously and in our conversations with them so far, there was never the impression that they were shying away from difficult topics," says Mr Tong.

"They are genuinely concerned about the social issues rather than pushing their brand."

The Thought Collective includes enterprises such as the School of Thought - a tuition centre that tries to teach subjects in a way that sparks empathy and instils values, and cafe chain Food for Thought, which supports community causes.

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