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Fall in love with the problem


Fall in love with the problem


Kuala Lumpur | Malaysia


Even before coming to Kuala Lumpur we realized that Kal Joffres is the right person to meet. Everybody pointed him out for us, he turned out to be the guy behind quite a few interesting organizations, the most important being Tandemic.

In Tandemic we concentrate on three thingssays Kal. The first is venture building: we build products, services and social ventures, for other people and for ourselves. The second is training and development, we do training for example about design thinking. And third is consulting. Quite often we build something and then try to let somebody else run it. Beside two projects: Do Something Good and with which we are still closely cooperating, there is a lot of synergy.

Do Something Good, a platform in which anyone can register and find a place for his/her voluntary work, is also one of Tandemic’s biggest successes.

From a traditional point of view, two of our initiatives - Do Something Good and Make Weekend - are our biggest successes. Make Weekend became the largest design thinking-based program in South East Asia with 5.000 people in total. Do Something Good is quite a sizable platform, with few hundred thousand registered volunteers.

From a less traditional point of view on success, we are proving that something is possible. A lot of people think that the kind of work which we do just cannot be done in Malaysia. Building social ventures and generating income… what the hell is this! For me it is part of building a new kind of culture. You don’t have to be poor and run an NGO which is constantly struggling to make an impact and bring money. It doesn’t have to be necessarily this the way the social sector looks like. For me, creating that culture and a community of people around the organization thinking that way has been the most important.

And there are really a lot of people around the organization. Nevertheless, more is needed.

Finding social entrepreneurs is still the biggest challenge. People measure themselves against pretty high standards. Especially in this part of the world you are expected to get married and have a job in a respected company and work up the ladder. Anybody who detaches from that has not only an internal fight but is questioned from the outside as well by family, by friends. You know, this guy has a really nice car and I’m working 17h per day in a social enterprise, did I make the right decision? And what respect do I get working in this kind of organization? Now startups are becoming sexy so it’s a little bit easier to follow that path or switch from corporates, but it hasn’t happened for social enterprises yet, I’m not even sure it will happen. So one component of our talent pipe strategy is actually to build the so called bridging workshops, created for people who were in corporations for 6-7 years and themselves they are thinking maybe it’s not for me. A lot of people don’t do the transition to the social sector because they don’t know what’s on the other side. If you bought a car and a condo, it’s a very risky decision as you need a certain amount of money to pay every month. So, if we can show them how the next 9 months will look, it will be easier to take the risk.

And what made Kal take the risk, or even more importantly, keep going despite all those challenges?

A lot of people ask what keeps me going. And I think there is nothing which keeps people constantly motivated. There will also be times of down. Motivation comes and goes and if you build something on the base of motivation, you build on the sand, because if your motivation disappears, everything falls apart. You need something to go through all those difficult times, it’s not motivation, it’s the habit of coming back to work the next day even if something terrible happened. And you do it for weeks if it takes weeks. Not because of pleasure or motivating force, but because you are so bloody determined and obsessed with your idea or because you have your force of habit.

Kal comes back to work every day, helping hundreds of people to start their own social adventure. And inspire them to keep going, even when problems come.

I think that the most important thing to keep in mind is that every problem can be solved. We just have to figure out how. There is a way but we may not have found it yet. Building a startup is a search process; building a social enterprise is a search process for the right kind of solution to a social challenge. If we fall in love with our initial idea we trap ourselves with our initial solution, which may not be the right one. But if we fall in love with the problem, then we open ourselves up to a lot of different ways to actually tackle it.


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