Socially conscious smart thinking
SINGAPORE — When three friends started a tuition centre 13 years ago, they had modest aims: To help students pass their General Paper (GP) exams, and to gain a better understanding of the society they grew up in.
“Then, it became work,” said Ms Kuik Shiao-Yin, drawing laughter from her fellow founders of The Thought Collective, Mr Tong Yee and Ms Elizabeth Kon.
The Thought Collective is today more than a tuition centre — it has grown into a social enterprise that not only prepares students for exams, but also matches them to community projects in need of support. Its ultimate aim: To create a new generation of socially-minded Singaporeans.
The trio, who have been friends since their university days, set up The Thought Collective after Mr Tong, 41, and Ms Kon, 40, who taught GP at junior colleges, realised students were completing their A-Level exams without having a good understanding of their home country.
“(There was a) social gap (as) lots of kids were coming out of the (education) system and ... were generally very centred on their own success or failure. They weren’t actually thinking of the success or failure of society as a whole,” said Ms Kuik, 38, who had been a web-design entrepreneur before co-founding The Thought Collective.
In 2002, the trio started giving GP tuition outside their full-time jobs. Starting with only 20 students, they now have 900 under their care.
Their social enterprise has also grown, with five brands now under its umbrella: School of Thought, which still offers GP tuition; Think Tank; Thinkscape; Common Ground and Food For Thought.
Each brand fulfils a different part of what the founders call a value chain. For example, School of Thought and educational magazines by Think Tank aim to reshape students’ perspectives, while Food for Thought’s restaurants introduce people to social issues through regular events.
Thinkscape offers learning journeys to help students explore and form opinions on issues critical to Singapore’s survival and success.
Ms Kuik, who is also a Nominated Member of Parliament, said the company’s success was partly due to this “ecosystem of brands that support one another”, such as through higher revenues, garnering public awareness, or strengthening ties with stakeholders.