The would-be founder of Kampung Collective, Andee Chua recounts that he had never heard about “building a community” when he was studying in university.
“This idea rose to fame after it was applied in Silicon Valley. I first heard about the idea of ‘building a community’ when I joined the tech startup ecosystem. At that time, I was working in a co-working space called Found8, where different people who work there, from founders to freelancers, help one another out, and share their networks and resources. This idea is really beautiful. Since then, more companies have started to adopt a community-first mindset,” shares the 31-year-old.
This humanist approach to the working world resonated deeply with Andee. He divulges that he later came across a job opening for a ‘Culture Coordinator’ at HubSpot, a global software development and marketing company, which intrigued him further.
“Ooh, what is that? I thought. I looked into Google, Facebook and other smaller companies, and realised that not many Singaporean companies have a role like this,” he reveals.
Andee applied for this role after he found out that it would allow him to continue pursuing his passion for building community, and discovering the intricacies and benefits of building community. While the title of ‘community manager’ usually refers to someone managing the external community, a culture coordinator takes care of the staff of a company. At HubSpot, Andee is in charge of employee experience, and points out that more companies are recognising the value of fostering a sense of family, not just among consumers but among their workers too.
What it takes to build community
“I didn’t grow up in a kampung, but my parents grew up in a kampung and I had the chance to visit,” shares the co-founder of Kampung Collective, which describes itself as “a curated community for community builders”. Founded in Singapore in March 2019, Kampung Collective was given a shot in the arm by Covid-19 – when pandemic restrictions forced Kampung Collective to move its offline meetups online, the group saw more and more people from other countries join their video calls. After all, this 21st century Kampung welcomes anyone from any industry and specialisation who is involved in building community; inductees don’t need to be in a community-specific role.
“In my parents’ kampung, everyone helped one another, knew one another and knew even their children’s names. People would borrow things like salt and pepper from one another and the whole village felt like family. We are losing that as we grow as a nation, as we hardly see one another when we go home to our apartments. Today, companies desire that same sense of community among employees and customers.”
However, Andee emphasises that a huge customer base is not the same as a huge community. “Community involves connecting the dots between customers or employees,” he elucidates.
“More companies are thinking internally and seeing their employees as a community. They want to build a good company culture and don’t want their employees to just clock in and clock out. After all, happy employees channel their happiness toward customers. This can drive productivity, sales and great business outcomes,” he explains.
He feels that one of the main ingredients of community is trust, which different people take different amounts of time to develop.
“When building trust, vulnerability is key. When people go through tough times together, you start to trust someone if he or she is consistent toward you. A sense of belonging is also important in community building, because when you start to trust people, you want to belong to their community. Lastly, people might trust new members of a community easily because they trust an organisation’s system, and they know that the new person shares their interests and beliefs.”
Andee is particularly enthusiastic about drawing attention to the welfare of community builders, who he observes sometimes give so much of themselves to their communities, that their sacrifices lead to burnout.
Building a community for community builders
“At Found8, I had chats over coffee with a few community managers and realised that we are all in the same boat, going through the same thing. The main problem we face is, because community building is such a niche role, community builders take a long time to explain what they do, even to their own colleagues,” divulges Andee, who was driven by these discoveries to found Kampung Collective.
“If my own colleagues don’t understand what I do, then I cannot get things done and I cannot justify what I want to do. How do I quantify the building of relationships in terms of KPI? It is difficult for community builders to ask for support, as coworkers sometimes don’t know how to support them and not many resources are given to community managers. We are often the only one in a company on a job and we are sometimes seen as generalists,” he observes.
“Doing so many things can burn you out easily. The characteristic of the job is we are givers and facilitators. We go through burn outs and just continue giving. This is why we founded Kampung Collective – we wanted it to serve as a safe space that helps its members emotionally and spiritually. Sometimes we care for others too much, but who will care for us?”
Before the viral outbreak, Kampung Collective’s meetups were in-person. Andee and his co-founder Alex Loh themed these sessions on discussions about leadership, how one can become an effective community builder, and other common issues faced by community builders. After being moved online, Kampung Collective’s powwows quickly attracted new attendees who would dial in from across Asia, which further benefitted the group, as these international participants would share their insights of how the idea of community is evolving differently in their cities. Covid-19 also nudged Kampung Collective to craft events centred on mental health, so that its members could learn more about depression and suicide, which have been on the rise due to pandemic-induced factors like reduced social interactions and work-from-home burnout.
“Kampung Collective is a safe space where community builders from across different industries and verticals can connect. We are a support network and an ‘extended family’ for community builders. We help one another enjoy longevity in the community building space and avoid burnout. We share best practices, challenges and look into ways we can continuously learn, improve and help one another grow. Our core mission is to educate, gather, connect and build, and we want to elevate community building as a credible professional career.”
How can we identify potential burnout early?
There are a few telltale signs, reckons Andee, who discloses that even he is not immune to burnout.
“I experienced a burnout recently too. When I was burning out, I noticed that I couldn’t focus as much. ‘What do I have to do today?’ I would ask myself, but I couldn’t focus on my specific tasks. I got angry about small things, even with people who were asking me questions. When I wasn’t sleeping particularly well too, I realise that maybe a burnout was happening. I was also losing motivation toward giving,” says the voluntary mentor and career advisor, who spends the rest of his time volunteering with youth via the National Youth Council and Nanyang Technological University.
“Different people have different telltale signs. Some people go into depression, anxiety and self-doubt, and ask themselves why they do that they do. They might go deeper and deeper into these rabbit holes and eventually go M.I.A. from social media platforms. This is odd because community managers are always on social media. I’ve witnessed a few prominent people in the startup ecosystem stop replying messages when they burn out and disappear for several months; I feel sad when I see this and want to help.”
What can we do when our peers are burning out?
“We can extend our help to members of our community, by asking how they are. I feel like sometimes people want to be left alone, to process what they are going through on their own and they want their own space,” Andee discloses.
“A good thing that you can do is ask them how they are, like a simple text asking what they are going through, without probing if they don’t want to talk about it. At the same time, be ready to listen. It’s more important to listen than to give advice, although that’s what people tend to do. Some people discredit how the person in question feels, saying that others have it worse,” he opines. “Sometimes, these peers just need to talk it out but don’t need answers from you.”
Andee is grateful that more business owners are seeing the importance of employee wellbeing, beyond the Machiavellian end-goals of making profit and growing their business.
Fostering community solves multiple problems
He elaborates that there are many other concerns associated with the need to nurture a sense of community, including resource wastage due to employee turnover, employees with noisy kids in their work-from-home setups who don’t want to be judged, and employees of minority ethnic groups who don’t their career prospects to depend on their race. Because of this, community building has become a universal task undertaken by people from various departments.
“Although we started out bringing people with ‘community manager’ in their work titles together, Kampung Collective has changed to welcome anyone with a community building spirit. There have been hawkers who have started Facebook groups to help one another out. That too is in the spirit of community building. During this pandemic, I saw so many people sharing resources, people saying ‘I want to help the migrant workers’ and ‘I want to help the hawkers’, and I was so taken aback, in a good way. I think it’s beautiful,” he remarks. “The future needs community, because we need people to come together. Community has the power to unite, and people who build those communities contribute their resources for the betterment of society.”
The three biggest influencers of Andee’s life: “My mother, my primary school form teacher Mr Jason Loh and Tyrone Proctor.”
If you are a community builder, you can join Kampung Collective via its Facebook group.