Keerthana, left, working on handicraft with a senior at GenLab Collective's event. (PHOTO: GENLAB COLLECTIVE)
In this edition of Groundup Features: we speak with Keerthana, Founder of GenLab Collective, a groundup which provides seniors with fun and innovative opportunities to contribute to the community by sharing their skills and knowledge. Hear from Keerthana as she shares the inspiration behind GenLab Collective and the different programmes crafted to empower and engage seniors.
Hi! My name is Keerthana, and I have been working in the public sector for about 4 years now. I have always been interested in the social service sector, and I enjoy coming up with innovative ideas to benefit the community. As I have always wanted to build my own non-profit organisation, I decided to start small and joined several challenges this year, such as the Youth Action Challenge Season 2 hosted by the Singapore National Youth Council (NYC) and Groundup Sandbox 2021 hosted by the National Volunteer & Philanthropy Centre (NVPC). Taking part in these challenges gave me a lot of new ideas and inspired me to start GenLab Collective.
I started GenLab Collective as I wanted to do something for seniors. Growing up, I was able to witness the challenges faced by the senior members in my family and in the community. Seniors often find it a challenge to keep themselves productively occupied and they often feel bored and lonely. During this COVID-19 pandemic, there was also an increase in the number of senior suicide cases.
Hence, I came up with the idea to protect the well-being of seniors through a preventive approach, and looked for team-mates who were keen to join me. These days, many seniors feel that they are unable to contribute due to their old age and lack of digital knowledge. Our aim is to empower and engage seniors by providing them with a platform to share their skills, knowledge and, or experiences, so that they feel valued.
Currently, we have 3 main programmes in place.
The first programme is Short Features where we produce bite-sized videos (1-2 minutes long) of seniors demonstrating and sharing the story behind their unique skill. For instance, we recently featured an 82-year-old senior who makes greeting cards and bookmarks out of recycled materials. The video features the senior demonstrating her crafts while she shares about how she feels a spiritual connection to creating art. Through Short Features, we aim to inspire other seniors or even youths that, regardless of age, they can pursue their passions.
The second programme is Sharing Circles where we host interactive sessions that feature seniors with diverse skills and experiences to contribute. During each session, the senior sharer will present their skills and participants are encouraged to also exchange their knowledge and experiences with the group. Through this, we wish to come up with interest groups that focus on specific domains. For instance, after the first session, if the participants are still interested to learn from the senior, we will curate more sessions based on these interests and follow up with the participants accordingly.
The third programme is Sandbox where small groups of seniors and youths come together to co-create innovative content and resources pertaining to their domain of interest. The idea of a sandbox means a safe, experimental space to try new ideas. For example, we are currently working on a healthy-eating project where we co-create a healthy recipe guide for seniors. The resources produced will then be shared to our community partners and social media platforms. Through this, we hope to give seniors the opportunity to contribute to the community.
I think one of the most memorable moments is when partners recognize GenLab Collective’s values and are willing to collaborate with us and refer their seniors to us. As a groundup, this has been really encouraging for us and I feel that it has been the most memorable moment so far.
The main challenge we faced was reaching out to seniors during this pandemic. Even though many seniors are becoming digitally connected, it is still not easy to conduct Zoom sessions. This is a greater challenge for us when it comes to seniors who live alone or are less digitally connected.
Another challenge we faced was the lack of manpower. It was difficult for us to build a strong core team as everyone has different commitments and priorities. I also found it a challenge to find like-minded individuals to work with and we also had to build a volunteer base to help us facilitate conversations with seniors.
We also faced the challenge of thinking about what to do next. We are always thinking of our next steps and how we can ensure that what we are doing for the seniors is impactful. Despite conducting needs-based analyses, we have had some ideas that did not take off and we had to spend time refining these ideas and programmes. Hence, it is a constant challenge for us to come up with fresh yet impactful ideas and programmes for the seniors.
As I am very new to the groundup space, I did not expect myself to come this far and be given this level of support. It has been heartwarming to know that partners and organisations are very welcoming and supportive when it comes to helping seniors.
I encourage anyone who has any ideas to start taking action. It is easy to come up with ideas but to implement them is a huge challenge. I believe that taking baby steps will be helpful and as mentioned, I started with taking part in challenges hosted by NYC and NVPC. These challenges allowed me to gain an understanding on what to do next and I was able to receive advice from mentors as well. One advice I received was to build a strong team to create an impact. Additionally, you have to find the right partners and speak to as many people and agencies as you can.
I recommend timeboxing, a time management technique where you block out a specific amount of time to complete a specific task. Additionally, it is important to take time to recharge and take breaks as it will allow your mind to gain some clarity. At the end of the day, I believe that if you’re passionate about something, you will naturally make time for it.
We are organising a small-scale event in March 2022 to raise awareness through conversations and interactive activities between seniors and youths. We aim to focus on the value of social interactions in later years and the benefits of senior-youth interactions.
We are also hoping to reach out to more seniors through collaborations with partners and see how we can refine our programmes. Going forward, we intend to take in more volunteers and involve the seniors in co-creating programmes and workshops with us.
When we scale up, we may require more support in touching base with seniors and we may also need more volunteer facilitators. As a volunteer facilitator, the commitment level will be diverse. Some responsibilities include conducting orientation chats with seniors to share more about what GenLab Collective does and helping to facilitate a sharing session where you will curate the presentation content with the senior sharer. Additionally, if you are interested in co-creating or coming up with innovative ideas with seniors, you can join us in Sandbox.
As we are very new, we are also looking to build our core team in the areas of Strategy, Design and Programme Development. If you are interested to join us as a volunteer or be part of our core team, please reach out to us via Facebook or Instagram.
I hope that our initiatives can create an impact and build a community where we do good without expecting anything in return. Through GenLab Collective, I was able to gain a lot of experience and it warms my heart when the seniors and partners provide me with positive feedback. Through GenLab Collective, I was able to learn more about myself and I hope that our initiatives will develop individuals to become a better person.
I think one memorable interaction was during a sharing session where I noticed a senior working on PowerPoint slides on his own. When I offered help, he was very reluctant to receive it and from this I learnt that some seniors enjoy having full autonomy over their work and it is important that we empower them to work in their own style.
Another memorable interaction was when a senior invited us over to her place for some smoothies and snacks – I really enjoyed the food she made!
* This feature has been edited for clarity
About the authors:
Felinda is a Skills For Good volunteer who wishes to see a world where everyone can come together to spread kindness and positivity!
Jannelle is Content Producer at Groundup Central. Armed with her camera, she looks forward to meeting & documenting the everyday heroes of our lives.
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