Meet the man whose light keeps shining brighter
Singaporean social entrepreneur Alvin Yong dreams big. Why? Because he says, “It takes the same amount of energy to dream small. So why not dream bigger.”
And he’s clearly taken his own advice to heart. Alvin is equally at home tinkering with computers, holding court in a boardroom, or training executives to reach their peak potential, as he is scaling imposing cliffs, zipping across snow-draped mountains, or being behind a pottery wheel.
Not one to do things by halves, the Renaissance man of sorts has also initiated community-based projects across Asia and in Africa.
There is Tigerland, a rice farming, eco-holiday experience in Thailand Alvin founded in 2009. Solar-powered tribal schools he kickstarted in eastern India. And Children's Garden Home, a residential school for slum children he fundraises for in Kenya.
“You must have some sense it’s worth it. It’s worth it to stake your life on it. And when you get into it with complete intensity, with complete totality, the absoluteness is felt, not only by other people, but more importantly, it comes from inside yourself.”
Alvin’s mission is driven by a hunger to change lives for the better.
He found his true calling in 2011, during a journey across India to do community service. “I had the opportunity to come to Jharkhand. A place that’s landlocked. It’s in a world of its own, tucked in its own interior corner.”
He spent a month in Ghatshila, a town in the eastern Indian state, where he immersed himself in a local tribal school project. It did not take Alvin long to sniff out the possibilities that would revolutionise education in the area.
Noticing the lack of reliable electricity sources in the area, he proposed a solution: solar power.
He started the first solar classroom in the tribal community. “We had no idea whether it would work, or whether it would translate into some useful teaching methodology.”
And work it did. When Alvin returned to visit the project in 2017, he was amazed to discover his idea had spread to other schools.
“Every tribal school had installed a solar facility,” says Alvin. “(It) goes to show that when something is possible, it can permeate.”
Despite his insatiable drive to challenge the status quo, Alvin is ever mindful about being culturally sensitive, respecting the autonomy of the communities he helps.
“My idea is not so much about outsiders coming in and telling them what to do. We can co-create as catalysts.”
He believes in the power of young people to transform their communities for the better. And that is why he continues to support education-led programmes.
“I just imagine that some of these children could grow up to be entrepreneurs,” says Alvin.
“They will be that role model...the inspiration to many others to follow.”
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