“Because it proves that you don’t need much to change the entire world for the better. You can start with the most ordinary ingredients. You can start with the world you’ve got.”
- Catherine Ryan Hyde, Pay It Forward
I met William Hooi at Pita Pan, right next to the Art-Science Museum. It was definitely easy to tell that William was extremely proud of his meetup, with “SG Makers”printed across his shirt. William was having a meal (and hearty conversation) with his team, whom he affectionately calls Hyperflowers (a play on his company’s name-Hyperflow). Just right when I thought we were going to start the interview, William says “Let’s go to ArtScienceLate”. I thought how hipster he must be, to be attending such events on top of his work! But truth be told, we were there to meet the Director of Art Science Museum, and to recce the venue for his Maker Festival happening this coming December.
William Hooi is the founder of SG Makers, a community that advocates technology and innovation through the Makers’ Movement. His passion in making led him from being involved with organising Singapore’s Makers’Faire to HacKIDemia when he was working at the Science Centre Singapore, and finally to founding SG Makers. SG Makers meet ups has grown over the past year, with more than 300 people turning up at one of the monthly meetups. William is expecting to engage more than 20000 people at his upcoming event, the Makers’Block festival happening in Suntec City Mall.
What inspired you to start SG Makers?
I first got involved with the Maker movement when I was seconded Science Centre Singapore from the Ministry of Education in 2012. At that time Science Centre wanted to organise the Singapore Mini Makers’Faire and I was asked to sit in the organising committee. My role involved liaising with Makers, inviting them to join the Faire. I really liked it because when I was teaching design & technology in school, I subscribed to the MAKE magazine and it was a very good resource for the students to use the ideas to incorporate into our own projects.
It was only in 2013 that I started to organise a bi-monthly gathering where makers would turn up and talk about the projects that they are working on. Soon that evolved into a monthly gathering that eventually became the SG Makers meet up that we know of today.
What prompted you to make the move from education to becoming involved with the Maker movement full-time?
I could not bear leaving the comfort of the Civil Service, but at the same time I also could not see myself returning to schools too after my secondment to the Science Centre.
But I had no idea where I could work. After 15 years in education, all I can do is to teach. The struggle was finding what to do.
In hindsight, it is not about looking for the vocation but letting the vocation look for you. An opportunity came when SPRING Singapore called for prospective operators for new prototyping lab at the National Design Centre. Initially, I thought it is too big a task for me alone but after meeting up with several companies who are also plugged in to the Maker ecosystem in Singapore, we decided to come together to put up a joint bid. I am happy to announce that our consortium have been selected as the operator for the lab.
I now run an event consultancy firm, Eian Williams Consulting, which organises technology and innovation-related events in Singapore. I also started the Hyperflow project recently dedicated to provide an event platform involving creative makers in Singapore. A major event that we will be organizing is the Makers’Block festival at a 22,000sq ft space in Suntec City Mall from 27 June – 7 July.
We are also looking to organising more events overseas. For example, we will inviting makers to visit Penang during the Georgetown Festival in August and another one in Beijing through our Hyperflow Villa camps.
Currently, I have set aside 25% of my company resources to help grow the Maker community in Singapore. This also ensure that all the Makers meet ups will be free. This is the commitment my team has had from the start.
The SG Makers Community grew very rapidly! What do you think sparked their interests?
I am not sure. I do not ask why people come, but people probably enjoy being in the company of creative types. Most of them probably had the Makers spirit in them; they always loved to join such activities and when there was an opportunity to [join such a community], they are most ready. There is something in everyone that enjoys the company of those who understands what they do.
Makers often take a different route from others. Most of them have counter-establishment dispositions – they do not believe that things should be done in one certain way.
So SG Makers Meet Up is like an aggregator?
Initially, it was to bring people to the Maker Faire. Over time, more and more interesting people start to surface. Makers take the unconventional paths, and their stories are usually inspiring. These were stories that people could identify to, because these makers are actually very ordinary, who just have a very different way of thinking – which is extremely inspiring.
Could you share more about Makers’ Block?
About two months back, I was offered a 22,000 sq ft space in Suntec City Mall to see if it will help to bring the Makers together, to show who they are and why they are so passionate with what they are doing.
Everyone was excited and I called upon a few friends and business partners for their support. The next thing we know, we will have a 11-day learning festival, where do-it-yourself makers from different domains of art, design ,craft, technology and science can come together to show the general public their passion of being involved in making. Most will never be able to appreciate the worth of the craft until they experience it themselves.
Unlike the regular meet ups, we want to emphasise more on the person (maker) and the craft. We want to give all participants “a Build, Craft and Design Experience (ABCDE)”.
Through this festival, we want to showcase ordinary people who do extraordinary work. They went through their own journeys where they have to go through societal pressure and institutional obstacles. But they managed to overcome their own anxiety and adversity to become a good artist, craftsmen, designer, scientist and a maker. These are the kind of stories we want to unearth to show that Singapore has so much creativity.
Do you intend to expand the Makers Movement to Asia?
I always believe that we can learn a lot from other Asian cities like Penang, Shenzhen, Tokyo and Taipei. It is not so much as to how we can help them, but rather how they can help us.
These cities are great gathering points for makers in view of their unique culture and heritage. We want to create a way to draw international and regional makers together to make things together with the hope that they will be able to share their experiences with us and with their own communities when they return back home. It will be a way for makers to celebrate friendship, sharing of knowledge and inspiring others to do like-wise.
Having been in the education sector, do you think that the Singaporean Education Landscape is able to foster creativity?
I may not be the best person to answer the question as there are different facets of the system that I am not familiar with. The reason for having achieved so much today is largely due to the effective education system we have in Singapore.
It is not perfect. Sometimes the system stops us from dreaming and imagining. It is good at imparting skills and giving us the confidence to do many things but it also tends to limit what we can do by putting imaginary mental boundaries. I am challenging the notion that we must have to know everything to do certain things. Sometimes, doing something is better than overanalysing. I am not sure whether I am in the right track, but we shall find out.
What more do you think could be done to our education sector?
I don’t think I am qualified to make any prescription. Definitely being more open-minded would help. Not to say that people aren’t. But being open minded and being able to execute that open mindedness is different. They need to show that they are able to back their thoughts by actions. The system has to show that it is more forgiving, and more open to idea that some things fail, but yet still do it. Then will we see the difference. Risk-taking is not something people are comfortable with. But it is necessary.
I am both optimistic and pessimistic about the education system. The good thing is that the system has enough safeguards to correct the imperfections. For example, because the system is imperfect, there will always be attrition of people and talents, who will eventually leave to create a new ecosystem that will challenge, disrupt and improve the existing system.
In my case, there were things that I could not do when I was a teacher. But now that I am not, I have more freedom to do what I think is necessary to encourage the love of learning, especially in the field of science, technology and engineering. And interestingly, I am now having regular dialogues with policymakers and people from the corporate side on issues related to creativity and talent development, innovation and entrepreneurship. Had it not been for the ‘imperfection’, I would not have left [my teaching job] and all this would not have happened.
All of us are given certain talents and there is no need for us to find one person to follow. You just have to trust and follow yourself. It is unfortunate that a lot of people think that they are not good enough.
Was there anyone that left a great impression on you in your Makers’ Meet up?
I don’t have anyone in mind but I am definitely impressed with many makers that I met so far. They are so much more talented and confident than myself.
It reminds me of the story in the Wizard of Oz, where the characters (Tinman, scarecrow, Lion), each of whom believe that they have something lacking in them. However, through their journey to find the Wizard, it was clear that they had it in them what they thought was missing all along.
All of us are given certain talents and there is no need for us to find one person to follow. You just have to trust and follow yourself. It is unfortunate that a lot of people think that they are not good enough. More often than not, we are very talented but we just do not know it yet. We do not know of our successes because no one told us we are successful. Even we ourselves do not feel that we are successful. We often measure ourselves by indicators given by others.
Look at me. I do not have thousands of makers coming to my events nor do my events make a lot of money. And I do not even have any operational experience to speak of! So perhaps I may not seem successful to some. But I am happy, as I can influence people and they have given me a lot of their support. So in that aspect, I am successful by my own definition.
Essentially, you do not need to look for any one to look up to, because more often than not, he is in the mirror.
Any advice for young Singaporeans
It is okay not to know everything!
Check out the upcoming Makers’ Block at Suntec City, Singapore!
– Profiled by Lim Zi Song