Empathy and adaptability – Important future skills Singaporeans are lacking in

by Robin Low

With technology advancing rapidly, there are always people who are left behind. Most people take action out of fear or necessity.  And if your job is displaced by automation, it will already be too late.

The top companies create great user experience, customer experience and brand experience. Empathy is a most important skill. When leading companies focus on developing a better experience, they need experienced architects and employees with empathy who understand human-centric designs. However, today, that skill seems to be hard to find.

Empathy is a quality that is integral to most people’s lives – and yet the modern world makes it easy to lose sight of the feelings of others. Human beings have the ability to empathize and step into the shoes of others and understanding their feelings and perspectives. The problem is that most people don’t tap into their full empathetic potential in everyday life.

You can read about earthquake victims and the plight of refugees on Facebook, click “like” and let it slip from your mind as you click another link to check the latest football results.

Even at work, many people feel defensive once they hear someone accuse them of making a mistake. They start interrupting and start explaining their views instead of listening and reflecting on what is being said before responding and clarifying the facts.

The lack of empathy is also sometimes seen when people donate or volunteer. Even for people who work in social service or charities, their actions is largely repetitive and following the status quo when the organization they work for is too big and bureaucratic. In many cases, the actions of these organizations do not solve the social problems, but rather, they are there so that the donor can say that they have done their part for society and the beneficiaries do not die.

Most of the time, when you think about volunteering, the tasks done seldom reflect your passions, skills or interest. But you still do it because you feel a sense of duty. Companies which engage in corporate social responsibility may see it as part of branding to have their employees go help clean an old folks home once a year, but this rarely have much of an impact on the elderly residents living there.

In many cases, we fail to see the humanity behind the facade. Instead of looking at a homeless man, and take virtually no notice of him, this man may have a story to tell on how he ended up that way and may have aspirations to get out of his situation. If you never ask, you will never know.

I have engaged in disaster relief for many years and although it is important to provide shelter, food, water and medicine to the survivors, there are also many other unmet needs. These unique personal needs of individuals or small groups are often unmet as they may not be that significant, but that does not make it less important.

Engaging survivors in disaster areas also allowed me to realize that there are a lot of untapped human capacities which I could harness to solve the problems the survivors face. In every disaster, doctors are still doctors, engineers are still engineers, and why do we bring in so much free foreign volunteers when we exclude the locals – in shelters, Youth volunteers cook bland food for the survivors when the chefs or mothers in the shelters can do a much better job with more experience.

It has led me to an epiphany that most communities are underutilized and the best way to solve a problem is to work with the locals on a sustainable solution which they can buy into. Even in poorer communities, there are many people with good ideas and aspirations who may have solutions to their problems, but have no access to resources to solve it.

Along with several friends, I have decided to try running a workshop – ideas to action – where individuals or groups who have ideas on a problem can come to learn skills and knowledge to find ways to act on the ideas.

While testing their social innovation on communities, they are encouraged to engage these communities to get feedback to adapt their ideas and iterate the process so as to maximise the impact. This engagement also builds empathy, which is essential to businesses which want to build a better product. The testing of ideas and assumptions is also a much needed skill as businesses today constantly need to adapt to advancing technology and evolving markets.

Ideas to Action Workshop


National Volunteer & Philanthropic Center (NVPC)
6 Eu Tong Sen Street #04-88 The Central Singapore 059817         Tel: 6550 9595

Date and Time:

29 April 2017, Saturday (Know Me) – 9am to 1pm
6 May 2017, Saturday (Know How) – 9am to 1pm


$250 for both workshops (Scholarships available for marginalized families)

About the Author

Robin is the co-founder of Relief 2.0 and Civil Innovation Lab. He has been to many different disasters for disaster relief and started several social businesses to empower marginalized communities. He is involved in training, researching and consulting companies on the use of business modelling, agile start-ups and Social Media. He is also the principal consultant of the Patatas. Robin is a guest speaker at many universities, including Emerson College, Harvard University, National University of Singapore and Singapore Management University. Robin is also a Speaker at TEDx Talks. Robin is also the author of a book “Good Intentions are not Enough” and owns Greenyarn LLC, a nanotechnology company based in Boston manufacturing sustainable socks, fabric and apparel for environmentally conscious consumers.

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