It’s the morning after my first ever TEDx speech — delivered virtually over Zoom — and I’m feeling a mix of emotions: a tinge of pride, a dose of relief, and to be very honest, a huge helping of dissonance.
This whole journey has spanned five months — from the moment I received the invitation letter from TEDxMonashUniversityMalaysia, all the way to 1:15PM on September 12th, 2020, when I brushed my hair, shared my screen, and proceeded to deliver the 12-minute speech I’d spent (nearly) every waking moment perfecting over the past few weeks.
Then, after the whole thing was…
Hello, friends. It’s been a while.
Today is September 1st. This month has always meant a lot to me — four years ago, on the last day of the month, I hosted my first Tribeless Dinner… and the rest, as they say, is history.
This year’s birthday month is shaping up to a particularly exciting one. Today, we’re wrapping up our first virtual Train-the-Trainer for a national campaign on anti-bullying. This Thursday, we’ll be launching a limited talkshow series on FB Live — a dream I’ve harbored for years — with me in the hot seat! …
The first thing we saw was the people. Pouring out of cars, crowding around social enterprise booths, frolicking on the grass around life-size print-outs of the Sustainable Development Goals, getting their temperatures checked (a thoughtful measure taken for COVID-19)…
Despite the epidemic scare, people were still masking up and showing up.
It was an encouraging start to our day at one of Malaysia’s largest gathering of young changemakers — M.A.D Summit 2020.
We were sitting across each other in a Malay warung, 7.2 kilometers from the Kota Kinabalu airport, lips tingling from the spicy nasi lalap and icy mango sago we’d just devoured.
“So…let me get this straight.” Shawn leaned forward, elbows resting lightly on the sticky table-top. “We’re meeting with Nick tomorrow, because you feel like we need an expert opinion on our email strategy before we go ahead with it.”
I nodded warily, and he continued: “But Gwen, what happens when we’re 8 weeks into the launch, and we hit another road-block? …
12 months ago, after running Tribeless as a community for 1.5 years, we registered it as an entity — and officially became a company.
The journey since has been replete with hardship, anxiety and discovery. This hasn’t been the easiest year — Ariff left the team, Gwen stepped down as CEO, and we failed more times than we can count — but in retrospect, if we hadn’t gone through all that, we wouldn’t be where we are now: with great clients, new hires coming in, an incredible community, and a product people love. 😌
Entrepreneurship narratives have always been shrouded…
Think about something you know to be irrevocably true:
“A circle is infinite.” “The sky is blue.”
“I am an entrepreneur.”
Now, imagine waking up one day only to realize that it isn’t.
What would you do? How will you come to terms with it?
This is the story of how I’m learning to make peace with who I am — and what that means for my community, my company, and my future.
But first, let’s start at the beginning.
We were sitting in my favorite café, sipping on cappuccinos and catching up.
“So what’s Tribeless up to these days?” he asked as I took a bite of black velvet cake. Man, I love black velvet.
“I don’t think I’ve shown you our Box, have I?” I pulled the Empathy Box out of my bag, thanking my lucky stars that this wonderful conversation starter is my work.
As a battle-worn survivor of social anxiety, I have a legitimate reason to use my own tools whenever someone (inevitably) asks about what I do.
It sounds so straightforward now: you sit down, you have a Conversation (yes, that C-word), and you iron things out. Simple. That’s what teammates do, right? Talk it out when the going gets tough?
At least, I thought so. It was the basis of our company, Tribeless, after all: creating safe spaces for challenging, often necessary conversations.
But in the days — no, weeks — leading up to this decision, I did the opposite of what I preached: I hid. I avoided all contact with him. I was paralyzed by fear; by the thoughts that kept me awake at night…
Late March 2018, Tribeless (Malaysia) and Sticky Rice Love (Hong Kong) engaged in a trilingual, cross-cultural learning exchange in The Wave, Hong Kong. We were there by virtue of a generous collaboration grant by Ashoka and the Robert Bosch Stiftung under the Ashoka Changemakerxchange.
Both parties were primarily there to test the waters for a bigger collaboration: creating a custom version of The Empathy Box (more fondly known as the Box), Tribeless’ facilitation methodology for creating a safe space for open, honest conversations, no matter how cringe-inducing the topic.
And the topic in question was pretty gnarly — Sticky Rice…
Sunlight streamed in to the grass-carpeted room. 20 of us were gathered here in The Compass, EPIC Collective’s HQ, for an intimate talk featuring Anshu Gupta, award-winning social entrepreneur and founder of Goonj.
Popularly known as “India’s clothing man”, Anshu is credited for starting the movement of recycling and reusing discarded material as a resource for rural development. In a nutshell, Goonj collects, sorts, repurposes and distributes in excess of 300 tons of clothing and other underutilized resources to India’s rural poor, where material poverty cuts deepest, everyday.
But I had yet to know any of the above. I went…