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Impact 0220: Building communities that young people love

Raphael Yee · 5 October 2021
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Raphael Yee, 23, is the co-founder of Memedef, a social media initiative that reaches over 300,000 young people per week. Memedef uses humour to put a relatable spin on the events that occur daily in Singapore, especially those related to National Service (NS).. He shares some lessons that he has learnt on his journey.

1.
Act first, think later

When my co-founder Jonathan and I had the idea for Memedef, we didn’t hesitate. When we were both in the army at the time, I called him up one day and pitched an NS-themed meme page to him since we didn’t see much content online about life in the army. The next day, I created Memedef using the personal computer at my office. Within 24 hours, we gained a thousand likes on Facebook.

Opportunities are hard to come by, so take advantage of them when they’re available. It is common for people to hesitate, which gives them time to talk themselves out of trying something. Don’t let the fear of failure stop you even before you start. Take the first step and see where it takes you.

2.
Think before you act

I know I just said the opposite, but when it comes to putting content out into the world, some restraints should be considered. Ask yourself: Who am I representing? Will I do more harm than good? Do I believe in what I am putting out there? For example, I would always ask myself if the content I post online will put someone down. It could be a joke, but at whose expense? Do I want to mislabel people or stereotype others in a negative way?

3.
Your problem is my problem

In the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), we have a saying that goes: “Don’t make your problem my problem.” On the contrary, I think people should take the initiative to stand up for others whenever they can. As a popular meme page, Memedef has considerable influence on young people. We believe that we should use this opportunity for the greater good, such as to educate national servicemen on mental health issues, to be inclusive, and to encourage them to look out for each other.

4.
Be willing to have hard conversations

It’s tempting to take the easy way out sometimes. For most people, conversations about race, religion, and sexual orientation remain a touchy subject. I believe that it’s important to have the hard conversations and listen to them with an open mind. 

A while ago, there was an article from a local news publication about gay NSmen who were bullied. We decided to use our platform to stand up against bullying, which resulted in an intense but fruitful discussion with netizens. That is the only way we can learn about others, how to “agree to disagree” and how to “live and let live”. These are the hard conversations we need to have to keep Singapore going.

5.
Be open to hearing all voices in a conversation

Most of the time, we hear only the louder voices in open conversations. As such, I try my best to hear from the minority voices within our NS community, not just the bigger groups. To understand an entire community, one must be willing to not just listen to the voices that can be heard, but also to those  that are less audible. While some voices are louder and some are softer, all voices are important in a conversation.

6.
Always look out for opportunities

This one comes from Jonathan: “Always be alert to opportunities.” 

After a year or so of growing Memedef, the team started to notice that a lot of our comments came from women. It was then that we realised that women were underrepresented in local meme culture. I called up a female schoolmate of mine and we decided to start a meme page dedicated to women’s issues called “YourGirlfriendIsWhoSia”. 

Like Memedef, these new pages were only started because we noticed gaps in the market for specific groups of Singaporean youth. Applying the lessons we have learnt from building a vibrant, active NS community on Memedef, we will also be doing the same for other underrepresented youth in the future.

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