Building large scale initiatives from scratch including the hugely popular EarthFest in Singapore and Animal Allies, science teacher Michael Broadhead shares his tips on creating positive change.
Raised in western Canada, Michael Broadhead grew up with greenery and gardens. Today, the Singapore dwelling science teacher may live in a concrete jungle, but that passion for nature still runs deep. With a degree in Education from the University of Alberta, a backpack and a desire to wander the world, Michael set off to explore in his early 20s, finding himself eventually in Asia. In 2015 he established EarthFest, Singapore’s hugely popular, annual vegan and sustainability festival, an event expected to draw crowds of 7000 this weekend. In 2016, he started Animal Allies (an animal activist organisation) to raise awareness of veganism and sustainability. And he’s not finished yet.
Having been aware of environmental factors since the get-go, it was whilst on his travels that Michael found his passion for green issues. In a reforestation camp in India, he discovered first hand how farming and our food consumption habits were having devastating effects on the environment, inspiring him overnight to become a vegan and start raising awareness of how to live a more sustainable lifestyle.
Set up as a non-profit in 2015, EarthFest was a mission that took 2 years to pull off. Returning for its third edition and sold out this weekend at Marina Barrage, it is the city’s only vegan festival and a fun eco-carnival of events, markets, talks and initiatives, all dedicated to educating people on green issues and inspiring them to get involved.
Run entirely as a passion project, Earthfest has grown year on year and shows no signs of slowing down. “Honestly, I hate money. I really hate the aspect of budgeting. It’s all about inspiring people and engaging the community,” says Michael. “I have a day job as an IB teacher and that pays the bills.” And, just how does he manage all these projects alongside a full-time job? “If you’re passionate enough, and if you have that kind of strategy where you want things to be effective – you will make things effective,” he explains. “You will keep pushing till it is effective, and then it will be. That’s what I’ve learnt from this process – you create your own success.” Here, he gives us some tips on how to do the same.
Have a clear goal and be passionate about it
Find a goal that you are passionate about to keep you motivated. And, before you start your idea, make a clear plan of what you want to achieve. If I see a problem, I’ll make an effort to fix it. I believe that we’re going to regret a lot of our actions in the latter half of this century, and I want to use my motivation to make the world a better place for the future. Of course, achieving your goals can be very time-consuming and requires good time management, which leads me to my next point.
Don’t save things for later if it will take you less than 5 minutes to do them
Don’t save tasks for later because they will pile up. If it takes less than 5 minutes to do something (like sharing a link, connecting people or making a quick edit in a document), do it now. This keeps the people who you are working with happy and more efficient, and saves you a lot of time.
Recognise your weaknesses and change them
We all make mistakes, so it’s important to recognise them, find a solution and change. For Animal Allies, we were less efficient in the last quarter of 2017, and that is why I cleaned up the system. We are currently finding volunteers who are still passionate about sustainable choices and we have cleared out the people in our database who never contributed or helped. It is also about finding solutions that work for everyone. I am about to interview all our volunteers to figure out the projects they are passionate about, and what changes they want to implement.
Do your research and don’t try to reinvent the wheel
Singapore is significantly behind Europe and America when it comes to the sustainable scene – so we need to learn from them. I spent my holidays reading books on vegan activism and researching what others have done before, and that’s how I designed Animal Allies. There is no point in wasting our time with ineffective techniques when we can avoid making the same mistakes they did. Similarly, for Earthfest, I looked at the websites and all the material available about sustainability events. This method is applicable to any field. Researching will save yourself a lot of unnecessary effort and help you gain more knowledge as you go.
Believe in your cause
For all the projects I undertake, I believe that everything should go back to where it came from. So everything should be biodegradable, or at least recyclable. At Earthfest, we believe in the cause and our volunteers believe in it too. We get a lot of foot traffic despite being very minimalist, and some promotional work. People are attracted to this energy and everyone who works on it genuinely believes in what they are doing – that’s how we have attracted thousands of people
Be open to trying new ideas
The only way to create change is to keep evolving and evaluating. When there are things I can’t do, in terms of technical skill and understanding, I reach out for help. You cannot do everything, and it’s important to value other people and their ideas. If someone wants to do something but you disagree, don’t throw the idea away but help them to do it better. It leads to achieving your goal faster and more efficiently.
Find the right connections
It is important to have connections and it is easy to get everything you need on social media platforms. Meet as many like-minded people as possible. When I moved to Singapore I went to all the networking events, all the green events, all the vegan potlucks, and met so many people who ended up volunteering for projects and made amazing things happen. Also, find out what motivates people working with you, which is another reason I am interviewing all the Animal Allies volunteers now. If something isn’t working, you have to communicate with the people working on it and try to find solutions that work for everyone.
Scale brings change
The original idea for EarthFest was for it to be a small vegan festival. As I started to design and conceptualise it, I realised that it would bring about no effective change unless we covered all aspects of veganism, and that included sustainability. EarthFest has more appeal now and is much larger because of the intersectionality between the two communities. Being productive is about bringing about effective change, which can only be done at a large scale, and intersectionality helps scale projects into something bigger than just one thing.
Have a long-term goal
At the end of the day, creating new projects is all about solving a problem or filling a gap in the market, and they require continuous dedication. We could create a large one-off event but that would not bring any long-term changes. This is why Earthfest was designed as an annual celebration right from the beginning. The goal is to create a movement and to bring people together, and this would not happen if it was just an event that took place once.