How to make something awesome out of nothing*

This is the story of how, in MESYM, we are doing something (I believe) awesome, without a cent in our pockets… I believe our strategy is so powerful yet so simple, that it deserves to be shared with everyone.

My philosophy of how to create a movement, as we are intending to do with MESYM, is not mine, I actually stole it from my friend Nitin Dani, president of Green Drinks China in Shanghai (he has also written an article for MESYM). Green Drinks China creates awareness and promotes action through its Monthly Movie Night and its Monthly Sustainability Forum, in which a key speaker is invited to deliver a presentation on environmental issues. Nitin’s genius is that he has achieved to create an Organization out of thin air, just by using resources which belong to someone else during those times when these are not used.

So, for instance, his Monthly Sustainability Forum is held in ARUP (a construction company)’s offices after 6 pm, when everyone finishes work; the drinks and food distributed in the event come from sponsors; the forum’s speaker is not paid to deliver the presentation; his office is provided by a startup incubator office space which has an empty slot; and the work is done by volunteers who come and go, sometimes even foreigners doing internships and learning a lot of the environmental scene in China. In this moment, Green Drinks China is expanding and further creating action, and trying to create a business model out of helping others. It has no employees so no salaries to pay, no office rent or electricity bill at the end of the month, no marketing ads either. Yet, out of all this nothingness, there’s an Organization thriving to deliver real value to real people.

And this is the model we are trying to follow with MESYM in Malaysia: the space for our MESYM Documentary Night is provided by Pusat Rakyat Loyar Burok, who not only do not charge us a single ringgit for it, but also gave us the keys to their office from the very first day; our work is all carried out by volunteers who come and go (as with MESYM’s awesome design, done by Chen Yee, the translation of the website to Malay, done by Emily, the every day content management, done by Nicolas, and many more people helping with all our daily tasks); only the bananas we get for our Documentary Night come from our pockets, so we can say we’re running an Organization with just 20 ringgits (or even less) for bananas each month.

And the most awesome thing is that our volunteers help us out of pure good will. As long as we do what we think is the right thing to do, people will constantly jump onboard and help us, and ask nothing in return. It is important to keep them active and motivated, give them tasks not too easy not too difficult and always engaging. And, more importantly, there’s nothing wrong with requesting: people appreciate to be appreciated, and asking them to do something and rewarding them with praises over their good work is (in many cases) all they need. I know of many people who are extremely bored in their office, they get a salary but no satisfaction whatsoever. We do the opposite: we give no money but the satisfaction to belong to a group of people going after a dream, and, I believe, this makes a real difference.

My personal experience during these last months (since we launched the new version of MESYM last April 21st), is that running an organization is really tough. To do it, is needed: perseverance, to not give up after all the initial frustrations; patience, waiting for emails to be replied to; good will, to help others and thus better connect with them; hard work, since things do not come easily; and networking skills, since we can achieve our goals only after people get to know about our work.

Also, it’s very important to be flexible, and to adapt to the new situation at any given time. In our case, MESYM.com is a platform for organizations and individuals to promote their events and actions, and connect with each other and create awareness by writing articles; in other words, we depend on this community, if this community does not create any event or action or article, then there’s nothing much for us to do, right? Well, it turns out that organizations do want to have their info spread all around, it’s just that they are too busy (or too lazy?) to also post the info in yet another platform. So we adapted MESYM to be a crowdsourcing platform: now not only organizations can post their own info, but now also volunteers can post these organizations’ info on their behalf. And even more, now our work is easier: we do not only reach out to all organizations, but also to local volunteers (from Penang, Kuching, Melacca, Terengganu, etc) who help post the content from the organizations in their area, and this way we can more easily map all actions happening in Malaysia.

Final remarks

Yesterday was MESYM’s 4th Movie Night, we had around 25 attendees, not too big not too small a number, but we are greatly satisfied. The crowd enjoyed the films, and the presence of Elizabeth John from TRAFFIC and fellow colleagues from WWF added magic to the night. Moreover, Shaun Lim, who recently wrote an article about his carpooling app for Malaysia, attended the event and introduced his app, and got connected to potential volunteers. I expect in the future to have more organizations to join us in our Documentary Night, more individuals to use MESYM to spread their ideas with everyone and try to find a volunteer or a potential business partner, or just a friend. Things are moving not too slow, not too fast, but certainly steadily, they are starting to happen, and we are very happy with the results so far.

*This title is misleading. It should actually be: “How to make something awesome out of the help of all the awesome people around you”.

Welcome to MESYM!
Connecting the green dots

MESYM.com is a crowd-sourced platform and a living database for environmental movements in Malaysia. There are many good actions being done out there. Our goal is to bring them together. We connect the green dots.