Anna’s Story

29 November was a special day. Anna Boo and I met to complete something we had started months ago.

I met Anna through the Thye Hua Kuan Moral Society. And I started listening to her life story. She did a photo montage (three folders full!) of h

er life, and every time we met, I listened to her tell me the stories behind the photos. Her photos were accompanied by captions, inspiring quotations, etc that she wrote.So I was a witness – a witness to her journey, her beauty, her strengths. And wow, she has some amazing strengths in Love, Wisdom, Courage, Resilience. I was deeply moved by her spirit.I asked her how she felt about this project and she said:“I enjoyed collecting the pictures and putting them together because it has rekindled my creativity. It has brought back my love for writing. It’s meaningful. If you just keep photos in your album, it’s not interesting. If you plan and organise it in this way, at the end, you have something Amazing.Everyone has the potential to do this. Sometimes the years just ago by and we work, and become mothers and wives. But this project is about YOU.It’s a JOY to be able to complete this…a Great Achievement.”To me, Anna is the great achievement herself.

We were strangers. And now I am a witness to her life. And today she said to keep in touch even though the project is over…so we can be friends…

Be a witness to someone’s life. Listen to their story. We can do that everyday. And especially if someone is unkind to you, remember that they too have a story…they too would have strengths…and a folder full of memories.

Related: Listening to Stories


Conscious Changemaking

This is a precious list of principles that could guide us to make change in the world in a more conscious and peaceful way.

In my time in the social change sector, I realised that this doesn’t always happen. I was also focused on changing the world and doing less to change myself.

This list has inspired me for years. When I first saw it, I admired it and understood it at a cognitive level mainly. Now, the ideas have sunk deeper into my heart and I practise them more.

I hope you find this a supportive guide in your journey to improve the world too.

Of Bears and Bulls

Bear in a farm that investigators visited. Photo Credit: World Society for the Protection of Animals

I was involved in the campaign to end the farming of bears for extraction of their bile when I was working in the animal welfare sector.  Various animal welfare investigators who have visited bear bile farms have found bears kept in tiny cages, so that they can have  their bile extracted out of their gall bladders. Extreme suffering results. Here’s one resource for more information.

Photo Credit: World Society for the Protection of Animals

So I shared the deep concern of animal protectionists when I recently learnt that a company that is involved in farming bears for their bile in China is trying to get listed publicly.

Amidst this disconcerting news, a light shines brightly. has committed to not allowing bear bile products to be sold on its platform. They also don’t carry cat and dog meat and fur. How wonderful that this business cares enough to give up the potential for more money and stands firm on standing up for compassion! Let’s celebrate such actions, and let people know of such businesses.

News of the  potential public listing of this company reminded me of ethical investments.  It’s another powerful way in which we can make a difference, without leaving our homes. Learn more: Global Impact Investing Ratings System, The Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment.

(We still need to use our own personal compass to guide us and be vigilant. For example, if you care about animals like I do, we may choose to invest in businesses that don’t trade in animals, which may still be listed as “socially responsible” under other criteria.)

Crushed – What Can We Do?

On Saturday, 18 Feb 2012, a worker from China got folded into a dough-mixing machine as it began churning. He was crushed and killed.

The dead man’s girlfriend, Ms Feng Weijia, told Chinese newspaper Lianhe Wanbao, that they were going to get married next year. Apparently, her boyfriend had said that he had a good boss but that he  was working overtime – about 12 to 16 hours at a time – almost daily.

Investigations are undergoing.

I couldn’t turn the page when I read this news report. Various thoughts emerged:

– Let’s say it was true that he was working 12-16 hours frequently. Could working shorter hours have meant he is alive today? Could he have been alert enough to withdraw his foot fast enough? Or been more mindful of his safety? Or remember any safety instructions he had been given? Was he too tired? Maybe.

– How about his employers? Do they work long hours too that affects their own wellbeing adversely? Is that why this practice is probably trickling down and affecting their workers? If they knew in their hearts that compassion is a big part of being joyful, could this death have been prevented?

What if we know his employers, or other employers or realise that we are “employers” ourselves? We belong to clubs, associations, alumni groups, schools, places of worship and of course our own places of employment. We know others from there.  These places have staff, both permanent and contract workers. If we have influence in these settings, we could use that to enable these employees to be safer and happier. What conversations could we start to enable this? How would we invite family members, friends and others in our affiliated groups to run their businesses more consciously and compassionately?  How could we support them to be compassionate to themselves, as well as those they work with?

Remuneration, working hours, workplace safety, medical support when injured, accommodation, food, transport, and potential for growth – these are some key areas we could pay attention to. I don’t currently have a precise list of questions we could pose to contractors etc. For now, let’s try common sense and what we would want for someone we love dearly.

How could we create systems of transparency and accountability where we really get to know what’s going on the ground for contract workers especially? What could we witness and check first-hand?

– There’s alot of talk on Corporate Social  Responsibility these days. My thinking is that the best CSR starts with one’s own employees. No need to go far to find suffering to alleviate or to bring joy to others.

If you agree, and have opportunities, could you help shape the CSR discourse to integrate more of such a view?

Yes, some changes require more money.  Are we willing to pay more to enable these employees to have a better life? What would it feel like to vote for compassion with our money? How about using some of the money we want to give away in the name of CSR to actually making changes in our own companies/organisations that can help protect more lives, and help employees be happier?

How could we do as much as our compassion and wisdom guide us to, and not only follow legislation? Fo example, it’s legal to transport workers in goods vehicles. But if we really cared about their safety, we could transport them in passenger vehicles.

This week, another worker, Mr Ibrahim, 22, was killed when the lorry in which he was being transported in met with an accident. Others were injured.

But those are the few that we get to know of. I know there’s probably more employees who got injured this week. Maybe more died.

I now have a start-up that helps businesses help their employees to be happier. It’s my own small way of helping to change things. What could yours be? Where’s your sphere of influence? How could you use it peacefully and constructively?

Every small bit helps. Let’s not let this man’s tragic death be in vain.

For a start, could you bring/raise the ideas in this post to any upcoming meeting and start a dialogue around it? Or simply forward this to someone with a note on what could be done in the organisation you’re from?

(PS: I also try to heal my own blindspots, inconsistencies, short-sightedness as I believe that societal transformation starts with personal transformation. If not, I may be the unwitting cause of someone writing a blog somewhere about my actions, and how s/he needs to try and change mine!)



Picture Books Went Walking…

My little children’s books collection went walking and came back from visiting a specialist clinic and a restaurant in Singapore. Am grateful to Dr Tan Chi Chiu from Gastroenterology and Medicine International at Gleneagles Hospital and Mr Tan Kian Teong of Cornerstone Restaurant.

Here are some of the comments people left in the books.

The books continue to move, delight and provoke thought among adults. I sometimes bring them to gatherings or lend them to people.

Related: Picture Books for Adults

Conscious Diamonds

We can spread joy as conscious consumers…

If you buy diamonds, and care that they are made ethically (that is, without funding violent rebel groups, or torture or rape by militaries) please log on to these links and share them with your friends.

While there are companies which say they enforce standards by the Kimberly Process, this is what Charmian  Gooch, a Founding Director of Global Witness, a human rights group has said:

“Nearly nine years after the Kimberley Process was launched, the sad truth is that most consumers still cannot be sure where their diamonds come from, nor whether they are financing armed violence or abusive regimes.”

Here is more information on Global Witness leaving the Kimberly Process.

Brilliant Earth is a company that goes beyond the Kimberly Process in acquiring its diamonds.

Lab-grown diamonds are another alternative. Max Gordon is an option in Singapore.

Or perhaps this is a time to give up on diamonds altogether and channel the money to worthy social change projects or investing in your personal and spiritual development? :)




You don’t get the best ideas in front of the PC!”

I just lit up when Angela Koch of Invitro Innovation said this. It certainly looks like we’re productive when we sit for long hours in front of the computer. I used to think so and feel guilty when I was away from my computer till I started getting great ideas when I was away traveling/reading/relaxing/walking etc. You could call it play time because it certainly doesn’t look like work! We need a paradigm shift to identify where magic happens for work.

Angela Koch, sharing her ideas, which she has captured visually on her ipad.

Angela is an innovation consultant and this is what we spoke about. We often think play is the opposite of work, Angela says, when in fact, they go together. We also leave play behind in childhood when play is necessary, she says. Here are some highlights from our chat….

Why is play important at work?

Angela believes that play is linked with the ability to be creative and innovate. Angela says some companies are “engineered for misery”, for robots which have no emotion or creativity; where relationships don’t flourish.

What kind of culture allows for play? One with trust. People feel diminished when they are watched over closely and “put on a short leash” and managers are quick to point out when they have made mistakes. Companies that get it right treat each employee as an individual.

In play-restricting and trust-lacking cultures, no stars are born, according to Angela. People don’t often go beyond the call of duty.

Who are the stars at your workplace waiting to be unleashed to play, dream and create something extraordinary? (FableVision artwork on this website copyright by Peter H. Reynolds,

A Question for Leaders by Angela – Is my company helping people be the best they can be? Or are we working against people?

What does play at work look like? How can one practise it? Here are some tips from Angela…

–        How do you relate to others during breaks? Jokes and banter help relax people. You have a choice in how you interact with people.

–        Use lunch-breaks to restore and bring balance back.  If you’ve had a busy morning, you could have some peace and tranquility during lunch.  If you’ve had a quiet morning, why not jazz it up during lunch? Connect more with people.

–        Use the Creative Whack Pack (I love this too!) which is available as cards and also as an app.  Innovation tools says, “The Creative Whack Pack is still the most impressive brainstorming tool in the AppStore, hands down.”

The Creative Whack Pack

–        Experiment with Lego as a brainstorming and creativity tool. Angela recommends it as a prototyping tool as well. Here’s an example of how it’s used in the workplace.

–        Introduce some randomness by rolling dice for certain activities. Try Story Cubes.

Throw a cube. Get an idea. Tell a story.

–        Have an inspiration wall/whiteboard at the office for people to share inspiring ideas. She introduced me to IdeaPaint – interesting..and environmentally-friendly…

IdeaPaint makes walls come alive. (Image credit: IdeaPaint)

–        Allow for people to be silly and for distractions (when you can). Angela says: “Detours may get you to your destination faster!” Sometimes in very outcome-oriented settings, there’s little room for deviation.

How do you practise this idea of play at work?

Angela shared this photo of an inspirational wall she’s created at home where she works from. She doodles on it, puts up inspiring ideas, allows visitors to draw on it etc.

Angela's walls speak!


IdeaPaint at home (Image credit: IdeaPaint)

Angela also doodles on her ipad.  (If you’re not an ipad user like me, simple sketch-pad and coloured markers work!!)

What resources do you recommend?

TED talk by Tim Brown

“Beyond Love and Work: Why Adults Need to Play” by Lenore Terr.

Inspiring offices designed for play:

10 seeeeeriosly cool workplaces – tons of great pictures to give you ideas

Innovation firm, IDEO’s office

Scrabble inspired bench

Thanks to Angela for sharing her ideas with me!

PS: I love Angela’s idea of using lunch-breaks to restore balance. So if you’ve had a noisy morning, a quiet and restorative break could help. My personal tip is that if there’s a park or place of workship near your office, why not step in for a while and sit and enjoy the peace or say a prayer. It could really shift the rest of the day to new heights.

PPS: IdeaPaint is sold in Singapore by Prospec Surfaces.  Alan Lee – (65)-67777 888 ext.29







Thanks for Serving Me!

I like to receive positive feedback when I have done a good job. If you do too, can we give to others what we want ourselves?

Did a waiter/someone in the service line serve you well? Why not fill out a feedback form with some positive feedback and spread some happiness? Or drop a quick note to the company? There’s certainly a time to point out poor service constructively but how could we shift more attention to what we want more of?

Father Bruno Saint Girons and I filled out the above feedback form together at a cafe. He said Alex, the waiter,  gave him a big smile after reading the feedback. :) I asked him about gratitude in the Catholic faith and he said “Eucharist” which is the word they use for the mass means “thanksgiving” in Greek. He encourages people to give thanks in their prayers. What does your faith say about gratitude and how do you practise it everyday?

We don’t have to die to leave our legacy. We leave it everyday in many ways, which impact others. What is your legacy when you leave a place?

Discover Your Strengths

Many of us grew up in a critical environment and a society which looks at what we don’t shine in compared to what we do. And we do that to ourselves to. Scientists calls this a “negativity bias”. It means we are built to look for what may cause us harm. It’s a protective mechanism.

However we don’t always need to use this mechanism. It’s possible to look at what’s working; what’s beautiful in us and others and make best use of that.

Having personally benefitted from learning about my strengths, I became a strengths practitioner and now strongly recommend people to learn about their strengths. It’s one of the most important ways of discovering your Calling in life.

I recommend taking the premium version of Realise2, a strengths survey.  It shows five families of strengths – thinking, relating, motivating, being and communicating. To supplement that, I’d recommend the VIA Character Survey, which shows you your character strengths. Having a debrief done with a strengths practitioner is really much more useful that doing the test and interpreting results yourself. But in case you don’t do the debrief, here are some notes to support you.

  • Familiairise yourself with how Realise2 works. The notes below will only make sense if you do this first.
  • If you want clues to discover your Calling, look at the Realised and Unrealised Strengths in your Realise2 results. Which of these really speak to you, and call you to bring more of them into your life and work?
  • Strengths can be overused. More is NOT better. Wisdom researcher Barry Schwartz actually calls Wisdom the master strength because it helps you use the right strength, at the right time with the right person.
  • Do have a look at your learned behaviours to see if any of your strengths had been overused and ended up draining you. Or perhaps a certain strength only drains you in a certain context but could really energise you in another context. For example, technical writing may drain you but creative writing may energise you and could very well be part of you discovering your Calling. So don’t write off learned behaviours completely! It needs careful investigation.
  • While weaknesses are meant to be minimised in the Realise2 model, sometimes a weakness is a “hole in the ship” as Dr Robert Biswas-Diener said in a talk in Singapore. Such weaknesses would of course need to be developed.  For example, if you have Compassion as a weakness, I would certainly encourage you to develop that and not minimise it. There’s lots of research to show that compassionate people are happier.
  • One key difference between Realise2 and VIA is that Realise2 measures how energising it is for you to use a strength whereas VIA doesn’t include this element. So in Realise2, if you are very good at somehting but it drains you, we would call that a “learned behaviour”, not a strength. So when interpreting your VIA results, do ask yourself if your top strengths actually energise you.
  • People change and so will their profiles. In fact, trainers at Realise2 advise that you take Realise2 every six months. (Trainers at VIA say the profile is pretty stable through life except if there are major life events.) If you’re using such surveys to do long term planning or discover your Calling, ask yourself which strengths are pretty stable, and can be part of such long-term planning.

If you think you and your colleagues would benefit from strengths debriefs, learn more about my strengths work at organisations. Contact me at vadivu[at] to explore further.

I also do individual sessions when time permits.

Enjoy using your strengths to be of service to the world! :)

Better World Books

Excited to share something with you all!

FREE shipping on books + Part of money goes to literacy projects around the world + every order from Mishawaka is carbon-balanced + company is a B corporation (corporations which use the power of business to solve social and environmental problems) = a consumer who is happy her money is going to something Good.

If a book is not available locally, I now buy from betterworldbooks! Join me in supporting businesses which are conscious of their social and environmental impact?

Watch videos of Better World Books and their social impact and environmental impact.