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In Her Element: Wu Jiezhen, Executive Director of The Hidden Good

In Her Element is a photoseries by Delegate featuring inspiring women in Singapore who excel in their various domains. For our latest issue, we met up with Wu Jiezhen, Executive Director of The Hidden Good, at Straits Clan.

For the past 4 years, Jiezhen has been at the helm of The Hidden Good, a social enterprise founded on uncovering ‘the hidden good’ within our society, and inspiring social change through social media. Through its content, The Hidden Good aims to spark conversations around social issues in our society, and to encourage each and everyone of us to step up and make a difference in any little way that we can.

Born and raised in Singapore, Jiezhen attended college in America, where she pursued a Liberal Arts degree – double majoring in Political Science and Peace and Justice studies. While she knew that a Business degree wasn’t something she wanted to pursue, she wasn’t sure about what she wanted; and so she opted for a degree in Liberal Arts. Arguably, this is what has led her to where she is today. Her education has taught her to approach life with an open mind and heart; and to look at the world through a connected perspective.

“Very often, we break things down into arbitrary boxes, when what we need is to work together to solve problems.”

Jiezhen believes her interest in community involvement stems from the values she was raised with. Recalling her childhood, she tells us about how her parents inculcated values of giving back and contributing to society. From a young age, she would donate a portion of her ang pao money to charity every Chinese New Year. Although it began as a simple thing, as she grew older, it got her thinking about the other ways in which she could contribute, aside from monetary and material means. So she started volunteering her time at schools and kindergartens, and getting involved in the wider community.

“It’s more than monetary contribution, it’s how you give your time, knowledge, resources and voice to things that matter.”

The Hidden Good came at a time when Jiezhen had just returned to Singapore, after graduating, and was trying to figure out what she wanted to do. A career in consulting, policy, education or research would’ve been more logical, considering what she’d studied.

“Sometimes, you do stuff that doesn’t make sense on paper, but makes sense in your gut. It’s a mixture of listening to your head, heart and gut in making that decision.”

She felt that what The Hidden Good stood for, what it believed in and its vision aligned with her on a very deep and personal level – to focus on what’s working and build on it, rather than what’s wrong because it wouldn’t get them anywhere. When she said yes, she didn’t know why she did, only that she felt like it was something she wanted to be a part of and help to build. 4 years later, she can safely say the experience has been equal parts surreal and fulfilling.

The first year was a tough one; having no media production nor business background, the learning curve was steep. There were times she wanted to give up; even asking her advisors to hire someone with relevant experience.

“But they were like ‘no, because you believe in this stuff’, and I think that was what enabled me to build what we have today; to be able to be very clear on what that vision was.”

For her, it was about how she wanted to lead; grow people; and make an impact. Not just with the organisation she’s building, but with herself – to be more intentional in the commitments she takes on; to be mindful of the impact she wants to make; her words and actions and how those contribute to the work that she’s doing. Along the way, with the help of her mentors and support systems, she picked up the technicalities and skills that the job demanded. In hindsight, she’s grateful for the support of the board, which has helped her grow as a person and leader.

“I think for me, leadership is about enabling others to step up, and for them to lead as well. It really doesn’t have to look a certain way, what I’ve learnt over the last couple years is that leaders need to develop a range. Sometimes you need to be the one making decisions, but sometimes you need to enable others. Developing that range allows you to work with different people and be adaptive to different situations.”

In the next 5 years, Jiezhen and her team are looking at expanding beyond Singapore to the region. Some of the questions they hope to answer revolve around empowering NPOs, social enterprises and brands to create greater social impact; being a capacity builder in the sector by helping social enterprises share their stories; and teaching impactful storytelling as a skill set for the next generation.

“Our work is still a lot in shifting mindsets and inspiring change through content and community, and to make the good in the world less hidden.”

On a personal level, she has also decided to take some time off work to evaluate her role in The Hidden Good, and how she can take it to the next level. In the social sector where a large part of the work done involves a lot of giving, burn out is very real, and Jiezhen acknowledges the importance of recharging oneself in order to be there for others. In order to do so, she’s taking a month-long sabbatical to recharge and contemplate how she can push The Hidden Good to greater heights.

On gratitude, Jiezhen shared with us that it’s something she’s working on. In a fast-paced society like Singapore, its easy to lose yourself in all that is happening and jump from one thing to the next. Thankfully, her husband, Jared, is there to remind her to celebrate even the smallest victories in life.

“We get so caught up in life sometimes that we forget to celebrate these things, and forget about what’s working. Our work is very emotional – you see a mom talking to her daughter, and you can see how much they love each other… that’s what our work is about. It’s so easy to get busy and caught up with all the things that ask for our attention. But to remember what’s good, what’s working and the things that are worth celebrating; that makes all the difference in the way we see ourselves and the way we see the world.” 

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