Being able to choose my own path in life — “It’s a privilege I do not take lightly”
Victor Zhu, the Founder of Hatch, had never imagined himself being an entrepreneur. The first time he thought seriously about “work”, he thought about being an interior designer as he enjoyed looking at floor plans and trying to optimize spaces. He also thought about being a doctor, to help people in need. Eventually, he found his way into social entrepreneurship, a profession he describes to: “I think my present identity as a social entrepreneur combines the essence of both professions (interior designer and doctor), namely the ability to create, and the ability to produce a meaningful difference to the lives of others.”
Most of his peers went down more secure paths like becoming consultants, engineers, lawyers. Victor himself had many of such options available to him. Yet he found himself drawn to this work of social entrepreneurship, focusing on the ability to make a positive impact on others, conventionally thought of as a path filled with uncertainty and risk.
Why take this path?
As someone who enjoys meeting and getting to know people from diverse backgrounds, Victor has been curious about how every individual develop his or her aspirations, and what influences one to work towards them.
His time at a fire station during National Service (NS) provided him with the opportunity to live and work closely with his fellow servicemen, often responding to life-threatening emergencies together. That allowed him to see their tremendous potential and sense of responsibility, to a point of saying “I would trust them with my life.”
Yet, while his peers had clear passions for what they wanted to do after NS, they did not believe they could achieve them as they did not have strong academic qualifications. “I think it’s quite sad because it’s really not a true reflection of one’s ability. Many of these roles were not even academic in nature.”
This 2-year experience in NS triggered deeper reflection, about the nature of talent, opportunity, resources, and privilege in Singapore. Many of these men whom he deeply trusted didn’t have the fortune of financially stable families, excellent academic achievement, or empowering social circles. These men who were born merely months apart from him, Singaporean through and through, who had grown to dream so much less because they didn’t grow up with more.
It wasn’t fair that talented individuals can’t aspire for more, simply because they didn’t do well at school. The fact that many of them came from families with less finances, also affected that result as they had much less opportunity to receive additional private academic coaching and support.
This shook Victor deeply, serving as a seed for his decision to found Hatch, a social enterprise focused on providing quality opportunities to individuals from all walks of life, regardless of where they come from. In a time where so many of us search for meaning in work, Victor found a path filled to the brim with meaning.
A supportive family and peer network
Any young person in Singapore would worry about their parent’s perception towards their choices and decisions, especially if their choice was to take the unconventional path. Not only was Victor embarking to be an entrepreneur, he was going to be a social entrepreneur.
Victor’s parents were professionals who climbed the corporate ladder, and were not entrepreneurs themselves. Could they understand and support his choice?
Fortunately, they were supportive and tried to be a part of his entrepreneurship journey. He added: “While they weren’t entrepreneurs themselves, they understood that passion builds conviction, and conviction is the universal driver of success and fulfillment.“
Victor had many things behind him as he embarked on this path of social entrepreneurship. His family is financially secure, thus he does not have any financial obligation, allowing him to be more adventurous as he starts building his career. He was an intelligent, and quick learner. He was able to build connections with relevant partners and mentors. He was able to tap on resources at his university to further his ambitions.
“These are privileges I do not take lightly, and I think it is something we should talk about more as a society, the things we do with the privileges we have,” he added.
Trying to level the playing field
A big part of his story highlights the opportunities and benefits that come with a family having good income and wealth. How these privileges and resources serve to build a sense of confidence and competence, leading to the freedom to choose a path in life that one might find fulfilling and meaningful. Conversely, without a supportive and well-resourced environment, people find their options limited.
With the backdrop of rising income and wealth inequality in Singapore, what would become of the dreams and aspirations of our future generations? While we may be fortunate and equipped enough to grow our income and financial position to build a better future for our families, does everyone have that opportunity too? What becomes of those who have less, and live without the privileges we do?
For Victor, building Hatch into a thriving social enterprise is how he wants to make the difference. “I see hope here because people naturally flourish when given the right resources and environment, and I think as a society we see a common vision for these resources to be afforded to all.” By providing better opportunities to those who are not born into privilege as a core part of his business, he works to do his part in reducing the inequalities and gaps in our society.
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