SINGAPORE – Mr Edwin Yeo and Mr Cesar Balota will go down in Singapore’s history as the men who “fired” Singa.
Was it a bad call? Any regrets?
No, said both men.
“In this age of social media, using a mascot to push a message out no longer works,” Mr Yeo, 46, the general manager of Strategic Public Relations Group, told The New Paper.
Instead, Mr Yeo and Mr Balota, 57, the associate general secretary of the Singapore Kindness Movement (SKM), felt it was time for Singaporeans to take responsibility for their own graciousness.
This decision came after a survey by SKM late last year showed that Singapore residents were less gracious than they had ever been in the last five years.
Fewer people were experiencing acts of graciousness, whether receiving or simply witnessing a kind act.
A reason given: People are too busy.
Said Mr Balota: “So how do we make them take responsibility for their own graciousness? How do we position SKM to engage people here better, on our limited resources?”
Mr Yeo, a former football writer with TNP, said he drew the idea from the Tottenham Hotspur fan website.
The Spurs fan saw how others were slamming a fellow fan for defending rivals Liverpool.
“Then a Liverpool fan wrote,’Now you know how I feel!’ That generated conversation, whether good or bad,” he said.
“In this day and age, the majority turn to social media to vent, express themselves or simply for information. So why not get people talking online?”
The only downside, Mr Yeo said, was if people did not care at all.
So, with that, after more than 30 years on the job, Singa quit on May 15.
In a letter posted on SKM’s website and Facebook page, the mascot said he had thrown in the towel because he was “just too tired to continue facing an increasingly angry and disagreeable society”.
The letter came days after the SKM announced that Singa was venturing into cyberspace.
As predicted, the resignation letter went viral, attracting hundreds of responses online – good and bad.
Some said they would miss Singa; others thought the lion had lost its relevance.
Then there were those who dismissed it as a publicity stunt.
“I’m pleased. If someone critical of the move responds, it is good,” said Mr Balota.
He also got flak from netizens who referred to him as foreign talent.
Born Filipino, Mr Balota has been in Singapore since 1979 and has been a Singapore citizen for the past 24 years.
“I, too, have a stake in Singapore,” he said. “We want people here to see that SKM is sincere in wanting to push kindness and graciousness in the country.”
To do so, SKM is working with people on the ground and with corporations to push ahead their corporate social responsibility programmes.
Said Mr Yeo: “Although the Courtesy Campaign started out as a government-initiated project, we want to move away from the top-down directive to something driven by people themselves.”
He observed many movements here are volunteer-driven and would like SKM to work in a similar fashion.
As for Singa, he will not make a comeback for “just for nostalgia’s sake,” but, said Mr Yeo, “only when the Education Ministry feels he can play a big part in teaching pre-primary and primary students about being part of a gracious society.”
By Judith Tan
First published in The New Paper – June 15, 2013