A Chat with Joe Tan: Music For A Cause

"Music is the universal language of mankind."

By Nicole Chan

July 24 2019

When words fail, music speaks. Music has the uncanny ability to move people, both literally and figuratively. And in the world of social entrepreneurship, moving people is not an easy feat. STYLEGUIDE had the immense pleasure of interviewing Joe Tan and finding out more about his brainchild, Music For a Cause (MFAC), where he raises awareness for social causes by integrating what people share a common interest in - music. 

Read on to find out more about his journey, his inspiration and what MFAC is all about!

Tell us more about yourself! 

I am a social entrepreneur. Prior to being an entrepreneur, I was a regular in the Army for 11 years. I’m also running a F&B space, The Tuckshop - Assembly at Guillemard. I enjoy taking up new challenges, which is why I'm always keen to take up new business ventures to learn and test my worth in the business world. On my time off, I enjoy taking daily walks with my boy, Mojo the retriever. Taking time off at the gym is also part of my routine to give me some time off to recalibrate myself.

What was the motivation behind MFAC?

I started Music for a Cause because I wanted to find a casual yet impactful way to generate awareness on social causes/issues to the public. I wanted to change the landscape of giving from one that generally measures fundraising targets to event success, into one that measures the success through awareness generation and volunteers sign up. More importantly, I wanted to use Music for a Cause to rally fellow Singaporeans to come onboard to give, which is why over the years, we are grateful to have local musicians, entrepreneurs, sports organisations, and this year arts and creative agencies onboard to build MFAC into a bigger and more inclusive space. 

How has MFAC evolved throughout the years?

We started the inaugural MFAC16 at Play Space, *SCAPE back in 2016. Then, we featured 5 Social Causes, supported by 5 F&B Vendors. In 2017, MFAC partnered with SMU as our venue partner, and we grew our featured Social Causes and F&B vendors to 8 respectively, while also introducing the Flea (Product/Services) vendors element In 2018, We introduced a Sports element in terms of CrossFit and Yoga for a Cause. This year, we will introduce the Interactive Zone, which will feature Art Installation and interactive elements promoting social good. On top of it, we will scale our Social Causes to feature a total of 16 of them, supported by 10 Flea and F&B vendors each. This year, we are also featured at YouthX Festival as the Main Festive Village.

What’s the most fulfilling part about what you do?

Seeing the change I wish to make come into fruition. It's a very slow process. Back in 2016, when I started advocating the idea of awareness before fundraising, I got so many raised eyebrows. Many were wondering why I wanted to disrupt the charity space. Today, I’m glad that the conversation has shifted away from using funds raised as a KPI. Instead, today, we are in the conversation of creating social impact. And that, in my opinion, is a victory to us and what MFAC is trying to achieve for the society. (FYI: The KPI for MFAC is volunteers sign up)

Who is your biggest inspiration? 

My biggest inspiration would be my mum. She is the most selfless individual I’ve ever met this lifetime. She plays a huge part in who and what I've become today. Growing up, she taught me the importance of compassion, paying it forward, and at the same time, actions with no intention of returns.

What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve had to overcome in your line of work?

The challenge for me is really to not only sustain MFAC, but to continue to grow it year on year to expand our social impact agenda. Our plan is to push MFAC to the region in the coming years. And in order for us to do that, we do need support from both public and corporate to share the same agenda.

If you had to choose, what is one social issue you think more people ought to know or care about?

I’m a strong advocate of mental wellness. I believe that many people have this misconception on how individuals suffering from mental illness reacts and behave. I personally think that with proper education and awareness, we can help people understand how to better communicate and support these individuals, to aid them in their recovery, and most importantly bridge this gap to allow them to integrate into our society to live as any normal human beings do

What is one thing you would tell your younger self?

Be less stubborn and rigid, and accept that change is always necessary to grow and evolve. 

Lastly, what advice would you give aspiring social entrepreneurs?

As much as you are eager to create change, we must first remember to take care of ourselves before we can start taking care of others. So whatever we do, always remember to first sustain your living. It's okay to create change in incremental steps, don’t fall into the trap of giving up everything for one change. Ultimately the journey of giving and change is a long one, so make sure you chart that path carefully, so you can continue to stay in this social entrepreneurial journey long enough to really create the right impact, without jeopardising on your own well being.