Change the world in 5 minutes
Micah Levin Isla (The Philippine Star) - March 16, 2015 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - In a parallel universe known as the World Wide Web, you always can: You can rant viciously about the stupid barista who put whipped cream on your drink; or angrily detail your bout with a lousy security guard who caused you grave inconvenience. You can also post a “killer traffic selfie” with a horde of hashtags for emphasis. The “likes” would come in as virtual high-fives and soon you find yourself basking in the attention, enjoying the validation of your existence.

After all, that’s part and parcel of what social media has become – a platform for instant gratification; a public journal of exaggerations; a bulletin board of vanities; sometimes a measure of one’s value; and the quickest escape from the daily humdrum of life.

While much has been said about the negative effects of the Internet (and how the digital space has turned into a breeding ground for entitled whiners, ruthless trolls, and narcissists), we cannot deny how it has become a significant catalyst for social change.

In this very same cyber space, a community called Our Better World thrives to remind us that if we can make the absurd and mundane go “viral”, we can also make a difference with just a few clicks.

Born as the digital initiative of Singapore International Foundation (SIF), Our Better World’s mission is simple: Tell incredible tales of ordinary people doing life-changing deeds across Asia. Since August 2012, OBW has been using this power at our fingertips – the same power that allows us to create online domains where we act as absolute kings – to spread stories of good and inspire action.

“Basically, we want to connect people through stories, those doing good who can use mass support, storytellers who need their stories shared, and people who’d love to help but don’t know how to get involved,” said Rebecca Lim, head of Our Better World.

They began to gather stories from their neighbors within The Hub, a coworking space in Singapore where they operate, uploaded these real-life accounts of selfless individuals helping others to their website (, and by virtue of positive word of mouth driven by social media, the stories have kept pouring in since.

Now, Our Better World is an active community of storytellers from across the globe – and we can all be part of it.

With more than 35 million active netizens, the Philippines has become an important segment to Our Better World; in fact, many great stories that have been featured by the organization are either by Filipino filmmakers (professionals and amateurs alike) or stories that took place in the archipelago.

There’s this one about a group that provides yellow boats to kids in Zamboanga who otherwise swim through dangerous waters to reach school; another about brilliant but underprivileged young adults that were given scholarships to study in a top university; a domestic worker in Singapore who became a social entrepreneur in Nueva Vizcaya; a prestigious ballet school that supports talented dancers from deprived families; and there’s this beautiful narrative about a couple who gives not only food but also hope to children of Smokey Mountain.

Last year, a Filipino named Dave Sarabia won first prize in OBW’s Good Story Competition, under the professional category, for his impactful work in India.

As faith in humanity continues to burn, there won’t be a lack of enthusing anecdotes waiting to be told, so the steady influx of stories is not at all surprising. What’s noteworthy is how Our Better World tackled the challenges on the interwebs and learned the rigid behavior of its dwellers.

For one, knowing that a huge chunk of people online views reading as a laborious activity (a recent study reveals that only 20 per cent of total words in a web article are actually read), Our Better World decided to present its stories through heartwarming videos that are easy to digest, share, and become viral.

It’s interesting that all these short films don’t go beyond five minutes, since Our Better World understands how people value their time. Sadly, the overabundance of free information has resulted in shorter attention spans as a plethora of content simultaneously competes and begs for attention once you go online.

Today’s stressful demands have also caused many of us to fall deep into routines. It is when we allow ourselves to get caught in this monotony that we begin to undermine the real value of time and lose sight of the tremendous things we can do with it. When every minute merely corresponds to a task and each hour simply an indicator of a day’s progress, then we could actually be wasting time and missing out on the more important things in life – like, perhaps, the chance to save a life.

It’s assuring to know that groups like Our Better World still uphold what we can easily forget in this era of commercial clutter and self-promotion: We can do something to help with what power and little free time we have.

In the digital realm, we can be invincible. We can even give birth to several identities that are so far from our real personas – the victim, the overachiever, the critic, or the grieving lover.

But as you go online today, remember that you can always choose to be an agent of change.


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