The GoodHood app turns online communities into real-life friends.
Diversity and Inclusion 06 Aug 2020
From grocery deliveries, to a shared love of cats, to a friendship akin to sisterhood?
Not quite what Sing had in mind when she started using the GoodHood app to offer a helping hand in her neighbourhood. But in the process, friendship blossomed unexpectedly.
As COVID-19 began spreading in Singapore, Sing had started looking for volunteer opportunities, wanting to help those left in a tight spot as workplaces and schools closed, and people — especially senior citizens and those with weaker immune systems — were advised to stay home.
“COVID-19 essentially made us slow down and look around at the things that are truly around us, and process the things we want to keep in our lives, and what are the things that we actually want to go out and do,” says Sing, a student.
GoodHood, an app created by entrepreneur Nigel Teo, seemed like an answer to her search — an online platform that allows users to chit chat, post requests for help on simple errands, or offer a helping hand in response. It also hosts a marketplace that allows users to sell or look for services, like dog-walking.
“When you open the app, it automatically shows you the people in your neighbourhood...the app is just kind of showing you the neighbours that you never knew you had,” says Sing.
Through GoodHood, she answered the call of Evelyn, who was looking for someone to help her buy groceries.
“I don’t have a good immune system – anything makes me fall sick, so going out was really not much of an option and everything was just sold out online,” shares Evelyn, who runs a product design and development business. “So I reached out on GoodHood asking if someone could help me with groceries.”
The simple exchange on the app continued offline — from bonding over cats to chatting about school, careers and relationships, Sing and Evelyn now consider each other friends.
Says Sing, “We got to a more heart-to-heart thing and I never expected this in this period of time and in something so ‘transactional’, I will find a ‘heart’ friend...I told her, ‘Woah you are literally my ‘jie’’, in Chinese, it is big sister.”
Adds Evelyn,“I think sometimes we’re afraid of opening up to other people, but we shouldn’t be. So many beautiful things can happen when we’re not afraid of each other.”
FROM THE “GOOD OL’ DAYS” TO GOODHOOD
If you’ve exchanged less than 10 words with your neighbour all week, you are not alone, in Singapore at least. Singaporeans rarely go beyond casual greetings with their neighbours, past surveys have found.
“A few of us older folks were like hanging out and were just sharing how we missed the good ol’ kampung (Bahasa Melayu for ‘village’) days,” laments Nigel. “Everyone is so digitally connected but at the same time physically disconnected.”
“And that’s where we came up with the idea of creating an app to allow people to interact expressly within their own neighbourhood.”
Through the app, which is free to use, people can create verified profiles, and enter postal codes to see what is happening in their own neighbourhoods
Using online platforms to promote neighbourliness on social media is already commonplace, but Nigel wanted to create a platform solely for communities to use without having to plough through social media. Creating the app took volunteers many hours to create, he adds.
And although GoodHood users get started on the app, Nigel hopes the interactions continue offline.
“When GoodHood first started, we initially thought it was just a platform for neighbours to get to know each other and to chit chat, to buy and sell stuff from each other, and to give each other free stuff,” says Nigel.
But soon, more sustained interactions were taking place. For example, a woman had offered a taxi driver her hand-sewn face masks in the early days of the pandemic hitting Singapore, when masks were still in shortage. The taxi driver then rallied other GoodHood users to provide material for the woman to make more masks.
“We see these kinds of interesting relationships forming not just within GoodHood but outside of GoodHood and that’s very heartwarming,” says Nigel.
So far, the app has been downloaded 6,000 times. Nigel has also used GoodHood as a platform to launch larger initiatives, such as the #KindCooks campaign, where a GoodHood user in need can request for a free meal anonymously, and a neighbour who responds to the request gets a S$5 subsidy from Temasek Trust to help cover the costs of doing so.
“The intention was for it to have 200 meals over two weeks, but within the first two days, we already clocked that,” says Nigel. He plans to eventually call for volunteer community leads who can foster community spirit in their neighbourhoods, be it through engaging people in conversation on the app, or organising offline events.
KAMPUNG SPIRIT IN REAL LIFE
When Jim looks at his garden bursting with lush greens, he sees kampung spirit in full bloom — a garden that has thrived on the tips and suggestions of neighbours.
It’s a change from when he first moved into the neighbourhood a few years ago and he found himself missing the conviviality of his previous home.
“It’s quite different, people tend to keep to themselves. I was staying in the HDB flat over at Boon Keng, and it was a most vibrant community,” recalls Jim, who works in a bank and is married with two children.
Jim had once thought about reaching out to the neighbours by leaving leaflets in their mailboxes with his phone number, but never got around to doing so.
Then he heard about GoodHood and decided to try it out as a way to bring people together. “It was just at that point when COVID was coming on stream, and it really reminded me personally of how important communities are and we don’t live alone and we need people around us,” says Jim.
He created a profile, and posed a simple question for gardening tips — a question that proved to be fertile ground for neighbourliness to take root.
“Lots of people started chipping in, and giving me pointers, and these are random strangers that I have never met before chipping in, and it really warmed my heart,” says Jim.
GoodHood also revealed to him the needs of a segment of society that he otherwise might not have seen. “You scroll through the different entries...it’s very humbling and shocking to see lots of people who don’t even have the basic needs taken care of,” he says.
“They are struggling to get enough food, a few of them are looking for jobs and I think we need to really challenge ourselves, what can we do for the community and not just what the community can do for us.”
He hopes the community spirit lives on even after the pandemic tapers off, noting that unlike the past, neighbourliness today means “not disturbing your neighbour, keeping your area clean, not vandalising the lifts that we use”.
“But now that we are all forced to work from home, now we are forced by circumstances to get to know our neighbours better, I think neighbourliness can grow so much more and the kampong spirit will evolve [into] sharing things, getting things done together.”
Evelyn shares a similar sentiment. “I think being part of a community means being able to support and receive support in return,” she says. “Go out and build a community. You don’t have to wait for one to find you – you can build one right on your phone, right on your doorstep.”
LET’S TALK ABOUT IT: When was the last time you did more than exchange greetings with your neighbour, and what is one thing you think you can do to add community spirit to your neighbourhood? Share with us here.