Back to basics

12 Nov 2012

Author: Brad Howarth

Photography: Pierre Toussaint

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At just 26 years of age, Ehon Chan has shown a selfless dedication to using digital channels to improve the lives of others. While he has won awards for his work running online campaigns and building digital communities, the accolades are far from his mind.
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Chan has a very personal motivation for his work. It stretches back to his youth in Malaysia, and the death of his best friend from drowning at the age of 16.

“That had a massive impact on me and how I viewed the world,” Chan says. “His death really made me die a little bit.

But I came alive again to see the world in a different way.”

Chan began to question the nature of humanity and what it meant to be part of a community. He started to develop the idea that people should return to the days of smaller communities, where the members have a sense of belonging and feel responsible for each other. It is something he feels the world has been slowly losing.

“A lot of people blame it on technology, but technology is not going to go away,” Chan says. “What we can do, and I see it happening now, is use technology to bring us back to the older ways of building a sense of belonging, but this time not in a physical sense.”

It is the development of this idea that has seen Chan involved in a range of campaigns and initiatives in building virtual communities, and this has won him awards and plaudits from across the world.

Chan moved to Australia seven years ago to study medical science at South Australia’s Flinders University, completing a double major in neuroscience and pharmacology. It was there that he first became involved in the Inspire Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation that uses ICT to promote mental health programs.

“Through them I was exposed to how technology has changed the way humans interact, and I became really interested in that,” Chan says. “So I became involved in a lot of research.”

Chan subsequently took an education research role in Brisbane, where he investigated how digital technology impacted learning, particularly among peers. And while there, he co-founded the Brisbane-based youth entertainment, lifestyle and culture website News Unlimited, as well as Youth Entrepreneurship and Social Innovation Brisbane (YES BNE), the city’s first incubator program for young entrepreneurs and change makers.

It was this project that brought him to the attention of Brad Krauskopf, Co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of the Melbourne-based co-working space and member-based collaboration community Hub Melbourne, which is part of the Global Hub Network initiative.

“I brought Ehon on the team because he showed a level of experience and maturity beyond his years,” Krauskopf says. “His commitment to generating shared value at such a young age I think is a telling trait of the leaders of tomorrow. When you combine this skill with Ehon’s IQ and EQ, it is a potent mix.”

Chan’s success in growing the community is shown in its numbers. Of the Hub’s global membership of more than 5000 across 40 locations, 700 live in Melbourne. Between them they cover a range of industry sectors and more than 50 disciplines, including game developers, tax consultants, various public servants, and innovation consultants from Lego, Coca-Cola and NAB.

Chan has also continued to assist the Inspire Foundation, including helping to launch the 2010 multimillion-dollar cross-media marketing campaign ‘We Can Help Us’, which aimed to reduce suicide rates among teens in the US. That campaign won a number of awards, including a US Advertising and Marketing Effectiveness award.

He was one of the drivers behind the online campaign, ‘Soften The Fck Up’, which was designed to raise young Australian men’s awareness of the high rates of suicide among their peers while encouraging them to move on from the stereotype of the tough Aussie bloke. Since its launch in 2011, the ‘Soften The Fck Up’ website has engaged over 30,000 men in the conversations around suicide and mental health. Its videos have been watched more than 17,000 times, while 82 of its visitors reported that they would “pass something on” after visiting the website.

Chan has achieved significant recognition for his work. In 2009, he was named one of the world’s most inspiring young achievers and innovators under 30 by global young entrepreneurs’ community, Sandbox Network. In 2011, he was awarded a Suicide Prevention Australia LIFE Award, and was a finalist in the Queensland Mental Health Achievement Awards.

He shows no sign of slowing down and remains optimistic about the future of humanity.

“When all humans feel a part of each other’s life and feel responsible for one another, that’s when we can solve pretty much every single social problem we have in the world,” Chan says.