In Search of Meaning
In search of meaning, looking for new experiences, moving to new place, having fun, learning new languages led Chinese born Melody Song, co founder of Do Good Here to Canada and then to Berlin, Germany. Her mum, a translator for cultural ministries took her to ballet as a child which gave her access to ballet shows. She lived in Canada for 20 years, 15 of those years she served as a fundraiser at Alberta ballet. To Melody names matter ‘You’re given a name for a reason. Learning how to pronounce someone’s name correctly I think is the first step of empathy, – the act of trying to understand and connect with someone can start here. Our names have interesting stories and unique meanings’ she told TesseLeads.
Providing meaning and purpose has become paramount for Melody who finds she cannot live without purpose. She worked for an oil and gas company but found that was not rewarding enough. Her fun job was working for a zoo as a fundraiser, where she felt she had made a difference in preserving wildlife that were extinct in Canada for 75 years. When the conservation director said she had ‘helped wildlife today and helped to make the world better’ she knew she was in her ideal job.
Moving to design thinking came about after being inspired by Aisha Tyler , an American actress, comedian, director and talk show host. Aisha followed her dream by leaving her conservative job to do what brought her joy – becoming a comedian!
In search of more meaning, Melody transitioned to focus on design thinking and now facilitates workshops with diverse teams as they co-create solutions. Melody shares with TesseLeads the challenge to look for” cultural add” not ‘cultural fit ‘. This focuses on the question what are you adding to the mix? “ Don’t be afraid of standing out for being authentic and different” she says. One of her favourite designers, Margaret Lee, UX Director at Google currently leading Community & Culture programmes offers insights relating to the reluctant leader stresses this concept of cultural add; this discovers how a candidate adds to or complements the existing culture.
It broadens perspectives in leadership by looking for growth and diversifying culture and capabilities. “Everyone can add something. If you are not bringing something to the table, maybe you are not in the right table. Everyone is different and that difference adds something encourages Melody.
Paula: 00:00:00 Welcome to “TesseLeads” with your host Tesse Akpeki and me Paula Okonneh the cohost. “TesseLeads” is a safe, sensitive and supportive place and space where we share where we hear and where our stories and experiences are told. You will hear from top experts and top leaders strategies, tips, techniques that they have found useful in navigating a diverse range of challenges, difficulties, dilemmas, and it’s in this space that you can create and shape opportunities. Our guest today is Melody Song, and we’ll be talking about her personal story through the lens of design thinking. Let me tell you a bit about Melody. Melody is the founder of “Do good here .org”, a network of professionals, delivering design labs to foster collaboration and connectivity in the social sector. They combine data science and design thinking and Melody uses data-driven and empathy based methodology to help build capacity for nonprofits. She’s a certified fundraising executive and her area of expertise includes major gift funding, prospect managing sponsorship and international fundraising. She is also an alumni coach for “IDEOU”, which is an online learning community created by IDEO a leading design agency for design. And she’s also a former board member of the association for professional researchers. Wow. I can’t stop being amazed by your biography, biog as you say in England bio as we say in America, whatever the case welcome to “TesseLeads”.
00:02:12 Melody: 00:02:12 Thank you Paula, it’s a great honor to be here and I’m very excited to talk to you Tesse and you about my story.
00:02:21 Tesse: 00:02:21 Yeah, Paula thank you for introducing Melody in that way. I actually met Melody at a professional fundraising conference and was immediately drawn to her spark and her enthusiasm and her knowledge. Oh my goodness. And her humility as well is a word that comes to mind. Melody I’m really interested in knowing more about your story, your journey. What pathway led you to where you are now.
00:02:50 Melody: 00:02:50 So before answering your question, I really actually want to say that Melody is not my real name. As we all say, I have such a beautiful name which is very musical. I can sing, break out into singing and dance because of my name. First name Melody and last name is Song. Song is my last name and it’s pronounced Sung in chinese.
00:03:15 Tesse: 00:03:15 Oh, wow.
00:03:16 Melody: 00:03:16 And it just happened to be spelling the same as song and it happened to have that meaning. So my first name is Qian and it’s spelled Qian, and that is my Chinese name. So in China they call me Song Qian. We say the surname first in China, that’s the beginning of my story. I was born and raised in Beijing and my mom is a translator interpreter who does English Chinese translation. So I was taught English from a very young age. And my mother was saying, your name is so difficult to be pronounced in English. Therefore why don’t you, like all the cool kids who are learning English have an English name because we assume that people can’t pronounce our Chinese name, which is true sometimes. That’s why I have Melody as my name, is really was given to me by my mother. I know a lot of my friends who just give themselves names, right? Like, Hey this is so fun. I’m just going to give myself any name. The reason why I said that is because recently I just feel that maybe we should make more of an effort to actually use our real names and not afraid that other people can pronounce it, because just trying to get other people to pronounce your name or us making an effort to pronounce other people’s names correctly, I think is the first step of empathy of trying to understand, trying to connect with somebody. Our names all have interesting stories to it and meanings, you know? So my name Qian means pretty in Chinese, very boring. But no means exciting, but that’s what it means. I just found this really interesting when it comes to names, because I’m really curious now about your names you know, what is the story behind your names? I think that could be an interesting question for everyone.
00:05:16 Tesse: 00:05:16 Oh my, I’m just loving what you’re doing, you’re going in there isn’t it? I’m going to start with my name and then Paula I’m going to go over to you. Cause my surname is actually Akpeki, Akpeki, Akpeki yes it’s Nigerian name. And actually the meaning of Akpeki is the world is a marketplace. That’s the meaning of Akpeki, the world is a marketplace. And my first name is actually for full is Teresa and Teresa is the name taken from a Catholic Saint – Saint Therese de Liseux , it’s French. And she was a Saint for small things, the saint of the flowers – The Little Flower, known for her simplicity and practicality of her approach. So it’s like doing small things well, yeah doing small things well. So I am Tesse doing small things well in the world is a market place. That’s my name.
00:06:10 Melody: 00:06:10 Wow, that’s amazing that is definitely more exciting than my name. Paula what is your name? What’s the story there?
00:06:19 Paula: 00:06:19 My parents are from two different parts of the world. And I was born in my mom’s country and my mom has a sister called Paula. So I was named after Paula, my aunt Paula. And my last name, my husband passed, but I’m married. I still wear my wedding band and consider myself a widow, but I’m married. I don’t know the meaning of my last name, a lot of people when they hear it they’re not too sure. Because in Nigeria, my husband is Nigerian. In Nigeria the names tell you what part of the country you’re from your ethnicity. My surname, many times people can’t figure out where it’s from. But it’s a Nigerian name.
00:07:10 Melody: 00:07:10 Hmm, that’s very mysterious. I feel, yeah. The reason why I asked is because recently I was at an event where we have speakers from different countries. And the organizer of the event I asked, I noticed that you have Chinese speakers on your list. Do you want me to record how their name would sound? Because it would be nice if you can pronounce it better. And this organizer said, oh I wouldn’t even try to pronounce their names, we’ll try not to. But I feel like that’s the least thing that we could do is to try to pronounce the name correctly. That’s why I’m just making a point every time now to tell people about the correct pronunciation of my name and finding out the stories behind your name so that we can know each other better. That’s the start of my story and my name Song, which is my maiden name. But also in China we don’t change our surname, and that is after 1945, which is a communist thing. And before that, we kind of jumped from really bad to really good, I guess. Before that women lost their name altogether, they just have their surname. They lost their first name when they married. So they’re just kind of like the Handmaid’s tale you know, they’re just like you’re off somebody’s, you know, somebody’s wife, that was before. But nowadays in China no one’s changing thier name so I kept that. Plus my first name and last name is going so well together, I don’t want to change it. I feel like it’s my personal brand. So I came from Beijing, a very old city and born and raised in Beijing. When I was 21 I left Beijing to Canada and then I stayed in Canada for 20 years. I studied, I got my degree there. I also started at first as a marketing professional. I have a master degree in communications and I always loved dance, I always loved ballet. When I was little my mother used to take me to ballet because she’s a translator for the cultural ministries. So in the eighties, we got access to all sorts of ballet shows and she was the translator for those ballet companies. So I love ballet, so there’s a job opening at the local ballet on Alberta ballet for a fundraiser and I absolutely have no idea what fundraising are, but I love ballet. So I was like okay, I want to do fun things and I love dance, therefore I want to apply for this job and they amazingly took me in. So that’s the start of my career as a fundraiser. I started with the ballet company doing what I love, and stayed there for a while because working for non-profit there’s a completely different feeling, as opposed to working for for-profit organization. You kind of feel at first a little bit more purpose, but in the end I feel this purpose I cannot live without. I need to have a purpose to what I do. I cannot do something that is just to increase revenue for somebody else or the shareholders or whatever. I’ve worked for a bigger corporations, like Schlumberger, like oil and gas industry before in China, but not until I started working for non-profit I felt like this is a great job for me. I feel that I have found the purpose, so I stayed there and I was a fundraiser for over 15 years. I’ve worked with Alberta ballet and then I worked with sate Polytechnique, which is a college working on education. But going back to a fun job, you know, I always liked do things that are more fun. I started working for zoo, also doing fundraising. And that’s when I feel that this purpose part becomes more important in my life. In the zoo we have a program we call wildlife reintroduction program. So their wildlife were extinct in the wild regionally. For example, certain wildlife like blackfooted ferrets for example, extinct in Canada for 75 years. And what we do is we carefully breed Blackfooted ferret from somewhere else, and then release them back into the wild. So that’s a specialty that the Calgary zoo who I worked with was doing. And I got to learn a lot about that and it’s very very interesting and fascinating. And I actually got to be very involved with some programs. And once I was translating, I translated a guide for re-introduction from English to Chinese. And the conservation director looked me in the eye and he said, you helped wildlife today, you helped someone you helped to make the world better. So I was like, oh my God you know, I actually helped someone. I actually helped people to understand about wildlife reintroduction and how to get the environment better. It’s the feeling of directly being involved makes my work a little bit more meaningful. So I think that’s very important and very interesting part of my job before. However, I think when I talk with you Tesse, you know, I’ve mentioned that I’m in the transition period right now to do a career change. Which I feel a lot of people in my age, which is 47 this year, are thinking about transitioning and changing careers. And that happened when I was on a trip and I was listening to a podcast on a trip because it was a long drive and the podcast guests, just like your podcast. It changed my life and your podcast will one day change somebody’s life. So the guest was, Aisha Tyler. She is a comedian in US, I don’t know if you heard about her. But she’s the girlfriend of Ross in Friends, you know. So Ross come back from China and brought a girlfriend back and she’s black. That’s her, that’s Ayesha Tyler. And she was telling her story about working for environmental organization after university. And she felt so purposeful you know. She felt that she’s living her dream, that’s what she wanted to do. She learned about nonprofit management. She’s working in the environmental organization with purpose. But she thought like still something’s missing from her life. She thought that she needs to be more creative. She didn’t fulfill that creativity in her life. Therefore she became a comedian from somebody who learned political science or whatever that is. She started doing stand-up comedy and I just, I was blown away by her courage and how she would you know, just go pursue what she wanted to do. And looking back on my career you know, I’m a fundraiser doing good things. I think I’m making a difference in the world. But I’m not being creative enough, and that’s something that I really miss. And therefore I started, like you mentioned to learn more about design thinking. And that’s something, I think it is very creative because design thinking is all about facilitating workshops with diverse teams together and co-create solutions. And I feel like I need to make that career change where I need to know what I want and then just do it. And then talking about being creative as well. I made a goals for myself to doodle every day for example you know. I feel creative doesn’t have to be like inventing a new thing or the next best thing for the world. It just, sometimes it’s just doodling and sometimes just having a little moment of yourself and just create something, do origami or something like that. That to me is very nice as well. So that is a career change inspired by podcast, and therefore I think there’s a lot that you guys could do. There’s a lot of lives you guys can change.
00:15:57 Tesse: 00:15:57 Wow, I love that story. Paula you have a question for Melody, haven’t you? I see, you know for our viewers, we actually are doing this and we can see each other, but you’ll be hearing us. And I see Paula’s eyes with a lot of questions behind them. So Paula what’s on your mind?
00:16:13 Paula: 00:16:13 Wow. Her story is so engaging, I’m like, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. I thought of how you reallty are a citizen of the world. You were born in Beijing and your mom was a translator, which meant that you were exposed to a lot of things different from your normal day-to-day life. You moved to Calvary, you worked as a fundraiser for a ballet company, you worked at nonprofits Slumberger we call it slum begah in Nigeria.
00:16:43 Melody: 00:16:43 Yeah, that’s oil and gas, that’s not non-profit.
00:16:46 Paula: 00:16:46 That’s oil and gas that’s true, that’s true. And then Alberta ballet, the Polytechnic. Then you did a fun job, the zoo, and you realized there was something missing. And you said you really wanted to have that purpose in your life. You heard about Ayeesha Tyler who was on a podcast and now you’re doing design thinking. Wow. So what lessons have you learned with all these things? I mean, this is just so amazing.
00:17:20 Melody: 00:17:20 Yeah. So to actually round up that story as well, I’m not even in Canada anymore. I decided to move to Berlin Germany of all places in the language that I completely don’t get at all during the pandemic last year. Because my husband, he’s a German national and he got a really good offer the year before. And I was like, let’s just go for it because I’m very much about new experiences in life and moving to new places and learning new languages. Sounded very romantic and very nice at the beginning. But now I’m regretting because I never get it. I thought that I never would get german. So that’s to round up that global citizenship there. I’m a Chinese Canadian who lives in Berlin, Germany with a Chinese Canadian German son and my German husband; so he’s the most diverse person in our family.
00:18:28 Paula: 00:18:28 At the moment, because when he was in Canada,
00:18:31 Melody: 00:18:31 Oh yeah I think in Canada he was more diverse now.
00:18:33 Paula: 00:18:33 He’s home Yeah. So maybe at some point with your design thinking who knows, you may end up back into Beijing and then you’ll be home and he’ll be the one having to be culturally diverse because he’d be in a brand new environment.
00:18:50 Melody: 00:18:50 I wish that he’s as open as me because not everybody can do that. And especially Germans. How can you both the most unadoptable? Sorry, I married one so there must be good.
00:19:07 Tesse: 00:19:07 You know Melody you did something amazing today. You actually introduced design thinking with us with our names and I have been researching Okonneh, the personality behind Okonneh, which is Paula surname. And what’s come up is wellness active, dynamic enterprising consistently in action, always planning with movement challenge and bounce. That’s what has come up. And I’m thinking, Paula, does that sound like your husband?
00:19:45 Paula: 00:19:45 It does. As you were reading it, I was like that sounds just like him
00:19:51 Tesse: 00:19:51 I mean, you know? It’s just kind of like that isn’t meaning. Does not like doing nothing constantly busy getting stuff done.
00:20:01 Melody: 00:20:01 That’s amazing.
00:20:03 Tesse: 00:20:03 Yeah. Did you know that Paula?
00:20:05Paula: 00:20:05 You discovered it at the same time that I did, probably a little earlier than I did.
00:20:11 Tesse: 00:20:11 And that’s what Melody did for us. Melody has introduced design. Because it’s just like, what is in a name? And boy oh boy. I knew Henry and this sounded like Henry to me. So names matter.
00:20:24 Paula: 00:20:24 Oh, yes. Yes. The parts of the world we come from all names, most names have meaning. So you don’t just have a name because you like it. You’re given a name for a reason.
00:20:35 Tesse: 00:20:35 Yeah, yeah.
00:20:36 Melody: 00:20:36 Yeah lots there.
00:20:40 Tesse: 00:20:40 You know, we’re kind of getting ready to wrap up your story, but I would love you to leave any key thoughts with our listening viewers who by now I think there’ll be riveted by hearing what you’ve said. What thoughts would you like to leave with our listeners Melody?
00:20:57 Melody: 00:20:57 I think another, I failed to mention which now is a good opportunity to mention is that. I hear you Tesse mentioned earlier that there are perfect clients for you and not necessarily everyone can be that ideal client for you and you may not be the ideal client for them. I think it’s just recognizing that difference and how we always try to fit in, and maybe it’s time that we don’t. That’s another reason I have left what I did, because I’m just tired of fitting in. Especially being the one who’s always different in environment. I definitely don’t feel any negative thing about it. I like being different and I tend to be a different. But we do that, we do try to fit in. We were like, oh, we’re just trying to be what everybody else is being. And I think I’m just really tired of doing that anymore. That’s why I’m creating my own company because I don’t want to fit in anymore. I want to find people who like my style, who likes my approach and consider me as valuable for being who I am. I think Margaret Lee, who is Google’s UX design director. She wrote a really great article called Reluctant Leader and talking about being Asian and how being Asian you’re always taught when you were little to fit it in. You’re not supposed to stand out being Asian. You’re like that quiet person at the back of the line. But you know, sometimes we really need to stand out and be that reluctant leader. Although we’re reluctant, it’s important to say that. And the concept that she introduced is not the cultural fit. You know, when you hire someone, you say, oh that’s person’s cultural fit. No, we need to talk about cultural add. What are you adding to this mix? And I want to be that add, I don’t want to be the fit. That’s what I would be doing.
00:23:11 Tesse: 00:23:11 That is so beautiful, I mean it’s amazing. Again, this comes back to how much I read because I actually have read that work. Yep. And I love that thing about cultural add. I love it. And I started integrating it into my mindset about cultural add and how I could add what Paula add. That is such a beautiful thought to leave listeners with. What can you add? It’s not about fitting in, it’s about adding. And I love the bit you said about being valued.
00:23:44 Melody: 00:23:44 Yeah, and everybody can add you know, don’t think that you can’t, you’re not bringing anything to the table. You can, that’s the point is that every one of us is so different and we add something.
00:23:56 Paula: 00:23:56 Oh lovely. It’s a profound saying. Because as you say, everyone can add, there’s a difference when you try and fit, you know you hear people say you can’t fit a square peg into a round hole. Yeah. But it’s different if you say, well I’m adding pegs and I’ll add in squares to this whole equation, then you get more. As opposed to having something there a set thing. And you’re trying to put things into it whether they fit or not. I love that bit. I have to admit that this is something else I’ve learned today. I don’t want to be a cultural fit, I want to be a cultural add. Yep. That can apply to all of us here on this podcast because we all live abroad. And so we bring our cultures and we are going to be the cultural additions.
00:24:47 Melody: 00:24:47 Exactly.
00:24:48 Paula: 00:24:48 That’s the design thinking we’ve learned, learned, learned. This has been amazing. So because we are wrapping up now, Melody we’d love you to tell our listeners where they can find you online.
00:25:00 Melody: 00:25:00 So, you can find me at “dogoodhere.org”. So dogoodhere as one word and.org. So that’s the easiest way to find me.
00:25:11 Paula: 00:25:11 So no social media handles.
00:25:13 Melody: 00:25:13 I tried and then deleted my social media because they’re just too much to follow. And to try to wrap up you know likes or follow other people, then you have no time for yourself. And I need to limit that as much as I like it.
00:25:31 Paula: 00:25:31 That’s fine.
00:25:32 Tesse: 00:25:32 Lovely.
00:25:33 Paula: 00:25:33 We love it. We love it. I’m going to close out here. To our listeners, your precious stories and lives matter. Please share them with us. People always feel supported and encouraged and nurtured when they know that they’re not alone. In addition, we’d love our listeners to head over to Apple podcast, Google podcast. Spotify, or anywhere else that you listen to a podcast and please click subscribe. And if you find “TesseLeads” helpful, please let us know your reviews. If you have any questions or topics you’d like us to cover, please send us a note. And finally, if you’d like to be a guest on our show, “TesseLeads”, please head over to “TesseAkpeki.com/Tesseleads” to apply. Thank you Melody, you’ve changed my life. You said a podcast changed your life
00:26:30 Tesse: 00:26:30 I told you that Melody is a joy, a joy, a delight, a spark and a transformer. Melody it’s lovely to have you on the show. Thank you so much.