#HI2020: Being PAWsome with Travis Tan

Hindsight is 2020 (#HI2020) is a ground up initiative founded and led by SMU Lee Kong Chian School of Business Class of 2020 graduate Jessica Lee Yi Ling. In this series, she uncovers personal stories of resilience, courage and love amidst the crazy year that was 2020. Through the reflections and learnings shared in #HI2020, she hopes to empower internship and job seekers to improve their status quos and encourage aspiring entrepreneurs and volunteers to pursue their passions in 2021.



By Jessica Lee, Alumna, SMU Lee Kong Chian School of Business

Sporting the physique of a sportsman, SMU Lee Kong Chian School of Business student, Travis Tan, is trained in Muay Thai and a former dragon boater. What one cannot tell from his physique is that he is a huge advocate for animal welfare! The Year Three student has been blessed with the opportunity to serve as the 16th President for SMU People for Animal Welfare (PAW), a club that lends its voice to animal welfare issues such as illegal pet trade as well as animal abuse. We talk to him about this cause and find out how 2020 had affected activities for the club.


Here are three key takeaways from Travis:

  1. Believing in yourself is the first secret to being PAWsome.
  2. Action cures fear, inaction creates terror.
  3. Be self-aware and have the courage to ask for help.


When did you find out you were passionate about animal welfare?

Tiger, my pet dog, came into my life when I was in Primary Two. As a first-time pet owner, the young and ignorant me was not exactly the best owner. I did not know how to train him properly. Being a male dog, Tiger would try to mark his territory as he roamed around the house, which would upset my family.

In hindsight, that was one of many mistakes I made while raising Tiger. While there were many beautiful memories made, I felt that some situations could have been avoided if I had known about how to care for him better. This prompted me to consider the possibility that other first-time pet owners like myself might have similar struggles. It made me think more about responsible pet ownership and how to better love and care for our furry friends.


What motivated you to join PAW as a member and then later the 15th Executive Committee as the Events Director?

I first found out about and joined SMU PAW as a member during our annual school Co-Curricular Activities (CCA) event, Vivace. As summer 2019 approached, my close friend, Jean, then a SMU PAW executive committee member, share enthusiastically about how the club was preparing for their annual signature event, SMU PAW Animal Day (SPAD). The fact that I could work with animals was a definitely a huge draw factor for me so without hesitation, I joined SPAD 2019 as an Events Executive.


PAW Group Image


The experience was enriching as I had a hand in planning SPAD, advocating for the voiceless and leaving a meaningful impact on the animal welfare community. As time went by and SMU PAW became a bigger part of my university life, I learnt more the situation of animal welfare in Singapore. Although the topic is not commonly spoken about, cases of animal abuse and cruelty, abandonment, and even wildlife smuggling are real problems that are happening even today.  Seeing how my peers were dedicated to this cause, I too was inspired to be a part of it and joined the 15th executive committee.


When you first stepped up as PAW’s Events Director in 2020, what ideas and plans did you have in mind?

Having been part of SPAD 2019 organising committee, I was definitely excited to plan for SPAD 2020, exploring ways to hold an event that was even larger than the previous one, with obstacle courses for dogs, and more games and activities to encourage non-pet owners to participate as well. Ultimately, I wanted to grow the brand of the club while providing meaningful and engaging activities for everyone!

There were also plans to conduct food-raising walkathons and jogathons. This was to encourage both pet owners and non-pet owners to exercise while at the same time, contribute to a good cause with every mileage leading to a donation of dog food to the Animal Welfare Groups (AWGs).


When the Circuit Breaker and social distancing measures were announced in 2020, SPAD was moved online. What were some of the challenges you and your team faced?

As an events-based CCA, the Circuit Breaker meant that our events such as SPAD 2020 had to be put on hold. One upfront challenge for us was the need to enter the unchartered “virtual” territory.

We needed to find a suitable streaming platform for the SPAD showcase. With so many platforms to choose from, we found ourselves stuck in decision paralysis at one point. When we finally decidedon using Zoom, we received pushback given that there had been cases where the Zoom platform has been hacked and/or misused.

Instead of just taking no for an answer, we did more research and platform comparisons to back our proposal and eventually received permission to proceed.

In addition to the technical obstacles, the activities needed a lot of rework too. We had to ensure we would be able to effectively engage the audience, both the non-pet owners and pet owners alike, given the screen barriers. It was imperative that we presented SPAD as a professionally organised event with elements of fun.


Having served SMU PAW for a full year, what motivated you to step up to lead as the President of the 16th Executive committee?

The more involved I was with SMU PAW, the more I wanted to contribute. Covid-19 may have thrown a wrench on our 2020 plans but I was determined to improve the situation in 2021. With that in mind, I made that choice to step up and see the club through the turbulent waves.


Travis PortraitI recently found out that you were previously the President of a sports CCA during your time in Singapore Polytechnic. What’s the biggest difference in leading a sports team and an animal welfare club?

The biggest difference would be the dynamics. In sports, the key concerns often revolved around keeping discipline and regular trainings, and how they can be conducted both smoothly and safely. It was more of internal team management.

In the latter, PAW held many events across the year, each having its own unique flavour and objectives. Being advocates of a social cause and part of this larger animal welfare community, we work with many partners and had many public eyes on us. Stakeholder management is a big part of my role with SMU PAW.


As a penultimate student, how did you juggle your leadership role with your studies, internship search and family commitments?

It may sound cliché, but it really boils down to time management skills. Having this leadership responsibility, in addition to my SMU-X modules, internship search and family commitments, meant that I have to make sacrifices. That said, I have no regrets. In the words of athlete Jerry Rice, “Today I will do what others won’t, so that tomorrow I can do what others can’t.”

One thing that works well for me is to religiously ask myself at the start of each new day—what are my top three priorities for today? This helps me to orientate my mind and focus on delivering quality work for a few tasks at a time as opposed to producing many pieces of shoddy work. This has helped me tide through 2020.


How did Covid-19 affect you on a personal note?

Unexpectedly, I went through a lot of personal growth in 2020. The stay-home arrangements led me to reflect on myself. What gives me meaning? What inspires me? What energises me? While I would not say I have the final answer, it is comforting to be able to share that I now understand a little bit more about who exactly “Travis” is.


Share with us 3 learnings you took from 2020 that you’re applying now in your position as President of SMU PAW and/or in your personal life.

  1. Believing in yourself is the first secret to being PAWsome. Each and every day comes with its own set of challenges and expecting to have all the answers is unrealistic. What’s more important than actually having the solution, is believing you will be able to overcome these obstacles, just as you have done before. One can’t expect others to trust them if they don’t trust themselves.
  2. Action cures fear, inaction creates terror. When present with an uncertain situation, do you run away or do you face it head-on? Do what scares you until it does not anymore. Even if things do not go as planned and you “fail” due to unprecedented setbacks, view this as an opportunity to grow stronger and give yourself a pat on the back for having tried your best.
  3. Be self-aware and have the courage to ask for help. Many might have the false notion that doing so means we are weak and perhaps lacking as person. On the contrary, it actually reflects your self-awareness and that you know which areas you can afford to do even better in. Have an open mind, dare to learn from others and find ways to provide value in return.


What are you looking forward to in 2021?

This year’s SPAD will be the third run that I will be involved in. Having experienced SPAD both physically and virtually in the past, I am excited to see what’s in store for this year and hopefully it can come back even stronger, even if it is going to be a hybrid version. Seeing this event come to life each time is extremely rewarding.

For my family and loved ones, I hope that everyone continues to stay healthy and happy and that 2021 will be the year they live their dreams.

Personally, I intend on doubling down to becoming a better marketer and learn more about branding. This summer, I am planning on a weekly book/podcast/Ted Talk review challenge on Linkedin too!



This article has been adapted from LinkedIn for republishing on The SMU Blog with permission. Learn more about Hindsight is 2020 here.

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