26 February 2019: Yale-NUS’ first human library: Not just another networking event

By Denise Tan

Start-up representatives and participants at the Human Library event held at Yale-NUS Performance Hall. Image by Asher Chua/Yale-NUS College. 

The ‘library’ event that took place at Yale-NUS College on 22 January 2019 was different from what one would usually associate with a ‘book’ event. Instead of the usual informational boards or book displays, the main showcase was ‘human books’ in the form of people from six different start-ups. The Human Library event, which took place at the Performance Hall foyer, had about 40 students meeting each start-up representative in a style akin to speed dating.

The start-ups at the event – GorillaSpace, MeshMinds, Moovaz, Neurotrend, Panalyt and Ravenry – were from fields ranging from data and research to co-working spaces. Within an hour, the students were able to rotate among the start-ups three to four times. They had 15 to 20 minutes to ask each company about their work and career opportunities.

According to Programme Manager of Career Services at Yale-NUS’ Centre for International & Professional Experience (CIPE), Ms Teo Shien Min, the aim of the event was to expose students to local and regional start-ups, and allow potential employers to get to know Yale-NUS students. She said, “The setting was important as we wanted the event to be less intimidating and more interactive to allow for better two-way exchanges.”

The event’s setting was perhaps the differing factor between the Human Library and a typical networking event. The informal atmosphere meant that students felt more comfortable approaching the start-ups. Sangho Yoon (Class of 2022) said, “We were able to easily approach the various representatives from the start-ups and ask questions. It was a more approachable setup than traditional networking events.”

Start-up representatives saw the benefits of the Human Library as well. “In this format, the emphasis was more on learning. It was more relaxed and free-flowing, compared to networking events where there’s often a pressure to exchange information or impress a potential employer,” said Ms Gabrielle Ibasco, a marketing associate at GorillaSpace and Yale-NUS College alumna.

CEO of Ravenry, Mr Ricky Willianto, echoed these sentiments. “Participants are better able to identify who they want to speak with, and have actual opportunities to speak with the person,” he said. “Sometimes, in networking events, people tend to either get stuck with the same group of people or have someone hogging the speakers.”

Due to its informal and interactive nature, both participating students and start-ups agree that there should be future Human Library events. Students also had an opportunity to gain insight about life after College as they spoke with some of the start-up representatives who were Yale-NUS alumni. While Sangho’s career interests differed from the industries where the start-ups are from, he felt the session was still beneficial for him as it was a good way for students to learn about different careers. Apart from receiving more information from the start-ups present, he hopes to speak to more companies at future Human Library events.

Not only did the event provide students with a deeper understanding of the start-up world, it also gave employers an opportunity to learn more about the students on a deeper level. Mr Willianto noted that the students went to the event well prepared with questions and discussion topics.

The Human Library at Yale-NUS was inspired by a similar event at ArtsConnect, an arts-specific industry awareness and networking event aimed at inspiring and educating keen undergraduates to pursue a career in the Arts sector. “[One of the co-organisers] shared how well the human library session at ArtsConnect turned out for them, hence that inspired me to go beyond our usual sharing sessions,” said Ms Teo. “I wanted to give room for students to know that networking is about having conversations and connecting with people”. Ms Teo said that CIPE intends to continue planning more human library events for different sectors, and is exploring similar events that will offer students high levels of interaction with individuals from diverse backgrounds and interests.