John-son portrait.jpg (original size)John-Son Oei, founder and CEO of EPIC Homes.

For eight years, John-Son Oei proved to naysayers that ‘impossible’ does not exist in his vocabulary.

From building functional homes in three days for orang asli villages to bridging the urban-rural divide through volunteerism, his EPIC Homes thrived at a time the concept of social entrepreneurship was unheard of.

“EPIC is known for our homebuilding projects and it remains the heart of what we do. But we also want to show that we can do more,” he says.

Enter EPIC Communities, a social enterprise with a long-term goal of developing fully sustainable communities on a large scale. Through this new initiative, John-Son wants to change the narrative on community work around Malaysia.

Currently, EPIC Communities is in the final stages of piloting the Millennium Proto-Park project. Together with the ADUN of Subang Jaya Hannah Yeoh and with the support of MPSJ, this project is conceived to activate Millennium Park, an under-utilised park located in a prominent landmark Subang Jaya.

We caught up with John-Son recently to find out why he decided to take on the project.

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What sparked the entire project altogether?

Last year, we shared with Subang state assemblywoman Hannah Yeoh that we were venturing into community activation work. We asked if she knew any dilapidated areas or community issues that we could take up. That was when she told us about Millenium Park.

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Tell us more about Millenium Park and its significance in the Subang community.

This park was built back in 2000 for the Subang community. But after that, it was abandoned and the whole place deteriorated over time. Sadly, Millennium Park developed a reputation as a place for people to congregate for social ills. It’s such a waste because the park is situated a prominent location, right near the Persiaran Kewajipan roundabout.

On their part, Hannah, MPSJ and team tried their best to rejuvenate the park. They tore the structures down to reset its purpose. They did tree planting exercises and organised workouts to engage the community. But ultimately, they weren’t sure what exactly to do with the space. So nothing stuck. 

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So how will EPIC Communities be approaching this project?

Like a consultant, we facilitate dialogues to connect the local government and the community. We aim to carve out a sustainable step-by-step process to ensure the project meets the needs of its community through the support of the government and other external parties like NGOs and corporations in the area.

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What’s the first step you all took in this project?

We began by engaging the community and listening to them to get their buy-in. In this case, we went into the SS13 neighbourhood—where the park is—as a third party, talking to people and asking them about what they need for the park. We talked to the senior citizens, kids and those from neighbouring communities like SS15 and SS18 for feedback. 

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What is the next course of action?

You need to show people the commitment before they can commit in turn. We needed something to anchor the community around. So we decided to build a community centre that we named as ‘Kotak Komuniti’ to poll for opinions.

We built the centre with the help of 30 volunteers and the response was amazing. People from the community came to help. Even a foreign worker living in a nearby low cost flat joined us to fix the Kotak. It showed us that everyone in the community wants to be a part of the process.

We used the Kotak as a space to facilitate discussion. We built a special board and invited people every weekend post up stuff like things that they want for the park and allow others to vote. Let’s say, one person posts a need like more streetlights in the park and another can vote. The point of this is to connect people and activate the community.

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What happened at the recent Proto-Park event?

For two days, we built the structures for the event. Last Sunday was the official launch event. The event prototyped both park facilities and programmes for the community of Subang Jaya to enjoy.

Armed with a compiled ‘wishlist’ from the community from the Kotak, we had a series of activities in the form of Mini-Missions for people to choose and test out. For example, we had tree planting, clean-ups, facilities fixing and more.

The outcomes of community voting and feedback for these events determined whether ideas can be made permanent through further collaborations with the state government.

All in all, we want people from all sectors to feel like a part of the vision of the new Millennium Park. We want to simulate this idea that everyone can contribute to the sustainability of the park if they have been involved with it, even if they came in to contribute in different points of time in the process.

EPIC is unveiling its refreshed initiatives on April 15. Visit epic.my to see how you can help.

Also read, how John-Son Oei's mum raised three sons on her own.

Tags: Philantrophy, Subang Jaya, Force For Good, John-Son Oei, EPIC Homes