Newton Circus: Pricking people’s conscience with an exhibition

Newton Circus: Pricking people’s conscience with an exhibition

It's not the hawker center popular with tourists, but a new, socially-conscious company that is staging a thought-provoking exhibition called The Poverty Line

In China the poverty line is measured at RMB 3.28 (USD$0.49).Walk by the busy corner of Cecil and Boon Tat streets in Singapore’s Central Business District and you might notice something different.

A big sign there reads "Newton Circus" but doesn’t point to the Newton Circus we all know. Instead it is the sign for a new, forward-looking type of company.

Both "for profit and for people and planet," Newton Circus’ business is doing good -– and being a viable corporation at the same time.

Call it an all-in-one outfit, Newton Circus deals with change management, consulting, product design, engineering, digital and social innovation and marketing.

"We ran off and joined this circus because we wanted to leave the world in better shape than we found it," says CEO Daryl Arnold, an entrepreneur from the United Kingdom.

"We establish our own ventures and work with multi-national corporations to create new and improve products, services and applications that are good for people, planet and profit," says Arnold.

Digging beyond the Circus

"The Poverty Line", one of Newton Circus’ own projects, is a photography exhibition that looks at what it really means, in concrete, measurable terms, to be poor in Asia today.

Images by the accomplished international photographer -- and avid adventurer who has climbed Mount Everest -- Stefen Chow,  are on display on the walls of Newton Circus’ office for all who pass by to see.

In Nepal, since 2003 the country has experienced 50 percent inflation. The title of the exhibition is a measure of the minimum acceptable standard of living. While it might seem like an absolute term, it is defined in varied ways by different organizations, such as the World Bank, and national governments, sometimes to their own agenda.

For the purposes of working out the poverty line for this exhibition, Chow enlisted the expertise of his wife HY Lin, an economist, and they decided to use a per-person, per-day rate of national poverty lines and see what food items can be bought with that amount.

The exhibition depicts row upon row of photos of basic local food items, such as grains, vegetables and fish, shot against local newspapers, which together create an impression of the reality of being poor.

An Asian problem

“Poverty is a real issue in Asia,” says Chow, “especially as the region develops at breakneck pace. People at the bottom rung see their incomes depress and stagnate, while food prices spiral out of control due to a burgeoning middle class in huge countries like China or India.

"Many things we take for granted, like meat and fresh produce, can’t be bought by the poor. Even in Japan, the world’s third largest economy, there is a significant proportion of people defined as poor.”

So far the exhibition has covered China, Japan and Nepal, and Chow intends to expand this to as many countries as he can set visit.

The aim, he says, “is to document every single Asian country by the end of 2012.”

A key part of this project is its online outreach through its website www.thepovertyline.net. There, the project moves from Newton Circus’ office to, in effect, the whole world.

“The response has been incredible,” says Chow. “We have been featured on numerous blogs around the world, including in United States, China, Spain, and even Russia. I have been receiving a lot of comments on this work, and it is a joy reading them."

"The work is doing what we were hoping -– which is to get people talking about what it means to be poor, and with that hopefully spark off something bigger.”

The Poverty Line

Newton Circus
138 Cecil St., +65 9592 5830
Till mid-May
More information at www.thepovertyline.net

Elaine Ee writes about Singapore, the city she lives in, covering the arts, events, personalities and social issues. Her stories have appeared in Time Out SingaporeTatler HomesFood & Travel and Jetstar Asia. She’s also an editor at publichouse.sg, a Singapore community-driven website run by socially conscious denizens. When she’s not at her laptop, she practises Bikram yoga, spends time with her three kids and makes it a point to keep trying something new. 

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