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Our GUI Story

The Story of Ground-Up Initiative

About Ground-Up Initiative (GUI)

Do you desire to live life with meaning – with a focus on being a mindful, grounded and joyful human being?

One may call GUI a 21st Century ‘School of Life’. Our non-profit organisation pioneers dynamic ways of shaping people and nurturing leaders for the future, grounded in the holistic approach of the “Thinker-Warrior-Farmer” — the elements of an all-rounded leader.

We are currently building up the Kampung Kampus (kampung means village in the Malay language), a low-carbon footprint campus in Yishun – from a spartan 100 sq metres of concrete space to 2.6 hectares of lush land — GUI’s boldest move yet. This is a community-involved project that continues to encourage GUI’s call for A Beautiful Connection with the Earth & Community.

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Why was GUI created?

Singaporeans needed to be more daring and creative — that was one of the findings of the Remaking Singapore Committee in 2002.

Our Kampung Chief, Tay Lai Hock, was 39 years old then. He had given up his corporate job and an annual six-figure salary to backpack around the world and was stuck in a desert outpost in the Sahara when he came across the news. It made him wonder: “How could creativity and risk-taking be nurtured when the very people who teach are risk averse, and when the environment does not allow these attributes to flourish?”

And so, Lai Hock returned to Singapore in 2002, with a determination to do something about this situation. In 2008, his evolving answer to that recommendation took the form of Ground-Up Initiative (GUI).

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Our Vision

Towards a 5G Nation

We hope the 5Gs: Gracious, Green, Giving, Grounded and Grateful form the foundation for GUI’s 21st Century Kampung Culture that cultivates holistic solutions for a happier, liveable and sustainable future for modern society.

Our Mission

Building Kampung Kampus, a School of Life

To build up the Kampung Kampus – an ambitious feat in land-scarce Singapore – and showcase best practices in sustainable living for Singapore, and nurture a conscious community with hearts, minds and hands focused on a humane and sustainable future.

Timeline of GUI's Growth

History of GUI


January 1

Humble Beginnings

After three rounds of flood relief missions in southern Malaysia and a year of deliberate thought, Lai Hock registered Ground-up Initiative (GUI) as an official entity.
January 3

Bringing people to work together

Since its inception, GUI has been bringing people from all walks of life to collaboratively cultivate the space, inspiring togetherness and instilling ownership. Balik Kampung, is GUI’s flagship programme to fulfil this purpose.
January 1

Moved to 100 sqm space at Bottle Tree Park

Moved to 100 sqm space at Bottle Tree Park. GUI started the first project named SURF. Sustainable Urban Roof-top Farm.
January 2

An additional 600 sqm of land

Awarded an additional 600 sqm of land by the Bottle Tree Park management after eight months of witnessing GUI’s impressive progress. The infertile piece of land had to be carefully cultivated.
January 1

Demonstrating progress against odds

Over a span of four months GUI continued to impress the management of Bottle Tree Park, growing 500 sqm more, to a total area of 1200 sqm.
January 2

Activating mass action for good

Having shaped, designed and cultivated its 1200 sqm piece of land, GUI held its first major event at Bottle Tree Park on 10.10.10 to educate the importance of bringing down CO2 to 350ppm. An astounding 5000 visitors attended. It would be just the first of a series of events that will bring people together for a common good.
January 1

Fostering leaders

To realise GUI’s vision, programmes are specifically designed to nurture resilient and mindful leaders, with a deep sense of responsibility to society and an acute awareness for the environment. H3ROES was kickstarted, an environmental leadership programme with Canon and NEA. This has been a fruitful partnership since 2011 till present, and an affirmation of confidence by organisations from both the public and private sectors in GUI’s philosophy and methodology.
January 1

Nurturing our young

GUI launched JOE (Just One Earth), and has held more than 300 sessions for more than 50 kindergartens. JOE teaches students the value of our planet and a healthy environment, while teaching practical skills of recycling, reusing, and how to grow small plants in reused bottles.
January 2

Protect our heritage, protect our land

GUI held a five-month long festival, Heritage Kampung, to reconnect fellow citizens with Singapore’s heritage and the timeless values embodied by our pioneers representing each ethnic group. Several ministers graced the festival, including Minister Shanmugam, Minister Tan Chuan Jin and Minister Grace Fu – prompting them for the first time to reconsider the usage of the land that GUI sits on. It was designed for commercial use, but would that teach our young to protect our heritage, our society, our land?
January 1

Sparking creativity & innovative thinking

Organised by GUI, EXCITE! is the first programme in Asia supported by Challenge:Future from the European Union and DBS Singapore. The programme aims to reduce youth unemployment by redefining education and exploring social entrepreneurship.
January 2

Lai Hock showing Minister Heng Swee Keat the tremendous work done by GUI’s volunteers.
January 3

A model of the future

Sharing a model of the future to Minister Lawrence Wong
January 1

GUI expands to 26,000 sqm

The community rallied together to win the support of the government and public for the usage of a stunning 26,000 sqm piece of land on a land-scarce Singapore. It was designated for residential and commercial use, yet this was a time when the resilience built by GUI over the years paid off: after two years of campaigning, the lease was awarded to GUI for another six years.
January 1

Nurturing with deliberate design

A range of diverse social enterprises are carefully designed to cultivate a multitude of strengths for a wide spectrum of individuals and groups, forming a robust, nurturing eco-system of GUI within the Kampung Kampus – which covers the fields of education, farming and craft.
January 2

Inspiring a new way of life

GUI has become a destination where various organisations and countries come to experience ideas and inspirations on how to rethink our assumptions on our way of life, and cultivating grace, gratitude, empathy amongst people.
January 3

Inspiring a new way of life

Visit from the Bhutanese Government
January 1

Ground-Up Troopers (GUTS) Kickoff

It was time to put all that design into action, and GUI conducted its first intensive leadership programme to nurture grounded, resilient young leaders. The GUTS programme started with a 6-week accelerator bootcamp, followed by a 2-month apprenticeship and subsequently, initiating their own projects in places such as Nee Soon Town.
January 2

Launching of AkzoNobel’s event

AkzoNobel launched its global campaign on “Destination Planet Possible” starting in Singapore, right at the Kampung Kampus.
January 3

A space where all can come together

GUI provides the space for our melting pot of diverse cultures, age-groups and professions.
January 1

Phase 1 Opening

Two years on, after the Groundbreaking / Phase 0 of the Kampung Kampus in 2014, we are elated to present to the world – Phase 1 of the Kampung Kampus!

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