Social enterprises aim to give a leg-up rather than a hand-out

Running a social enterprise is one way for successful Singaporeans to give back to the community.

During his National Day Rally speech, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong singled out Alteration Initiative – a social enterprise which trains and employs needy women as seamstresses.

Alteration Initiative’s owner Josephine Ng said equipping these women with a useful skill is the best way to help them get back on their feet.

As a single mother with three young daughters, Maryah Sharif needs a flexible work schedule.

She struggled to cope with the long hours in her previous job as a bank executive.

But since she started working as a seamstress at Alteration Initiative two years ago, life has become much easier.

The 38-year-old is now the branch manager of one of the outlets where she works regular hours.

She also knows that she can count on her colleagues to cover for her if she has to leave work midway through the day.

Ms Maryah said: “For this kind of hours I’m having, it’s important because with children, you never know what emergency will happen at home.”

Women like her are the ones Ms Ng wants to help.

The 43-year-old and her husband sank their own funds into opening the company. They now have two outlets – one in Chevron House and the other at Mandarin Gallery.

Ms Ng employs not just single mothers, but older workers, as well as the disabled.

In fact, about half of her 30 staff are above 50 years old.

Ms Ng said: “The women that we help, when they come in, we stress a lot on how we plan to upscale them. How do we look at the areas they are strong in and grow those areas? We commit a lot of resources to training them, and making sure that they can do their job very well.

“I believe as a social enterprise, you can provide a hand-up approach to the people you want to help. So instead of just giving them money which can only last them that long, we provide them a skill that they can fall back on. And from there, they can make a better living for themselves and their families, and to us that’s important.”

The women are trained not just as seamstresses.

They also learn the day-to-day running of the business, as well as how to provide good customer service.

Companies like these were highlighted in this year’s rally as good examples of community support.

Foodbank Singapore – an organisation that links the needy up with companies and individuals with excess food to give away – was also singled out in a speech by Minister-of-State for Community Development, Youth and Sport Halimah Yacob.

This article was first published in CNA