S’pore doctor heads to rural villages to provide basic medical care

S'pore doctor heads to rural villages to provide basic medical care

The walk from the Kathmandu airport to the small Nepalese village of Phortse was a seven-day arduous trek.

Add 100kg worth of medical supplies and personal belongings to the mix and you would have a seemingly insurmountable task.

Yet Dr Gayathri Devi Nadarajan accomplished the feat with the help of Nepalese porters at the airport who helped to carry the equipment.

The 29-year-old emergency medical resident with SingHealth, who is attached to Singapore General Hospital, said: “They were amazing as they carried (equipment which amounted to) two to three times their bodyweight.”

Dr Gayathri headed to Phortse and two other villages in May 2012 to provide basic medical care to the people there. It was a trip she had been envisioning since she was a medical student.

She said: “I’ve always wanted to do medical work in the rural area, so when Kumaran (her then-boyfriend, who is now her husband) said he wanted to climb Mount Everest, I saw the opportunity for me to help out there.”

Before the trip, Dr Gayathri’s husband, Dr Kumaran Rasappan, 29, also a doctor, went on several practice climbs in Nepal. During these climbs, he visited the villages there and realised there was a need for better medical facilities and infrastructure. There was one main hospital in the region, but it was a four-hour walk from other villages.

Several villages had a small satellite hospital post, but these were basic and dilapidated.

In Phortse, there was just one room with an examination bed and a tap that did not provide running water.

Noting down what was needed, Dr Gayathri and her husband approached various organisations, family and friends to get the necessary equipment.

One of them was foldable stretchers. The version the Nepalese used comprised two bamboo poles and a piece of cloth in between, which made carrying it in the mountains a tough job. To tackle the problem, Dr Gayathri sought sponsorship for foldable stretchers that were portable and light.

When everything was ready, the couple headed to Nepal in May 2012 for a two-month trip.

Health education

Hoping to do something that could be maintained after they left, Dr Gayathri also made an effort to carry out health education. She recounted: “More than just treatment, I taught them basic hygiene, child hygiene and nutrition as well as maternal healthcare. I also trained the nurses.”

Before her arrival, the nurses treated illnesses mostly with Panadol. Dr Gayathri explained to them how to treat the different illnesses and also brought other types of basic medication like antibiotics.

Dr Gayathri and her husband are now looking to bring a larger team and a wider set of skills to Nepal next year.

She said: “Many other doctors have expressed interest, so for the next trip, maybe we can bring more equipment and a wider skill set. That way we can offer more aid, for example, eye screening.

“Health education is universal. Education is the most power tool we can utilise to create change that is sustainable.”

Source: The New Paper

S’pore doctor behind project to improve medical facilities in Cambodia for kids

S'pore doctor behind project to improve medical facilities in Cambodia for kids

The operating room at the Angkor Hospital for Children had only basic equipment.

Doctors were gathered around the wooden operating table for a cleft lip operation on a Cambodian child.

Midway through the procedure, the lights flickered and went out.

Using handheld torches, the team completed the operation successfully, as they had done so many times before.

The small hospital did not have electricity generators, so the lights went out whenever there was a power shortage.

This was the compelling story that Dr Jonathan Ng’s senior told him in 2005, when he was a first-year Raffles Junior College student. Dr Ng graduated from the National University of Singapore’s (NUS) Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine with a Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery on Saturday.


For his dedication and service to the community, he received the NUS Student Achievement Award in January.

Dr Ng’s senior had been present during the operation because her father, a doctor, had gone to the Cambodian hospital to offer his services.

She had shared the account with her schoolmates to gather a team to raise funds for the hospital.

Dr Ng, 26, now a houseman undergoing training at Singapore General Hospital (SGH), was inspired by her story.

The team, all of whom were no older than 18 then, raised $311,000 through a concert, surpassing their goal of $160,000.

Dr Ng and the team helped build a new operating theatre when they went to Cambodia in 2006.

It was his experiences with the team that convinced him to study medicine at NUS.

The trip was a one-off for many of the team members, but it got Dr Ng thinking about whether they could do more. So in 2008, he led a new team as the chairman of the Children of Cambodia project to implement a programme for open heart surgery.

The need for this procedure in Cambodia was urgent because there were at least 1,200 children in the country on the waiting list then and the figure would only grow with Cambodia’s high birth rate.

After their second successful initiative, Dr Ng and the team looked towards establishing a dedicated neonatal ward at the hospital, which was to be the first of its kind in Cambodia. A neonatal ward is for infants under 28 days old.

The team received a five-year grant of USD$235,000 (S$300,000) from one of their main donors and this was a great boost for the Children of Cambodia initiative.

Dr Ng said: “We could now plan five years ahead of time, which increased our efficiency. Our programme became more sophisticated as we could plot milestones along the way.”

Last year, the team opened a neonatal ward with three intensive care unit beds and eight special care nursing beds at the Angkor Hospital for Children.

Low cost

Dr Ng said: “The cost-to-efficiency ratio is amazing as an average neonatal bed in Singapore can cost up to $1,000 per night. “However, here we were in Cambodia running a neonatal ward and the continuing training of a unit of doctors and nurses on a budget of around US$70 a day.”

The team’s next project is to build a burns and reconstruction unit that will be manned with surgeons from SGH, Harvard University and the Angkor Hospital for Children.

Fund raising started last month and they have raised about $160,000 of their $500,000 target so far.

Dr Ng will be going to Cambodia soon for his 31st trip to do more research for the new unit.

He said: “The work we have done has made a big impact on the children as they now receive better care.”

Source: The New Paper

More people are setting up social enterprises in Singapore

More people are setting up social enterprises in Singapore

Vellappan Devaraajan, 37, has been living in Singapore for 25 years. Committed to changing people’s attitudes on intellectual disabilities, he works full-time with Special Olympics, an organisation working towards providing year-round Olympic-type sports training and athletic competitions for children and adults with intellectual disabilities.

People like Mr Devaraajan form part of a growing awareness towards social enterprises in Singapore and the world over. Many, tired of being bystanders, are seeking to find moremeaning in their lives by doing something impactful, while others have recognised the pressing social problems that need to be immediately addressed. By providing innovative solutions to these problems, entrepreneurs are not leaving change to the government alone.

Mr Alfie Othman is the executive director of Social Enterprise Association, an umbrella organisation aimed at promoting social entrepreneurship and social enterprise in Singapore. He says they have noticed an increased interest in social enterprises over the last four years. “More young, passionate and dynamic individuals are setting up social enterprises to give back to the community. These social entrepreneurs demonstrate entrepreneurship flair and innovativeness to address social gaps.”

But being committed to a cause doesn’t have to mean no money. In fact, while addressing problems, these social enterprises aim to be profitable businesses by returning surplus revenue to the business and expanding activities.

Capitalist principles, not profiteering

While this might seem utopian, entrepreneur Sourabh Sharma says it is possible to be a for-profit organisation that still changes people’s lives. Milaap, the social enterprise that he co-founded, is trying to change the way people perceive “giving”, making it personal and very sustainable. It is an online fund-raising platform that enables individuals around the world to fund and impact communities in need of basic facilities in India.

Their business model, Mr Sharma says, is to provide a transparent and engaging platform to lenders. “Our on-ground partners in India identify borrowers and publish their funding requests on the website. Individuals all over the world can contribute any amount to any borrower or cause they like.

“We ensure that 100 per cent of the money that is raised goes to the end beneficiary, and we even absorb the online payment gateway fees. The borrowers repay the capital to the lenders at an affordable interest rate, which helps to cover the cost of the on-ground partner, as well as pay for the 5 per cent platform fees which Milaap charges for raising the funds.”

And with Milaap, not only do borrowers have the advantage of finding a lender anywhere in the world, but the loans they get come from people who are interested in the impact the money will make on the borrower’s lives.

“Our lenders can choose to get all of their capital back – which they can withdraw anytime – or can re-lend that money to help more people,”

Mr Sharma adds.

According to social entrepreneurs like Mr Sharma, “profiteering” is very different from applying the principles of capitalism to a cause. Practically speaking, social enterprises cannot survive merely on handouts and still hope to make a large impact.

Despite being committed to doing good, they still have operating costs and other requirements of any normal business enterprise, including research and development. Also, the products or services offered by these organisations need to be good, because consumers need more than just an impassioned story to convince them to participate.

Ms Prukalpa Sankar, co-founder of Singapore-based Social Cops, which aims to use citizens and their mobile phones to create crowd-sourced social data in India, agrees that having a business plan is necessary.

“In fact, it is more important for social entrepreneurs to have a strong business model than for traditional businesses. I wouldn’t like to differentiate between social enterprises and businesses; entrepreneurs traditionally create companies to solve big problems, and social entrepreneurs are just motivated by solving real-life problems in fields like education and public health,” she says.

“At Social Cops, we believe that we’re a tech startup solving some of the biggest problems in the world – and this is reflected in the way we carry out operations and in our culture.”

While the most positive aspect of being a social entrepreneur is achieving social impact, just like regular businesses, one of the biggest challenges these organisations face is to stay competitive despite high rental and manpower costs.

Mr Anand Singh, founder and CEO of GreenPost, says that being very conscious of this, they have built a unique Business to Consumer (B2C) company with a strong commercial model.

“We believe that ventures which have a strong commercial standing provide a sustainable chance of meeting our triple bottom line goals (People, Planet, Profit). Our business model is built on monetising the bill payment transactions and stopping paper. However, environment and sustainability are strongly embedded into our model as we enable people and billers to reduce their paper usage,” he says.

It is said that, in India, being committed to a social cause is not perceived as going hand-in-hand with making money. People also believe that one shouldn’t take money for doing good and “giving” is seen as charity.

Need to incentivise people to join

NGOs are filled with passionate people who are forced to take low salaries, or with volunteers who don’t consider it worthwhile to work with the organisations full-time because there are no monetary incentives. Usually funded through government grants and donations, these organisations struggle to make ends meet.

But Mr Sharma says it shouldn’t be so. “There is such a huge need and so many basic problems. People have mobile phones, but no toilets. So why is good talent not flowing into social enterprises?” he asks.

“People’s non-participation comes from the belief that there is no money in doing good. But we need to incentivise people to join social enterprises. When we get calls from people saying they want to volunteer with Milaap, I tell them, why volunteer part-time? Join us full-time, and we’ll pay you a salary,” he says.

“We work just like any other business, including tracking visitors to our site and planning user growth. The more loans that we can facilitate and the more people that visit the site, the more good gets done. We want to do things on a larger scale and impact a lot more people,” he adds.

At the root of any social enterprise lies a deep commitment to social change. In the past, people began giving back to society only as they aged, but it is now young people who want to make a difference.

Ms Madhu Verma, founder of SoCh in Action believes that it is never too early to create awareness. Her social enterprise empowers children to drive change in the community. It teaches them to recognise issues and design their own innovative solutions.

“We work with children from eight to 14 years old, and tell them to find out where the issues are, what bothers them and to find a solution. We are different because we believe in children choosing what problems to address, and also how to solve them, rather than just telling them what to do.”

The children she works with tackle issues ranging from the problem of road rage to helping the elderly stay healthy and mobile. SoCh in Action is also the exclusive country partner of Design For Change, a global organisation empowering design-led social change. For Ms Sankar, Social Cops started with a small idea, when she was still a student in Nanyang Technological University. “In my final year, we took a train trip around India to understand the problems. We found that our communities faced an information gap and lacked social data from the grassroots.”

Talking on TEDx (a programme designed to spark conversation and connections) recently, Ms Sankar cited an example of Google Maps, through which a user can find the fastest route from one point to another, but cannot find information on whether that route is safe for a girl to take. Developing countries like India are faced with the difficulty of not being able to install CCTV cameras everywhere. So Social Cops aims to change the availability of social information, with the help of citizens.

Ms Sankar believes that the big problems in the world can be solved through technology. “My co-founder, Varun, built www.sweksha.com – a portal for NGOs in India – as a summer project. One day, he re-blogged the story of a burn victim in Bihar. To his surprise, someone from the US had read the article and contacted him, to donate money for the girl’s surgery. That was the moment of realisation – about how simple technology could change lives,” she says.

For Mr Singh and his partners, watching billions of pages and dollars go to waste when paper bills are sent inspired them to create GreenPost. “We are transforming billing by leveraging smartphones and ubiquitous connectivity. With GreenPost, billers spend less on sending out paper, and consumers would have less guilt about receiving paper, and have a handy way to manage and pay their bills from smartphones.”

Building relationships

In the business of social enterprises, who – rather than just what – the entrepreneur knows can make a huge monetary difference. Networks form the basis of funding, whether it is through equity partners, volunteers or lenders. Convincing investors and grant-givers about the relevance of their business and standing out from other organisations in need require strong networks.

In Singapore, many agencies like the Social Enterprise Association, National Volunteer Philanthropy Centre and the National Youth Council offer support in the form of seed grants, capacity-building programmes and incubation. Enterprises like Social Cops and Milaap have also been supported by startup competitions like the DBS-NUS Social Venture Challenge Asia, which awards winners prize money and opportunities to network with investors, mentors and overseas partners.

“We found wonderful mentors along the way who supported us through the journey. For example, through the Singapore International Foundation’s YSE programme, Mr Anurag Banerjee, the managing director of Jana APAC, joined our board at a very early stage and has been an integral part of the growth story since then,” says Ms Sankar.

“Building relationships is very important,” confirms Mr Singh. “When you are introducing a novel concept, relationships are important in the initial stages, as input and support from the extended network will shape the idea and its implementation. True success is always built on constantly listening to the customers and building further on the idea based on the feedback coming through.”

In addition to building networks with external partners, organisations must also work to form relationships with the end beneficiaries, so that they can measure the impact of the work they are doing. This provides further insights into the problems the end users face, and helps with finding solutions that will work effectively. For example, at Milaap, all the staff and lenders are encouraged to make field visits to India each year, so that they can see the effect of their loans first-hand. This keeps them motivated and more committed to continue doing what they do.

A challenging road

Like other start-ups, there are a multitude of challenges facing these entrepreneurs. Most people see social enterprise as a “do we want to give” business rather than as a “do we need to give” business, so marketing the concept is not easy. Ms Verma says that as a private limited company working as a social enterprise, SoCh in Action requires a lot of balancing. “The Government is helping a lot in terms of SMEs, but sometimes the balancing act is tough. We need to worry about infrastructure, measure the social impact of our work etc., in addition to expanding our reach, with funds being very limited.”

Getting caught in a web of administration and fund-raising can also be demotivating for the entrepreneurs and their staff. “But when we get an e-mail from a borrower or a lender, saying what an impact a loan has made on their lives, that’s what makes it all worthwhile,” says Mr Sharma.

It is interesting that, despite being India focused, many social enterprises are headquartered here in Singapore. The entrepreneurs say the encouragement they have had from people on the island is energising. “India may not yet be mature enough to fully understand social entrepreneurship. But we have seen so much support here in Singapore, and from the Indian diaspora all over the world that we feel re-energised each time we hold a fund-raising event here,” says Mr Sharma.

Ms Sankar’s experience has been the same. “Singapore is a great network and support system to base the company headquarters out of. Of course, it is important to be close to the problems you are setting out to solve, so we spend most of our time operating out of India, though we will continue to be based here.”

Tasked with changing the way society thinks, these entrepreneurs have a long road ahead. But as awareness grows, and people from around the world become more involved, the future is looking brighter for social enterprise.

Source: tabla!

Keeping a good cause afloat

Keeping a good cause afloat

Eight months ago, Mr Mohammad Shahri was all set to unleash his PauWer.

The social enterprise which trains former offenders and single parents to make bao with unusual fillings, such as durian and chocolate, had received a $50,000 grant through the Ministry of Social and Family Development’s Youth Social Entrepreneurship Programme for Start-Ups.

The 24-year-old ITE College East graduate had come up with 20 bao flavours. He had a mentor from school, the manpower and also support from the National University of Singapore Entrepreneurship Centre. His enterprise began operations in October last year.

Just three months later, however, the social enterprise was floundering. PauWer was making a profit of only $100 a month. “I was stupid,” says Mr Shahri. “I should have planned more. I just wanted to start, fast. I bought everything brand new when I could have used second-hand equipment.”

He blew $25,000 – the first tranche of the grant – in 15 days, on equipment, rent for a kitchen space and warehouse, renovation and wages.

The ministry says there is no national database to track the performance of social enterprises in Singapore but Mr Shahri’s experience would be familiar to many social entrepreneurs who run into financial roadblocks.

A social enterprise is a business set up primarily to fulfil social purposes such as helping the disadvantaged and advancing environmental issues.

The social enterprise sector is a relatively new sector in Singapore. There are between 200 and 300 social enterprises here, of which 170 are registered with the Social Enterprise Association. The association was set up in 2009 to promote social entrepreneurship, after about a third of the 73 social enterprises in a funding scheme failed.

Some common reasons for a social enterprise failing are rental costs, manpower costs and the lack of demand for the product or service, says the ministry spokesman.

Interviews with people in the social enterprise sector suggest that the key challenge for many social entrepreneurs is striking a balance between financial sustainability and achieving their social mission.

National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre chief executive Laurence Lien says he has seen many social enterprise start-ups struggle to sustain themselves.

“Entrepreneurship is hard. Social entrepreneurship is doubly hard,” says Mr Lien, who is also a Nominated MP. He adds that non-profit organisations starting social enterprises may lack the business know-how to operate a social business. Young social entrepreneurs, too, may not comprehend the realities of the market and society to helm their start-ups.

Youth-oriented brand 77th Street founder Elim Chew says that in order for a social enterprise to be sustainable, its owner has to know and understand the business environment and the real cost of business.

“Like any business, they must have a good business plan coupled with business strategies in order for them to do well,” says Ms Chew, who sits on the ministry’s panel that evaluates social enterprises’ proposals for funding.

Since 2003, the ComCare Enterprise Fund, administered by the ministry, has helped more than 80 social enterprise start-ups by disbursing about $10 million in grants.

A ministry spokesman says: “Based on the performance of the social enterprises funded thus far, about half are able to sustain beyond three years in operations.”

The spokesman says to obtain funding, the social enterprise has to submit detailed business plans and go through rigorous evaluation and approval processes.

These social enterprises are to submit progress reports to keep the ministry updated and ministry staff also make site visits when necessary.

Earlier this year, the ministry launched a Social Enterprise Mentoring Programme, which sees corporate professionals and entrepreneurs such as Mr Andrew Khoo, director at ABR Holdings, which manages companies such as Swensen’s; and Mr Jamie Endaya, associate director at consumer goods giant Procter & Gamble, taking various social enterprises under their wing. The programme is expected to run until August.

Among the five social enterprise outfits in the programme is Laksania, which works with organisations such as the Movement for the Intellectually Disabled, or Minds, to hire people with disabilities to make laksa pastes in its central kitchen.

Laksania has fallen on hard times. From four cafes at its height early last year, it has had to shut two which it blames on poor sales and increased rent. Its two remaining outlets are at Bugis+ and Jem mall in Jurong.

“Things are looking bleak,” says Laksania’s director, Ms Tay Su Yin, 26. Her mother, Madam Sim Sin Sin, 52, founded the company.

Ms Tay says: “We are fighting to keep Laksania alive.” She explains that she and Madam Sim have been appealing to corporate bodies to purchase meal vouchers, which they hope can buy Laksania some time. Madam Sim says she has met Laksania’s mentor, Mr Lim Soon Hock, managing director of corporate advisory firm Plan-B ICAG, and sounded him out on some new business ideas. These include focusing on the social enterprise’s catering arm, Social Food Inc.

One social entrepreneur who has cut his losses is Mr Christopher Lim, 57. He opened social enterprise Barista Express in 2006, a coffee joint in Clifford Centre that hired people with mental conditions to make coffee. But he soon found himself sweating over rental and flagging sales. Barista Express closed in 2010.

“If I talk about it in terms of dollars and cents, it was a failure,” says Mr Lim, who does leasing of commercial vehicles now. “But in terms of de-stigmatisation, it was a success. We raised a lot of awareness about mental health, which to me is one of the purposes of a social enterprise.”

Despite the challenges, social enterprises continue to pop up. These range from a circus that helps at-risk youth to groups that teach people how to grow their own food.

Last year saw the launch of the Youth Social Entrepreneurship Programme for Start-Ups . It aims to help people aged 18 to 35 who want to develop businesses that promote social causes.

Republic Polytechnic and Ngee Ann Polytechnic run diploma courses in social enterprise.

And for every story of broken social enterprise dreams, there is a happy one of success.

In 2006, Mr Alvin Lim took over as chief executive officer of Bizlink, a non-profit organisation that provides employment services and job assessments for the disabled. Since then, he has constantly “evolved” the seven social enterprises under Bizlink.

In 2012, having built up a client pool for the company’s cards and gifts business, he launched a floral and hamper service. Last year, he set up a Bizlink Cafe at the Institute of Mental Health that hires and trains recovering mental patients.

Many people told him then that the cafe would fail because he had no prior experience in the food and beverage industry.

Undeterred, he hunted down an experienced hotel chef. The cafe serves pies, sandwiches and “really good gourmet coffee for $2.50”. It broke even within six months of operation.

Mr Lim has set his sights set on a second outlet.

He says: “I’m very focused. There must be work creation, but the business must also be financially sustainable.”

His advice to social entrepreneurs? Always find an exit path and be willing to embrace change.

“Some people think they can survive if they have more time, when they need to think of how to phase things out. The drought may never end, and the good times may never come again,” he says.

Meanwhile, PauWer’s Mr Shahri is not giving up.

He says the ministry gave him another $20,000 from the grant earlier this month. He used the money to pay off investors who had injected $12,000 to support the business and is using the rest of the funds to keep the outfit running.

The bachelor also started a new social enterprise earlier this year, Shogun Fight Gym, in Woodlands, which he operates with a friend. They conduct classes in silat, judo and mixed martial arts, with the aim of inculcating discipline, resilience and pride in individuals, especially at-risk youth.

He says: “PauWer is now my sideline. The product is good, but people don’t want to eat my pau every day. The gym, surprisingly, is doing well,” he says.

“I can put only $100 in my pocket monthly selling pau. But the gym gives me $2,500 a month and I get parents of troubled youth thanking me for training their children.”


Ms Helen Lim is the sprightly and cheerful 67-year-old chief executive of Silver Spring, a social enterprise that she set up in 2009.

It began as an organisation to provide career coaching to those aged 40 and above, after she noticed that many people lost their sense of identity and selfesteem after retiring or getting retrenched.

But she soon felt she wanted to do more for them.

She says: “Besides helping these people to help themselves, I wanted to see them being given new opportunities and roles.”

Ms Lim, who worked as a human resource professional for almost 40 years before retiring in 2005, opened Chatters Cafe in Parkview Square near Bugis in December 2009. It was staffed by employees aged 50 and above.

Ms Lim, who is married with a 35-year-old son, also obtained an employment licence. By 2010, the company had the added service of finding jobs for seniors.

However, the going was difficult despite her sinking $100,000 of her savings into the business. The company incurred losses for the first two years, and for the first year, it placed just eight people in jobs.

The firm’s main source of revenue comes from the placement fee – roughly a month of the employee’s salary – employers pay after a candidate has been placed.

“Those were tough times for our economy,” explains Ms Lim. “That period was following the Lehman Brothers financial crash in 2008. Many companies were downsizing and not hiring, and there was a general age bias against those aged 40 and above.”

She persevered. “I prayed, I told myself to have faith and I also gave myself three years to see if I could make sufficient meaningful social impact,” she says.

When the rental cost of the cafe increased, she decided to close it, but not before opening another outlet in Ren Ci Community Hospital in Novena in March 2012.

That cafe has been doing well and the company has been on the upswing, thanks in part to a successful jobhub partnership with the North East Community Development Council last year, which helped to place 170 people in jobs in six months.

Ms Lim says employers have also become more receptive towards hiring older workers in recent times.

To date, Silver Spring has placed more than 200 people.

It made a modest profit of $20,000 last year, after breaking even in 2012, and does not get external funding.

The company has 14 employees, up from seven at first. They are employed in the cafe, at the job hub and in the organisation’s office.

“An entrepreneur must keep looking at his business model to see if he can afford the various components required in the business,” Ms Lim says.

Instead of resting on her laurels, she says: “I knew I had to prepare to let go, to let the company grow. I cannot cling to it or it will die with me. If you want to leave a legacy, what do you do?”

She thought of a succession plan and shared her company’s vision with Mr David Wee, 55, a former managing director of an outplacement company.

He says: “I found the work of Silver Spring very meaningful. It has to do with helping people, especially those at the lowest point of their careers. I decided that this was something I wanted to do.”

He came onboard as Silver Spring’s managing director earlier this month. He is married to a housewife and they have two children aged 19 and 15.

Says Ms Lim: “I believe in doing good and in doing well. With David around, I hope we can continue to do well and do even more good.”

Together, their aim is to make Silver Spring “the agency of choice” for jobseekers aged 40 and above and champion the employment needs of that age group.

Says Ms Lim: “I want age bias to go. I want to help people age gracefully. I want to stay energetic and build more success stories, so that in time, these people who we help will be our advocates.”


All teenager Tricia Young wanted to do was to clear out her wardrobe – but that led to her becoming a social entrepreneur.

The 19-year-old student wanted to sell her old clothes in May last year.

As she mulled over the idea, however, her grandfather’s first death anniversary and the death of American teenager Zach Sobiech, both due to cancer, came to mind and she was inspired to give back.

Sobiech, who was 18 when he died, had written a farewell song, Clouds, before he died of osteosarcoma, a bone tumour.

When he posted the clip on YouTube in December 2012, it became an online sensation and has had more than four million views since.

The proceeds from the song and Sobiech’s other music are reportedly going to the Zach Sobiech Osteosarcoma Fund to support research treatment for this form of childhood cancer.

“I decided that the proceeds from the sale of my preloved clothes ought not to be for myself, but for charity,” she says.

She started an Instagram account as well as a Tumblr account and publicised that all proceeds from the sale of her preloved clothing would go to the Children’s Cancer Foundation.

Her 40 pieces of clothing fetched $450, which she donated via online donation portal SGGives (www. sggives.org).

“It felt good giving back to society. But the question then was, ‘What now?’ I did not want the giving to stop,” she says.

She started thinking of other ways in which she could use fabric to further her cause, in line with her online shop name, Project Overturned Closet (over turneddcloset.tumblr.com).

In November, as she was rummaging through her closet for ideas, she chanced upon a tie-dye tank top that a friend had given to her.

“I asked my friend where she had bought it. When she told me she had tie-dyed the top herself, I asked her to teach me how to do it,” she says.

Within three weeks, Ms Young started sourcing for basic tops and dyed them herself.

She launched her first tie-dye collection of about 10 designs, with the sale proceeds going to the Children’s Cancer Foundation. The tops were priced between $18 and $25.

She expected about 20 orders, but was surprised to receive 40. She personally delivered the goods to the buyers.

“I try to meet up with buyers rather than just post the parcels, as I believe in my cause and I want to spread the word about what I do,” she says.

“It’s not just about selling a shirt. It also allows us to exchange stories about people in our lives who have battled cancer.” Her grandfather had died of stomach cancer.

She donated about $700 to the charity with the first round of sales and covered her cost of $250 with her salary from a part-time job.

Last month, she did a second launch. She received 50 orders and gave the proceeds of close to $1,000 to the children’s cancer charity again. This time, she used $250 in savings to cover her cost of materials.

“I’m so encouraged to see people buying my products, knowing clearly the cause they are supporting in doing so,” she says.

Her social enterprise has been highlighted by ad.vo.ca.se, a social enterprise awareness campaign led by a group of Nanyang Technological University communications students.

Taiwanese-American singer Nate Tao, 25, an American Idol finalist, has been spotted wearing one of her designs.

Her retiree dad and private banker mum are “okay” about her business, she says. She has a twin sister and two older siblings, aged 30 and 26.

She is preparing for her third launch later this month and hopes to recover her costs from the sale.

While she will leave for Australia in July to study human resource in Brisbane, she says she will continue with her social enterprise.

“I think I’ve only just begun,” she says.

“I wasn’t looking to be a social entrepreneur. For me, this was just about giving back to society.”


Breakthrough Missions was running 10 social enterprises even before the term gained traction here.

Set up in 1983 by former addicts, the Christian drug-rehabilitation halfway house at Yew Siang Road in Pasir Panjang started with removal, garden and landscaping, as well as copper tooling and wood crafting services.

Says its deputy director Freddy Wee, 60: “A halfway house needs to offer work to the recovering addicts. We started these services as a form of employment. Whether you call it a social enterprise or not, there needs to be work.”

As the years went by, the centre expanded its services to include carwash and polishing; oil painting and banners; book binding and embossing; framing; foot reflexology; and selling handmade honey baked ham. It now runs 12 social enterprises.

All the income goes to the halfway house.

Mr Wee considers its first “official” social enterprise to be a bookshop it set up in 2005 in People’s Park Centre. This was started after the then Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports encouraged Breakthrough Missions to develop a social enterprise.

It started the bookshop, called Breakthrough Art Craft, Gifts, Bookroom, with a grant of $70,000. The store sold Bibles, Christian reading materials and gifts.

“We thought the location was ideal. The shop faced the then Subordinate Courts, a visual reminder to our recovering addicts of their past,” says Mr Wee.

However, the bookshop did not do well. In 2011, Breakthrough Missions decided to close it and move some of the items to Breakthrough Cafe, located a few units away. The eatery, which has been in business since 2007, is another of its social ventures.

Mr Wee says the halfway house decided to open a cafe as it supplied “people’s daily needs”.

He adds: “People do not buy gifts daily, but people need to eat. With that in mind, we hoped the cafe would be sustainable.”

Breakthrough Missions consulted its committee members, some of whom are in the food and beverage industry. They helped to put the halfway house in touch with food suppliers, although many of the items sold at the cafe, including local fare such as curry chicken, pig’s trotters, fish head curry and desserts, are made by the recovering addicts.

The cafe, which makes “some profit”, did well and expanded to occupy an adjacent unit in People’s Park Centre in 2010.

Says Mr Wee, a former drug abuser who has been drug-free since 1979: “We are not entrepreneurs. We are in the mission field trying to minister to lives.”

The latest social enterprise that the halfway house started is a teak and art business in 2011.

Its contacts hooked it up with a teak wood supplier in Indonesia and it converted a part of its halfway house into a furniture showroom. The items are priced from $200 for a chair to $1,500 for a dining table. The showroom also sells decorative items.

The business is “moving at a slow pace”, says Mr Wee, who is married to a part-time kindergarten teacher and has two children aged 29 and 18.

“We are not like big furniture companies that can advertise weekly. We can’t depend on walk-in customers either,” says Mr Wee. “We need someone with a marketing plan to move the furniture. We need a team to help us generate sales.”

In general, most of its social enterprises move “quite slowly”, he says.

The cafe and the removal and garden and landscaping services are the best performers.

Mr Wee is comforted by the fact that Breakthrough Missions is not paying rental for most of its services, which are housed within its premises.

The takings from the 12 social enterprises make up 45 per cent of its annual income, while the rest comes from donations.

At any one time, the centre has between 60 and 80 recovering drug addicts on its programmes and the halfway house has helped thousands since it was set up.

There are no plans to take on new social ventures and existing ones will be monitored closely, says Mr Wee.

“As long as people ask for a certain service, we will provide it. The people at our home are trained and certified and we are providing quality. We will serve with pride and to the best of our abilities.”

Source: The Straits Times