Social enterprises to run hawker centres of the future

Norjumanese (L) fronts Dignity Kitchen as its cashier (Photo: Chitra Kumar,

A government-appointed hawker centre consultation panel has recommended social enterprises run hawker centres of the future, with aims of giving the disadvantaged jobs, and providing the community with affordable food.

Meanwhile, some social enterprises in the food industry have already taken the first step to offer jobs to the disadvantaged.

One of the social enterprises is Dignity Kitchen, where 33-year-old Norjumanese works.

Norjumanese, who is blind, said: “Dignity Kitchen has fulfilled some of my dreams. Besides being a cashier, I am able to sing and be an entertainer.”

Norjumanese is one of 30 disadvantaged people working at Dignity Kitchen, a training school cum food centre operator.

Students there are trained in food stall operations, food preparation, kitchen safety and simple cooking.

Dignity Kitchen has even found jobs for some 50 of its former trainees in other food establishments.

Dignity Kitchen executive director Koh Seng Choon said he hopes to do more than just teach a skill.

He said: “What we try to do is not to just teach you a skill; what we want to do is to give you back your self-respect and dignity. That is harder to do.”

Mr Koh added: “One of my workers has some urinary problems and I know… he doesn’t have CPF, so basically what we do now is give him options. For example, this month’s rental you don’t pay — you pay me after one month.”

Another social enterprise which hopes to play a role in future hawker centres is Breakthrough Cafe.

It employs ex-offenders, such 38-year-old Derrick Ee, who said he hopes to use the experience to set up a food business in future.

Mr Ee said: “We also have a chance to do all those stock checking and ordering of stocks and then, this all helps us in terms of our future life.

“My sister and her husband actually approached me to [set up] a stall of our own, like a small coffee shop. So from the experience that I gain from here, of course, I can give them advice and help them to set up the coffee shop.”

Breakthrough Cafe executive director Simon Neo said: “When they finish their programme, they can start their own business, and they can also continue to contribute to society in the hawker centre.”

The aim of getting social enterprises to run hawker centres includes giving the disadvantaged jobs, and providing the community with affordable food.

This article was first published in CNA