In keeping up with our entrepreneurship feature, this week we look at local entrepreneurs who look to help make a difference in the community at large and go beyond the conventional entrepreneurship route.
Usually start-ups or entrepreneurs alike, are synonymous with either a lifestyle mobile application or have an e-commerce based start-up. But have you heard of the term, social entrepreneurs? They are as the term suggests, an entrepreneur that created a start-up to help the community and in a way, give back to their community.
Koh Seng Choon, Founder of Project Dignity
“I am just giving back,” said Koh when asked why he decided to start Project Dignity in August of 2010. The idea of starting his own social enterprise first came about when Koh came back to Singapore, after spending many years living abroad in Europe.
“Why are there no disabled people in shopping centres and where are the homeless and beggars?” which brought Koh to realise that “there is another section of Singapore that most Singaporeans do not see.”
Prior to starting Project Dignity, Koh was the Executive Director of Restaurant Association of Singapore and held many other corporate high flying positions in companies that include Coopers & Lybrand International.
Project Dignity's core mission is “to build and return dignity to the disadvantaged and disabled through vocation with passion,” and their “primary focus involves education and outreach,” said Koh.
The project has come a long way and now has four different arms that cater to different needs. The first being Dignity Kitchen, it is Singapore’s first social enterprise food court run by the disadvantaged and disabled. Koh elaborates on its purpose saying that, “It is the unique solution to inner city issues of the long-term unemployed, ageing population and work for people with disabilities.”
The second arm is Dignity Kitchenette, which provides culinary training in hopes that these skill can help secure the trainees a job and thereby create a living. Its third is named Dignity Mama Stall, here is where disabled children and their mothers manage second hand book stores, in a bid to equip them with basic entrepreneurship skills.
The last arm of Project Dignity is known as Dignity Cottages, which has two separate initiatives. One would be the Flea Market where disabled entrepreneurs come together to sell items, the second is where an opportunity to earn a decent living is carved out - in the form of cleaning bird’s nest.
Aside from just training the disadvantages and disabled, Project Dignity goes one step further by also hosting their own Social Outreach Activities. These include, Lunch Treats for the Elderly, Hawker for the Day, Working with the Disabled games, Cook or Bake and Serve, which seek to bring the challenges faced by those with special needs and elderly to the public’s attention.
Serene Tan, Co-Founder of Sorgen
Aside from having a rock-hard business plan or an ingenious new innovation, you also need to have a strong belief in your product and that’s exactly what Tan has for Sorgen.
Sorgen is a social start-up established in 2011, which seeks to address and enhance mobility for the ageing population. In this case, to redesign the walking frame.
Inspiration for GlydeSafe first struck when Tan saw an elderly woman experience difficultly lifting her walking frame with every step she took.
This inspiration was then translated to Tan’s final year project in Temasek Polytechnic (TP). She felt that she could design a better walking frame, which does not require the user to lift it up with every step taken while still being safe.
This project did not just end after Tan graduated TP. She continued working on GlydeSafe’s design right through her time at the National University of Singapore (NUS) where she attained her Business Administration degree.
Efforts have definitely paid off after years in the making. Sorgen has two pioneering products named GlydeSafe Sleek and GlydeSafe Travel (which comes with an additional retractable seat).
In order to cater for the masses, both redesigned walking frames are easily affordable with prices starting at just SG$99 for the GlydeSafe Sleek - Which is almost half the price of commonly seen walking frames with rotators.
Tan has made it her mission to ensure that GlydeSafe comes to life and is available for those who need it most. “To me, it was either to invest my time and effort in a social good or nothing. If I had to do something, why not enhancing the lives of the elderly,” said Tan.
By Geralyne Kaye Ong / August 20, 2015 11:30AM GMT+8
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