Helping the less fortunate craft out self-confidence
Student project for crafting turns into way of life for founder of not-for-profit enterprise, Social Gifting
Ms Valen Tan and her then classmates from the Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS) started a not-for-profit social enterprise three years ago as a student project to help the less fortunate through crafting.
After a successful pilot, she planned to leave Social Gifting, only to be approached by a beneficiary. Ms Tan, 35, told The New Paper: "He was like, ‘You really got us hooked on this and we see the good effects of it, and now you are leaving?' That was my motivation to continue running Social Gifting."
Partnering with North West Community Development Council and SUSS, Social Gifting now curates regular workshop sessions where volunteers interact, teach, and craft with people who are fighting their battles with autism, cancer, mental illness, and even motherhood.
The crafts are then sold and a portion of the sales is given to the beneficiaries.
Ms Tan said: "Crafting really brings them a lot of joy. While they are focused on doing the crafts, they don't think of their illness or have other negative thoughts."
She drew inspiration for the movement from her father, who took her along as a child when he did volunteer work with seniors who lived in rental flats in Kreta Ayer.
Ms Tan hopes to pass on the spirit of giving to her son, 11, and twin daughters, nine.
Before the Covid-19 pandemic, the children would tag along to charity crafting sessions at Social Gifting.
"My children learn to empathise with the beneficiaries. They get to see groups of people they won't usually see, and they learn how to interact with them.
"My son even learnt (how to speak) Hokkien from the aunties there," said Ms Tan.
Her children were also why she left the private sector in 2015 to take up a fund-raising role in social service.
Two years later, to develop a stronger theoretical foundation of the sector, she pursued a degree in social work at SUSS.
Through Social Gifting, Ms Tan hopes to help the less fortunate build confidence through doing simple things such as crafting, which can sometimes help them in getting a full-time job.
Just as with most businesses, the enterprise has taken a hit because of the pandemic, forcing the group to pivot towards online sales and vending machines.
It also meant putting a halt to large group workshops.
"Last year, we lost about $15,000, but we are still functioning, and we are happy we can continue the work we do," she said.
Despite the setback, Social Gifting still took in crafters who lost their jobs due to the pandemic.
One beneficiary who joined last year recently found a new job.
Ms Tan said her love for her job lies in the ability to empower different groups of people.
She said: "We empower the seniors, our beneficiaries, to help them find the strength in themselves; we empower the students that intern with us too, giving them a chance to apply what they learnt in school; and we also empower the community by providing more volunteering opportunities and raising awareness."
She hopes to raise even more awareness in the community. "There is a balance between what you can do and what the society needs. Giving is not something you can do only after having status or money.
"You can do good even if you are just a student."
Secrets of the trade
- Before setting up a social enterprise, start by joining the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre’s ground-up initiative to validate the actual needs and test your hypothesis/model. Once the needs are validated, or a gap is identified, join raiSE to check out the requirement of a social enterprise and the guidelines to measure social impact.
- Running a social enterprise can be hard as it requires you to be sustainable while having a social impact. So do not work alone – look for a mentor and attend networking events to meet like-minded people for inspiration.
- You will face the same challenges as any start-up, even bigger if you choose to be a non-profit. Try not to measure your business by the money you earn but by the amount of joy you can bring to the community.