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COMPANY OF GOOD

At Motherswork, corporate giving starts from the top

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Orphans from the Bethel School for the Blind in Beijing, at a Christmas event in Motherswork's Beijing store. The homegrown retailer, which stocks many international brands, also supports Singapore brands.

Singapore

SHARON Wong knows what it's like to start a business, and so is passionate about giving back to budding local entrepreneurs - especially parents.

After all, it was with the support of parents that Motherswork, the specialist retailer of products for mothers and babies that she founded in 1998, has achieved the growth it has.

"Over the last 18 years, we've grown alongside an ambitious band of parents who have now become business owners and respected entrepreneurs in their fields," she says.

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And Motherswork, which has four outlets and is in three department stores in Singapore, plus another eight in China, has the means to give these "new Singaporean baby businesses" a platform to showcase their products and grow.

"We offer space in our stores for these Singaporean brands that do not have physical store locations," says Ms Wong. While the retailer is known for carrying many international brands, supporting local brands was definitely part of this initiative, first launched in 2015.

Some of these local baby goods, first showcased at Motherswork, are now sold at many more physical locations across Singapore. Ms Wong believes that the company had a hand in helping the entrepreneurs behind them gain an understanding of how to work with retailers and build awareness of their brands.

She intends to take some of these local brands overseas, too. Two local brands have been launched in Motherswork stores in China so far, and Ms Wong says the company "will be doing more as and when the brands are ready and able".

In fact, giving younger Singaporean businesses a leg up is something of a personal passion for Ms Wong, who volunteers as a mentor to Bakipa, a mobile shopping platform for quality children's products that was founded by another women entrepreneur. She also volunteers with CRIB Society, a social enterprise that aims to empower women to be successful entrepreneurs.

But helping local entrepreneurs in the baby goods sector is only part of the firm's corporate giving programme, Motherswork Gives Back.

Giving back to the community in which it does business has been part of the firm's mission from the very start, says Ms Wong.

"We started by organising events in the stores to create awareness and raise funds for adopted charities."

These included Ahuva Good Shepherd, Marymount Centre for women and children and the Good Shepherd Centre, a crisis shelter for teenagers, women, foreign domestic workers and others needing to rebuild their lives after domestic violence and abuse.

With Motherswork's expansion in Beijing, it chose the Bethel School for Blind children in Beijing, which supports blind and visually impaired orphans as a charity to raise funds for in 2012.

Last year, the company started its Giving Tree event, which it will turn into an annual affair. Children helped by charities such as KKH Health Endowment Fund (see amendment note), Salvation Army Kids at Play and HCSA Dayspring, hung their wishes on a Motherswork Giving Tree. Motherswork then worked with its customers to fulfil those wishes.

The idea for this came from Ms Wong's son. Her children have always been allowed to keep no more than three presents from their Christmas and birthday gift stashes - all others would be donated. As they grew older, they received fewer presents, and so gave fewer away.

"My son thought it would be a good idea to get more people to give," she says. "It is to give joy to children. It is to remind us of the joy we give to a child who is often given necessities, but not something personal to them like a toy or a special book."

It's not surprising then, to hear Ms Wong compare corporate giving to giving in a family setting. "I believe that corporate giving starts from top down. It's no different to any family unit. The parents volunteer, the kids will follow. If it is part of the company's culture, then employees will also do their part."

But how far that goes is a separate matter, she adds. "The question is whether corporate giving stemming from top-down (direction alone), is sustainable."

Amendment Note: KK Women's and Children's Hospital has clarified that the name of the fund ought to be the KKH Health Endowment Fund, rather than the KKH Children's Endowment Fund.

  • This article is part of a series showcasing companies that prove size does not matter when it comes to giving. The Business Times supports NVPC's Company of Good programme as media partner. Go to www.companyofgood.sg for more information.
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