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Swensen's parent firm giving treats and more to the needy
SWENSEN'S parent firm ABR Holdings is bringing "treats to everyone in the family", including less fortunate families who often need more than just free ice cream and cakes.
ABR is no stranger to corporate social responsibility (CSR). According to the group's chief operating officer Andrew Khoo, CSR has been a part of ABR's corporate culture for many years.
The group takes a long-term view of its CSR activities, and therefore prefers to work with long-term partners which it engages on an ongoing basis.
Since ABR's restaurants are very children- and family-centric, its CSR engagements tend to support similar causes. But it also supports organisations that help marginalised groups of people such as those with special needs.
One of ABR's long-term partners is the Association for Persons with Special Needs (APSN) Delta Senior School, which it has engaged since 2008.
Apart from offering monetary donations and technical support, ABR also set up a Swensen's training cafe at the school to better prepare its students for a real working environment, and to enhance their employability.
ABR's support for students with special needs often goes beyond their in-school training.
The group also continually provides opportunities for these students to work with them after graduating from the school, under the APSN's Work Experience Program.
Many of Delta's students are currently full-time employees at Swensen's restaurants, while some have even been promoted to higher posts there.
"That's part of the cooperation between us and ASPN," said Mr Khoo. "It's to make sure (the beneficiaries) are gainfully employed, and they have the chance to gain confidence to work in a real restaurant environment."
ABR also has a similar arrangement with Metta School, which provides special needs education.
For the past 10 years, the restaurant operator has also been working with Club Rainbow, which provides help to the families of children with chronic and life-threatening illnesses.
Since 2005, ABR has been sponsoring its popular Swensen's ice cream cakes for the children of Club Rainbow on their birthdays. Each year, it gives out more than 500 cakes to Club Rainbow beneficiaries.
Other organisations that ABR has a long-term partnership with include the Community Development Council, HCA Hospice Care - Star PALS, the Institute of Mental Health, the National Volunteer & Philanthropy Centre, as well as education institutes like Ngee Ann Polytechnic (NP) and Nanyang Polytechnic (NYP).
At NP, ABR sponsors its own ABR Prize for Business & Social Enterprise, while at NYP, it co-sponsors the Swensen's-NYP Scholarship for students in the Food Science and Nutrition course.
Apart from these long-term partnerships, ABR does not shy away from ad hoc CSR activities whenever the opportunity arises.
Just last year, the group took part in Community Chest's SG50 Care & Share movement, whereby it donated a percentage of its ice cream sundae sales towards social causes. This donation was then matched dollar- for-dollar by the government.
However, like most organisations, ABR faces challenges in encouraging volunteerism among its employees.
The secret behind the group's success in its CSR approach lies in its attitude towards such activities. Mr Khoo says that unlike other corporations that take a harder approach, ABR practises "soft encouragement".
According to Mr Khoo, ABR creates opportunities for its employees to volunteer, and then gently encourages them to do so.
The group also tries to make its CSR activities enjoyable for all parties involved, so that it doesn't feel like "work" for its volunteers. One example is its Club Rainbow initiatives, whereby the group plans fun birthday parties for the beneficiaries and then encourages its employees to help celebrate with the children.
Going forward, Mr Khoo says that the group will carry on with its ongoing partnerships with the organisations, and hopes that it can deepen its relationships with them. He also hopes that the group can continue to be successful in encouraging its staff to participate in its CSR activities.
This is part of a series of stories on impactful corporate giving under the Company of Good programme led by the National Volunteer & Philanthropy Centre (NVPC). The Business Times is supporting the initiative as media partner