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Mentorship programmes that help beneficiaries dream big

It's amazing how much can be achieved when like-minded individuals come together to do good for the community.

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The Fullerton Academy, the hotel's corporate social responsibility arm, has worked with more than 80 teenagers from low-income families.

STARTING a business can be daunting - all the more so if one is home-bound with caregiving responsibilities.

So, when Sapna Kewalramani came to know through the South Central Community Family Service Centre of several women who were very motivated to start and grow home-based businesses but unsure of how to start, the seed of an idea took root.

As director of philanthropy for her family's Kewal Ramani Foundation, Ms Kewalramani approached Daughters of Tomorrow with the idea of providing mentorship to such women and was linked up with Dimple Sanghi, with whom she eventually founded Her Rise Above last year.

Since then, Her Rise Above has mentored 10 women, three of whom have completed the six- to eight- week programme. "Ladies who have caregiving responsibilities for young children or larger families often require flexibility to attend to their family needs," says Ms Kewalramani.

This is why the women receive customised, weekly one-to-one sessions with a volunteer mentor to work through various aspects of starting a business, from business skills such as costing products, accounting, marketing, packaging, customer relations and logistics, to soft skills such as communication and time management.

Among the ladies on the programme are single mothers and those caring for children with special needs. Not all are mothers - two recent beneficiaries are adolescents who need to be home due to health issues but wish to support their families through their passion for cooking.

"Over time, we see that the ladies become more empowered and resourceful. Having a home business also allows them to pursue their passion while supplementing their household income," says Ms Kewalramani.

According to the Ministry of Manpower's Report on the Labour Force 2019, 291,900 female residents in Singapore do not work outside of the home due to domestic and caregiving responsibilities.

"The impact is more dire for marginalised women" notes the National Volunteer & Philanthropy Centre (NVPC) in its Sector Insights 2019 report. "Better employment and caregiving support could help them build and sustain financial independence while contributing to the economy".

That is indeed a goal of Her Rise Above. One participant, initially unsure about turning her cooking into a business, has now taken up a part-time job as an assistant chef, sells out her own weekly menus and has garnered family support to manage her social media accounts and orders.

"To us, this is a wonderful example of growth and success," says Ms Kewalramani.

Her Rise Above has also built a resource bank of "how-to" tutorials on specific topics such as accounts or logo creation, to train and equip volunteer "Guides" more effectively and enable them to extend the programme to more women.

Trust and open communication

Ms Kewalramani says she was guided in part by her own learning experience of starting a small home-based illustration and graphic design business as a new mother. The programme's genesis and trajectory has run in parallel to her own growth as a philanthropy director too.

After all, Her Rise Above was her "Action Project" for the Company of Good Fellowship she joined last year. The 5-month long training and development programme, which NVPC runs to equip corporate leaders to catalyse change for social good through their organisations, came at a "perfect time" for Ms Kelwaramani who had just joined the family foundation then.

"One of the key messages from the Fellowship was our responsibility as donors, grant-makers, volunteer coordinators, to listen to those working on the ground. Often, to determine the needs and solutions, trust and open communication is required between donors and non-profits," she says.

Working on Her Rise Above as her Fellowship action project meant she could sharpen the mentorship programme's model based on input from other Fellows and the NVPC judging panel.

It also ushered her into the Company of Good's growing network of 107 Fellows belonging to 79 organisations from diverse sectors. These include past participants such as Cathy Chia, director of corporate communications at The Fullerton Hotels & Resorts, from the Fellowship's first 2017 cohort.

For Ms Chia, the Fellowship provided a roadmap for launching the Fullerton Academy, the hotel's corporate social responsibility arm that has worked with more than 80 teenagers from marginalised families since its launch in February 2018. It focuses on offering mentorship opportunities in the areas of hospitality and the creative arts.

"I looked at various models of giving, listened to stories from both the beneficiaries and corporate companies who were already ahead in their corporate giving journey, and gained invaluable insights," Ms Chia says.

Last year, the 13- to 15-year-olds identified by REACH Community Services were matched based on their interests to well-known personalities from Tatler Singapore's group of Generation T honourees, such as Love, Bonito's Rachel Lim, Viddsee's Ho Jia Jian, Mighty Jaxx's Jackson Aw, Acceset's Oon Tian Sern and rapper Shigga Shay for cosy, small-group sharing sessions.

"For the youths, it was an eye-opening experience to have the chance to get up close and personal with some of these well-known personalities and to learn about their craft and life motivation," says Ms Chia.

"Beyond learning skills and acquiring knowledge, we want to expose the youths to a world beyond the confines of their disadvantaged homes. We want them to dream bigger dreams and to know that there are so many opportunities awaiting them to explore," she adds.

This addresses an area of need flagged in NVPC's report. "Parents from marginalised families may still need more help in furthering their children's development and educational enrichment, given challenges such as resource, time constraints and parental issues."

Over the past two years, the Fullerton Academy has evolved to include hospitality modules that complement the hotel's core business - opening up opportunities for future internships. The youth interact with staff from the hotel's various departments - from concierge to F&B to HR - who conduct workshops on topics from dining etiquette and creative towel art, to making drinks with freshly-plucked herbs and fruits from the hotel's garden.

Enable social change in the long-run

There are also plans for partnerships with other organisations to offer a broader range of modules such as coding. "Access to such courses usually has higher barriers to entry but we hope to help children who may not have as much privilege to gain a fair chance in entering the technology industry too," Ms Chia says.

The broader goal is to enable social change in the long-run. "We work very closely with the social workers to curate each course module and we review the feedback from the youths to tweak our programmes every year to ensure maximum impact," she says.

The importance of "doing good better" cannot be overstated in such a time as this. Philanthropy which meets social needs sustainably will have greater impact - that much is clear to those persevering with such projects amid a global pandemic that has thrown into sharp relief the needs of the socially and economically marginalised.

And as they do this, Ms Kewalramani and Ms Chia have found support in their Fellowship cohorts - both of which remain active and connected.

"I often tap on the network for support for Her Rise Above, and when I have questions regarding the foundation. They are always very responsive and helpful," says Ms Kewalramani.

"All of us come from different industries but it is amazing when like-minded individuals come together to discuss the possibilities of doing good together. We exchange ideas, resources, opportunities and networks to help each other along in our corporate giving journey," says Ms Chia.

  • Company of Good Fellowship is a talent development programme that grooms high-potential professionals to catalyse change for business and society. Apply at www.companyofgood.sg/fellowship today.

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