Blazing a Trail for Social Change
steady stream of visitors milled around the makeshift booths. Among the products they checked out: food made from produce deemed too ugly for consumption, and incense made by the dalit or untouchable women in India. Some tried their hand at assembling a bio-sand water filter model fashioned out of blocks to learn how the real thing brings clean water to Cambodian villagers.
Others wrote their wishes for a better world on strips of coloured paper, weaving them into a tapestry of the world map to show that everyone can play a part. These were some of the scenes at the SIF’s inaugural Bazaar for Good, which took place at the open plaza outside the National Library of Singapore from April 6 to 7. It showcased the organisation’s work in education, environment, healthcare, arts and culture, and business livelihood, while marking the 10th anniversary of its signature Young Social Entrepreneurs’ (YSE) programme. Since 2010, YSE has nurtured a global network of more than 1,000 social entrepreneurs, mentoring them to start or scale up businesses with a focus on social good. Echoing the SIF’s mission, Bazaar for Good also sought to galvanise the public to pledge their support for a better world – one that is peaceful, inclusive and offers opportunities for all. Madam Halimah Yacob, SIF patron, Guest of Honour and President of Singapore, launched the event by taking the first pledge, before walking around to discover the impact of the SIF’s programmes and the social enterprises.
A COMMON VISION TO DO GOOD
The bazaar brought together 15 social enterprises – all of whom had been partners and alumni of the SIF – to showcase their wares and share their stories of positive social impact.
For these participants, hailing from Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia and India, Bazaar for Good presented an invaluable opportunity to build stronger friendships between Singapore and the wider global community.
“ It’s inspiring to know that Singaporeans care enough to do their part. ”
Singaporean visitor Goh Ann Loo on volunteerism
Among them was Singapore-based Social Development Initiative (SDI) Academy, which empowers Bangladeshi migrant workers by teaching them English as well as digital skills and vocational training. To raise awareness for their work while helping Singaporeans better understand the situation of migrant workers, SDI Academy conducted rudimentary Bengali classes at the event for the public to learn about basic conversational phrases and greetings.
They also ran a campaign titled #Imnostranger, whereby the purchase of every campaign T-shirt would result in the gift of an English guidebook to a migrant worker.
Beyond the event, the enterprise offers a platform for social inclusion between migrant workers and Singaporeans. It does this by organising festive events and providing volunteering opportunities to paint the flats of low-income households. According to CEO Sazzad Hossain, such initiatives help to change the public’s perspective of migrant workers from victims to people who are “on equal footing with the rest of society”.
“When the migrant workers are able to contribute, it creates a strong sense of belonging in a country which they view as their second home,” he shared.
With its community-centred programmes, the bazaar also presented the social enterprises with the possibility of fostering greater collaboration with their Southeast Asian neighbours. Art collective Ketemu Project, for instance, is piloting an incubation programme around the region this year to promote the inclusion of people with disability in the creative industries.
“ Sometimes, we get so caught up in our own lives that we forget about doing more meaningful work. It’s a good way to take me out of my comfort zone and open up my world. ”
Annelyse Chua, secondary four student, Singapore
Based in Indonesia, it collaborates with people suffering from schizophrenia to create inspirational artworks. The incubation programme – which hopes to serve as a form of “cultural advocacy” – comprises a residential design thinking workshop in Bali, seed funding, as well as mentoring for creative enterprises led by people with disability. It also plans to commission disability-inclusive artworks from five Southeast Asian countries that will be showcased in Indonesia at the end of 2019.
“In art, we are less hampered by borders,” shares Ketemu director Samantha Tio. “Our beneficiaries are empowered by the knowledge that their art is appreciated by people from around the world.”
Bazaar for Good also offered a golden opportunity to spread the word about their cause and generate fresh new ideas, said social enterprise HelpUsGreen.
Founded by two college students in Kanpur, India, the business collects discarded flowers from temples and recycles them into eco-friendly products such as incense sticks. In the process, they work with women from marginalised communities, empowering them through higher wages, insurance, as well as other benefits.
Pointing to the abundance of temples in multi-cultural Singapore, HelpUsGreen’s head of marketing and sales, Apurv Misal, believes the country’s large Indian diaspora as well as Buddhist community can be tapped to enhance their mission. At the same time, meeting fellow artisans at the bazaar has given Misal new ideas on how to expand the firm’s product line.
“Seeing them apply what they have learnt gives me a sense of accomplishment, and that is something worthwhile. I hope more volunteers will join me in this experience that money can’t buy.”
It is currently working on converting temple flower waste into an animal skin alternative. Known by the portmanteau “fleather”, its leather-like material is developed using temple flowers and fungal growth, which mimic the structural strength and properties of collagen, a major constituent in animal hide. It is low-energy intensive, utilising free raw materials and minimal water.
“We love the fact that we get to learn from different countries because our ambitions are truly global,” he says.
INSPIRING THE PUBLIC
Visiting the bazaar proved to be an eye-opening experience for members of the public as they learnt about the SIF’s work and the importance of being connected within the global community. It saw a footfall of 10,000 over the weekend, with 3,813 pledges by the end of the event. One of the highlights was Our Better World, the SIF’s digital storytelling arm, which shares stories of people making a difference through community-based initiatives in Asia.
Technology recruiter Stella Seow, who visited with her daughter, admitted to having little knowledge about the SIF prior to the event. But she left with a “stronger awareness” about how the organisation collaborates with both local and international partners, harnessing the support of Singaporean volunteers to build capacity and uplift lives in international communities.
One such volunteer was Cheng Kwei Chai, who shared about the SIF’s signature programmes with others. Taking on the role of Citizen Ambassador, he explained how the Water for Life project provided clean water to rural communities throughout Asia via the assembly and installation of bio-sand filters.
Cheng, an IT executive, has also been a volunteer for the SIF’s Words on Wheels project over the last five years, where he coaches children in English and IT skills. He said: “Seeing them apply what they have learnt gives me a sense of accomplishment, and that it is something worthwhile. I hope more volunteers will join me in this experience that money can’t buy.”
For homemaker Goh Ann Loo, the bazaar was a good initiative to spread awareness about lesser-known communities – such as the migrant workers that SDI Academy works with. She said: “Some of us may want to help but don’t know how to reach out to this group. It’s inspiring to know that Singaporeans care enough to do their part.”
Bulgarian national Ivd Kolev, who has lived here for the past six years, shared: “In an international environment like Singapore, these social enterprises and groups create ways for people to feel at home.”
Citing the example of HelpUsGreen, Seow, who was impressed by the work of the participating social enterprises in empowering their beneficiaries, said: “Instead of waiting for help, these marginalised women actively create value for the community. I’m happy that the event doesn’t just promote consumption or buying of products, but helps us reflect on the values we want our younger generation to have.”
The bazaar has inspired young Singaporeans, such as 16-year-old Annelyse Chua, enough to consider embarking on her own volunteer journey, having learnt about the SIF’s volunteer programmes at the bazaar.
“Sometimes, we get so caught up in our own lives that we forget about doing more meaningful work. It’s a good way to take me out of my comfort zone and open up my world,” she concludes.
Do you also believe in the power of connecting people across geographical and cultural boundaries for the greater good? Pledge your commitment towards a better world at www.sif.org.sg/get-involved.