by Robin Choo
New social enterprise started by Ngee Ann Polytechnic graduates gets a head start on campus.
Ngee Ann Polytechnic (NP) graduates successfully started a social enterprise initiative just within a mere two weeks.
The big idea for the initiative first came when the three alumni were on a Youth Expedition Programme (YEP). Realising the many opportunities surrounding them, the trio wasted no time to get things going once they got home from the trip.
Upcycle, a social enterprise initiative started by graduates from the School of Health Sciences Nursing (HSN), jumpstarted its programme by setting up a shop at various locations in NP, from Jul 14 to Jul 25.
“It’s wonderful for the Ngee Ann [Polytechnic] community to have them here with us because there are huge lessons to be learnt,” says deputy principal Ms Looi Mei Fong, expressing her gratitude towards such “student-driven” initiatives. From this initiative, students and staff alike can learn what it takes to start a similar future endeavour.
Ms Looi was present on the final day of the event to show her support for the initiative. She also handed out cash tokens of appreciation to three students who were helping the burgeoning social enterprise, on behalf of Upcycle.
“We learnt everything in two weeks… We fine-tuned our strategy and marketing plan.”
– Mercy Salomi Thomas
The brainchild of Mercy Salomi Thomas, 24, Kimberley Jee, 27, and Joseph Mok, 27, Upcycle’s primary beneficiaries were women of Davao City Women’s Prison and the residents of Sakadab Village – both of which are located in Davao City, Philippines. Upcycle purchases and sells the products made from these two places.
Davao City Women’s Prison is a correctional facility designed to “free inmates before they are released”, based on an article by DavaoToday.com. The compound housed amenities for mothers and their children, and the women sell handmade bags to supplement their income upon their release.
Sakadab Village is a residence for the physically-challenged, looking to lead a life as normally as possible. The residents are mostly self-reliant and sustain their livelihood through a bakery and the sale of handcrafted merchandises.
Apart from helping foreign organisations, Upcycle also seek to employ local students-in-need, such as 19-year-old final year HSN student, Sarah Ong.
Upcycle was conceptualised during one of the many HSN graduates’ YEP trips, organised by the School of Health Sciences (HS). After much encouragement from lecturers, the trio decided to go ahead with the project.
“We realised there [were] a lot of resources that were untapped,” says Mercy.
Together with 28-year-old Filipino biomedical engineer, Michael John Sambrano, whom they befriended during their YEP trips, they completed a two-week social enterprise crash course conducted by Gawad Kalinga, a Filipino social organisation that works hand in hand with HS for YEP trips in the Philippines.
“We learnt everything in two weeks… We fine-tuned our strategy and marketing plan,” says Mercy.
Upon returning home from the trip, the three alumni requested help from Ms Tan Cheng Leng, a lecturer from the School of Business & Accountancy, who is in-charge of NP’s Entrepreneurs Connect programme, Dr Dave Othello, a lecturer and Student Development Manager from HS, as well as Management Support Officer Mr Shankar, to finalise their business plan.
Entirely self-made, the school did not financially support the initiative.
“On our part, we simply give them the exposure,” says Dr Othello. “I just want to give [the students] the experience so that they can use it on their own.”
Director of HS, Dr Phang Chiew Hun, explains that the school only aided them by providing venue and setup services.
“Ngee Ann [Polytechnic] has waived it altogether and provided them the opportunity to try out their ideas, which is very important,” he emphasises.
Upcycle has seen encouraging support for their cause in terms of sales numbers, as well as the backing of their alma mater, during their two-weeks stint in NP.
Mercy and her business partners hope to be in NP on a more permanent basis, either collaborating with NP Co-Op or having an independent shop on campus.
Ms Looi looks forward to more of such student-initiated social enterprises, but they have to be done with sincerity.
“The very nature of social enterprise is you must want to do it,” she says.