Friday 31 August 2012

Social enterprises are means of "active citizenry": President Tan

By Leslie Kay Lim, The Straits Times, 29 Aug 2012

SOCIAL enterprises are a means of "active citizenry", said President Tony Tan Keng Yam yesterday, during a visit to Eighteen Chefs, a restaurant in Simei which employs former offenders.

Such initiatives, he said, encourage Singaporeans to become "people who help themselves and people who help others to help themselves", instead of relying only on government assistance.

Dr Tan said that while the Government can help with resources like the ComCare Enterprise Fund, it is better for social enterprises to be ground-up efforts.

"It's not possible for the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports (MCYS), or a group of civil servants, to sit down and think of everything.

"You need to have ideas from the ground and where they're viable, they will receive support from the Government," he said.

Touring the restaurant and chatting with owner Benny Se Teo, 52 and staff, Dr Tan held up Eighteen Chefs as an example of a successful social enterprise. The restaurant has applied for the inaugural President's Challenge Social Enterprise Awards, for which nominations close on Friday.

Eighteen Chefs, which started five years ago, was Mr Teo's brainchild after he experienced difficulty in finding work due to his chequered past. Between 1983 and 1993, he was in and out of prison four times because of heroin addiction. He decided to combine his passion for food with a desire to help those in similar situations by setting up a restaurant.

Now with a stable of three restaurants, all of which are profitable, Mr Teo employs about 50 people, around a third of whom are former convicts or former delinquents.

Like Mr Mohamed Yashzid Abdul Rahman, 39, who came on board nine months ago after seven years in prison due to drug consumption. He was interviewed for the job exactly a month before his release. "I feel lucky, because not many people like me are given a chance to work," he said.

One former employee, Mr Teo noted with pride, was now a manager at a high-end restaurant in Marina Bay Sands. "If you're cooking for me for more than two, three years, there's something wrong," he said, voicing his hope that people working for him move on to better opportunities.

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