Bringing Connectivity Back Into The Lives Of Underprivileged Women

Text by Serene Ashley Chen
Photo by Shawn Khoong

SINGAPORE – Carrie Tan, founder of Daughters Of Tomorrow speaks to us about helping underprivileged women find their confidence, employment opportunities and ultimately self-sufficiency.

How did you get started?

When I was running a social enterprise that provided skills training and sewing services in rural India, people asked – Why not Singapore? That was back in 2012, I did not know much about the poverty situation in Singapore. When I started traversing the social services circuit and meeting up with social workers, the experience opened my eyes to a whole new population that was living below an invisible poverty line.

These were households with monthly income of S$1,200-S$1,500 and some of them have four to five kids or even nine kids. Singapore is an expensive city, how do people live on a per capita income of S$200 a month?

What made you decide to devote your time, energy and resources to helping them? 

I believe that women are a highly underutilised talent pool. This is my core belief. I see that some of them are not discovering their potential and I wonder how I could help to uplift and empower them.

In our pursuit of high-tech, fast-paced economic growth, some people have been left behind. We are talking about single mums, mums with teenage kids who lack connectivity to society, families with no access to laptops and the Internet, individuals with no concept of a resume or knowledge of how to get the process of employment going, and people who are simply fearful and lack confidence due to the rapid pace of growth.

There are existing social assistance schemes that purport to offer internet access to low-income families at S$6 a month, but did you know that the download speed is 1MB per sec? Whereas, in an average middle income household, we have access to fibre optics broadband that boasts a download speed of 500MB per sec. Imagine a primary school kid from a low-income household downloading an e-assignment at 1MB per sec.

What can we do to give them a hand up, not a handout?

I was a headhunter before going into the social sector full-time. I noticed that flexibility in the workplace is lacking. Women who are full-time mothers, wives, daughters back home can’t also be full-time workers in a conventional sense. There is a lack of flexible work opportunities and arrangements for women in Singapore. At DOT, we engage with employers to try and change their mindsets through our ‘Employ to Empower’ programme. The rhetoric here is that businesses can become social impact businesses.

How has the experience of engaging businesses been?

In working with businesses, I noticed that there is a tendency for employers to place responsibility of whether an employment works out on the employee. But in reality, responsibility is shared. Employers need to be more aware of the different hiring contexts of employees.

We are in talks with a listed SME in the F&B industry on a pilot project to create a culture of inclusive hiring where managers who are facing talent crunch can tap into a pool of flexible and dedicated workforce to help with the problem.

By uplifting human resource development capabilities among employers in Singapore, we can achieve the dual aim of empowering women and meeting business needs.

We are building a network of partner employers and have seen some early success with small to medium enterprises (SMEs), a lot of them are from the F&B industry who are looking for part-time staff. Examples of our partner employers include Herbal Oasis, LINS Smoodees, Alice in DOT’s World, The Garden Slug, WeBread, Paradigm Learning and Le Grand School of Dance just to name a few.

Most of these connections have come from our sharing on social media and networking. Believe it or not, but 70% of my time is spent on networking to expand our community of good-driven people!

How many people do you have on the team at DOT?

We have three board members, 30 volunteers consisting of men and women aged 18 to 40 plus from different nationalities, myself and a part-time outreach assistant whom we hired from our beneficiary pool.

What do you intend to do next now that you have built a database of external partners?

Now that we have group of potential employers, we need to build up a database of ladies. We work with the family service centres and existing networks of social organisations in Singapore to locate women with needs. DOT has just started doing this formally over the last few weeks. We now have a group of 60 women and we are hoping to reach 500 by the end of 2015.

The first thing to do with these women is to put them through a ‘Confidence Curriculum’ where they go through a calendar of varied workshops that aim to equip them with self-discovery, grooming and communication skills. We have training partners like a yoga studio, a cosmetics professional, corporate trainers, coaches and the President of the Singapore Women’s Association come in as volunteers to deliver classes on a complimentary basis. We will also be launching a mentorship programme to provide customised support for individual women.

We also provide support programmes to help alleviate the stresses of our women. For example, an interesting thing we noticed when we were interacting with these underprivileged women is that their kids are more often than not a pressure point. When their kids ask for toys and gadgets, as mothers they will want to provide for them and this adds to their financial pressures. So we told ourselves that we needed to start a financial literacy workshop for the kids!

Can you share with us some success stories you have seen at DOT?

Madam M* is a 35-year-old Malay lady with five school-going children and one of the sewing ladies trained by partner employer Alice In DOT’s World who is now earning regular supplementary income. She has gained tremendous self-confidence through our programme after 15 years of being a home-maker and struggling to run her household on her husbands single income of S$1,300 a month. She now earns regular home-based income and is happy that she’s able to afford things for her children and help forge a better future for them.

Susanna* is a recently-divorced single mother of two teenage boys who suffers from clinical depression, whose condition was exacerbated by the irregular hours she used to work in a pub (night shifts). Since DOT found her a full-time employment with an herbal restaurant, she has grown in self-confidence, positivity, makes regular income and is able to be available at home for her children in the evenings.

(*Names have been changed to protect the identities of DOT’s beneficiaries)

Where do you see DOT going?

DOT was formally incorporated in Aug 2014, although groundwork and community engagement started in 2012. We have seen some encouraging progress and it is my hope that we will be able to get more partners on board to level the playing field for these underprivileged women. I truly believe that women can catalyse change within their community – one family at a time.

About

Carrie Tan is founder and Executive Director of Daughters Of Tomorrow (DOT), an organization enabling financial self-sufficiency for underprivileged women.  Her previous career was in headhunting and HR consultancy, providing recruitment services and HR advice to SMEs and MNCs for 5 years. Prior to that, she was from the advertising and marketing field. Carrie holds a Bachelor in Arts from National University of Singapore in 2004, and is an alumni of Raffles Girls’ Secondary School and Raffles Junior College.

Since embarking on DOT’s work full-time from December 2012, Carrie has impacted more than 40 women in India, as well as enabled the home-based employment of 7 women and impacted the lives of over 30 low-income families in Singapore. She has spoken to schools, youth groups and corporate partners such as Google, Facebook, Elsevier and AECOM on poverty alleviation and enabling financial self-sufficiency for women. More information available at: sg.linkedin.com/in/carrietan

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