Needy Singaporeans get to be own towkay under pilot scheme

Mr Zaini Hamid has found it hard to land a desk job as he has cerebral palsy and needs to use a wheelchair.

Two years ago, he got a job selling pens in Bedok, Geylang and Woodlands but earned only $120 a month after his company took a share of the profits.

Mr Zaini, 36, quit after six months, with his pre-school teacher wife becoming the sole breadwinner on her pay of $1,800 a month. They have no children.


Mr Zaini, who has cerebral palsy, at the launch of the Towkay @ South West yesterday. Participants can sell tissue packs at three bus interchanges and get to keep all the takings. ST PHOTO: NADIA CHEVROULET

But a new pilot programme may soon change his life for the better.

Launched yesterday at Boon Lay Bus Interchange, the Towkay @ South West programme seeks to boost the financial independence of people from low-income households. It is a collaboration between Gobbler5, a social enterprise under the ComfortDelGro Group, and the South West Community Development Council.

Participants will get the chance to become their own "towkay", or boss, by selling packets of tissue at one of three SBS Transit bus interchanges in the west: Boon Lay, Clementi or Joo Koon.

Participants, who are nominated by Members of Parliament, social service offices, family service centres or voluntary welfare organisations, will not be tossed straight into their new jobs but will first be trained in financial management and customer service.

"The programme will help our residents build up their capabilities through training and re-skilling, thereby enhancing their employability," said Ms Low Yen Ling, Mayor of South West District.

After the participants pass a written and practical assessment, they will receive a free start-up inventory of 1,200 packets of tissue paper, as well as an ez-link card with a stored value of $88 to cover their travelling expenses.

All participants will get a permit to sell the items at one of the three SBS Transit bus interchanges, as well as a uniform. Once all the free tissue packets have been sold, participants can buy more at cost price from Gobbler5. They get to keep whatever they earn.

Participants like Mr Zaini could make $800 to $1,200 a month during a pilot programme, which begins at the end of the month, said Gobbler5 founder Janan Kwek.

After the pilot programme ends in February next year, participants may be able to expand their business by buying other inventory items such as snacks or candies.

There are now three participants, but Mr Kwek hopes to add another two by year end. He hopes to expand the number of beneficiaries to 20 next year.

As for Mr Zaini, he is looking forward to starting work. "The more I sell, the more I earn. Whatever I earn, I get to give to my wife and pay the bills," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 16, 2016, with the headline 'Needy Singaporeans get to be own towkay under pilot scheme'. Print Edition | Subscribe