Growing an ecosystem of good

How Company of Good empowered Abry’s founder and CEO to collaborate with others to create a greater impact to help marginalised individuals and their families

Ms Adriana Lim Escano (second from right) started Abry to help the marginalised community find employment, develop their talents and provide a platform to ensure they can earn a living while taking care of their families. PHOTO: ADRIANA LIM ESCANO

All Ms Adriana Lim Escano wanted to do through her retail business, Abry, was to show love by affirming every individual's uniqueness, inspire a community of infectious hope and realise dreams.

Before embarking on her entrepreneurial journey, she had often heard about the elderly and women from disadvantaged backgrounds who found it difficult to find employment due to discrimination and other social factors.

Their plight spurred the 40-year-old to leverage her expertise in retail merchandising to start fashion and lifestyle distribution company Abry in 2008. Through her work, she helps identify and develop talents, as well as provide a platform to ensure that her staff can earn a living while taking care of their families.

Since then, Ms Lim Escano has collaborated with various organisations to provide individuals with jobs in her company. They include students from Crest Secondary School, a specialised school for Normal Technical students, who worked with Abry's sales team as part of their vocational training.

Ms Lim Escano collaborates with various organisations, such as Crest Secondary School, by hiring its students as interns as part of their vocational training curriculum. PHOTO: ADRIANA LIM ESCANO

She also hired about nine women from Daughters of Tomorrow, a registered charity that empowers underprivileged women to achieve financial independence. They include stay-at-home mothers from low-income families who struggle to make ends meet.

"I offer them flexible work arrangements in positions such as administration, logistics or sales, and train them so that they can continue to be gainfully employed," says Ms Lim Escano. "Guiding and coaching them is probably the most fulfilling part for me."

She is also considering venturing further into advocating flexi-work practices, and creating a new platform to retrain, reskill and place unemployed, marginalised, stay-at-home mothers or persons with disabilities, so they can return to the workforce.

Getting started

In March last year, Ms Lim Escano chanced upon a series of articles on the National Volunteer & Philanthropy Centre's Company of Good in the newspapers. Inspired by the stories of corporate giving and doing good in Singapore, she signed up as a member to learn from like-minded entrepreneurs and business professionals on how she could expand her efforts in helping others. She later joined the Company of Good Fellowship programme, where she gained a deeper understanding about corporate social responsibility, as well as the importance of creating sustainable goals and measuring their impact.

Sharpening her thought process

​Company of Good's four 'I's framework challenged Ms Lim Escano to think about how strategic, sustainable and impactful her giving activities were. PHOTO: NATIONAL VOLUNTEER & PHILANTHROPY CENTRE

During her learning journey, Ms Lim Escano picked up the Company of Good's four 'I's framework that challenged her thinking.

The framework is used by companies to assess how strategic, sustainable and impactful their giving activities are, while encouraging companies to consider how doing good can be beneficial for business as well.

"I learnt to rethink creatively about identifying current assets such as retail platforms and expertise, as well as bringing stakeholders together for shared value creation, while aligning to our company's vision," she says. "It has become part of my business process."

She put what she learnt to good use by launching her Company of Good Fellowship Action Project, "Xin Jia Po"; the Action Project is a compulsory component of the Fellowship programme for Fellows to develop a new or existing corporate giving initiative within their organisation.

Ms Lim Escano's Company of Good Fellowship Action Project materialised into Xin Jia Po, a local souvenir line featuring products made and sold by different-abled Singaporean women, who collaborate in various ways. It now has a pop-up counter in Discover Singapore at Changi Airport Terminal 1. PHOTO: ADRIANA LIM ESCANO

The local souvenir collection eventually materialised into an actual retail line under Abry. Its name is a wordplay on "Singapore" in Chinese. The Chinese character of "home" replaces the second of three characters.

"It represents family and an inclusive, diverse caring society where everyone is part of the success story," explains Ms Lim Escano.

The framework seeded the idea to redefine her supply chain and produce merchandise locally instead of depending on overseas factories. This structure enabled her to reallocate resources and income to Singaporeans and those residing in Singapore, and produce authentic locally-made goods. It also gave her the opportunity to reach out to people who could not physically come out to work, empowering a new community.

With the sales of souvenirs generating a regular income stream to its makers, the project achieves its objectives of providing a sustainable platform for stay-at-home mothers, marginalised mothers or persons with disabilities, enabling them to find meaningful balance between family and self-development, or access income opportunities for upward mobility.

Doing so also helps Ms Lim Escano to bring in potential partners into the ecosystem and spread awareness of doing good in the retail industry.

Making a stronger social impact

During a Company of Good Fellowship networking dinner, Ms Lim Escano had the opportunity to meet Ms Chang Hwee Nee, chief executive officer of the National Heritage Board.

"We talked about Singapore's National Collection, and how stories of our numerous cultural treasures can be shared. It made me more determined to tell the stories through my project," she says.

When a business opportunity by Changi Airport to redevelop their souvenir lines arrived, everything fell into place: Xin Jia Po was launched as a line of Singapore heritage-inspired souvenirs at a pop-up counter at Discover Singapore in Changi Airport Terminal 1. The products are designed, made and sold by different-abled Singaporean women, who collaborate in various ways and showcase how our social fabric is woven into local heritage. Travellers can bring a piece of that memory home.

Ms Lim Escano says: "To grow this social impact further, we have reached out to DesignSingapore Council, to connect us to local designers who can upskill these different-abled mums and local brands, so that they can learn to create more sophisticated products."

"The knowledge and experience I've gained through Company of Good enables me to start more conversations with people and business partners about creating a bigger social impact, and hopefully influence them to do so too."

Never too late to start giving back

Through Company of Good, Ms Lim Escano learnt from like-minded entrepreneurs and business professionals how to expand her efforts to help others. Her next step is to apply to be a Champion of Good. PHOTO: NATIONAL VOLUNTEER & PHILANTHROPY CENTRE

Through her learnings from Company of Good, she realised that the opportunity for companies to do good comes in many forms. "It could very well stem from a need next door, or over lunchtime conversations," she says.

"What we need to do is be aware of existing resources in our hands no matter how small, be open to see the needs around us, creatively find solutions, and work with other stakeholders to invest in industry and community development."

Her next step as a Company of Good member is to submit an application to be a Champion of Good, a national recognition given to companies who demonstrate leadership qualities and commitment towards doing good.

Besides exemplifying what it means to do good as a business, Champions of Good actively advocate for others within their own networks to do good, forging collaborations or inspiring other partners to do more for the community. This act of "multiplying" enables greater social impact as well.

For companies that are new to corporate giving, joining Company of Good offers a broader perspective of the current landscape, Ms Lim Escano shares. "It will provide you with a platform to actively listen and learn from others about what they have acted on to do good, and inspire you to think creatively about doing the same independently or with others."

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