International Women's Day: She has disabilities and joining group buy platform made her feel empowered

Ms Jessica Tan lost some of her sight about three years ago and gets around with the help of a white cane. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE
(From left) Buyer Linda Tan received her goods from Ms Jessica Tan, a group leader in group buy platform Webuy. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

SINGAPORE - When Ms Jessica Tan moved to Jurong West three years ago, she found it difficult to make friends.

"I didn't know anyone, not even my neighbours," says Ms Tan, 29, a part-time social work associate, who reckons they may have hesitated approaching her because of her disabilities.

She lost some of her sight about three years ago and gets around with the help of a white cane. She cannot read text, so she uses special software on her laptop and the voice-over function on WhatsApp.

She wears a hearing aid as her hearing deteriorated about a year ago.

During the circuit breaker in 2020, she started a side hustle as a group leader for Webuy, a group-buy platform.

She liked that it was a home-based job and would make it easier for her to get her own groceries as well, since routes to supermarkets she had memorised suddenly became inaccessible due to SafeEntry measures.

As one of 800 female group leaders here, her job involves collating weekly deals on a variety of food and essential items, based on what her group members like.

She packs them for buyers to collect at her home on pre-arranged dates and also recruits new members. Mindful that some buyers are mums or elderly folk who cannot travel far, Ms Tan helpfully takes their purchases to a bus stop near their homes for pickup.

But beyond just transactional relationships, the bubbly young woman has built a vibrant community of about 100 people who exchange lifestyle tips, ask her out to lunch and care for one another.

When she had a car accident in November last year that put her in a neck brace, she texted her group to inform them that the next day's scheduled collection would be disrupted.

"A lot of my buyers came forward. They took over the whole delivery process, helped me to pack and deliver and updated the WhatsApp group on the pickup," she recounts. "I felt that I did well also because I empowered my buyers to go the extra mile to give back to the community."

Besides earning extra income in the "three-figure range", she has picked up skills in marketing, public speaking and leadership along the way. She now mentors four other group leaders.

Ms Michelle Tan, co-founder of Webuy, a home-grown start-up launched in 2019, says its group leaders can "create meaningful and strong relationships within their communities, which are increasingly rare in an age where technology both connects and separates us".

Ms Tan hopes her story can inspire other women who have home-based commitments or disabilities to find meaningful work.

"I thought it was just online shopping, but it really gave me skill sets and empowered me to be more self-reliant," she says. In fact, she now dreams of opening a minimart or ice-cream shop in the future.

Her husband, a civil servant, was initially unhappy with her Webuy job because of the products she had to store at home and the number of people dropping by, says Ms Tan.

After seeing how she has blossomed, however, "he changed his perspective and he agreed that I'm happier now".

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