ST Singaporean of the Year 2020: Ex-offender pays it forward by employing others like him

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After spending 12 years in and out of prison, Anil David was able to put his life on the right path, all thanks to a call centre.

SINGAPORE - Mr Anil David did three stints in prison for fraud and criminal breach of trust. Last time he was sentenced in 2004, he ended up spending eight years behind bars.

But he managed to find a new lease of life and now he is paying it forward, by offering other ex-offenders a chance for a fresh start.

The 52-year-old Singaporean is running social enterprise Agape Connecting People, a contact centre, and he employs those who, like him, paid their debt to society and are eager to start contributing anew.

It was actually the chance to work in a call centre during his third stint in jail that gave him the needed wake up call.

"I had never worked in a call centre before. When I went there, I went thinking, hey, who knows, maybe this is something that can help me shape my future. If I succeed, I could get a job when I am released," said Mr Anil.

The chief executive officer of the call centre also inspired him to dream big.

"He told me this: 'Dreams with goals, are possible. Dreams without goals, are useless'."

Mr Anil then took his Bible and wrote down 42 dreams and goals. He still has the book today, in his office at the contact centre in Tai Seng.

Thirty-eight of his listed dreams have come true, he said. One of them was to set up his own call centre.

About a year after his release, Mr Anil started Agape with his wife in 2012. Today, the call centre employs nearly 150 staff, some of whom are still serving out their sentences. Others are ex-offenders or senior citizens. Others yet are experiencing various challenges in their lives.

"We have placed almost 600 individuals in our programme. Some have got good jobs elsewhere, some have remarried, some have re-integrated back into society," said Mr Anil.

This year, the company was given one of its biggest projects - manning the National Care Hotline, which was set up by the Government to offer psychological aid and emotional support for those who need it amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

Staff from Agape have been the "first level triage" for distressed callers to the hotline since it was rolled out in April. They help to calm callers down before channelling the calls to the hotline's trained professionals, including psychologists, counsellors and social workers.

Mr Anil said that it was the breakthrough he had been praying for, and affirmed his belief that work could be a platform for ex-offenders and others to redeem and prove themselves.

Mr Anil David runs social enterprise Agape Connecting People, a contact centre. ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO

For his work with Agape and helping ex-offenders, Mr Anil is one of those shortlisted for this year's The Straits Times' Singaporean of the Year award.

He said that he was grateful to his wife Sangita Devi, 51, and two daughters, now 18 and 25, who love him unconditionally and have stood by him over the years.

His advice to others: "We cannot undo a lot of wrongs that we've done. I've done so many wrongs.

"If you have done something that hurts someone, be patient. Start seeking forgiveness and reconciliation. We don't need to make enemies in this world."

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