SINGAPORE - Madam Aisha Mohamed Sanif, who owns frozen food store Peti Sejuk in Boon Lay Shopping Centre, noted that elderly people were afraid to leave home to shop during the pandemic.
"They prefer to get their children to buy an item online and send it to their place," said the 53-year-old, who set up her outlet in July 2020.
When she heard about the iShop@heartlands initiative from the Boon Lay Merchants Association in November last year, she registered for it immediately.
Under the iShop@heartlands initiative, heartland business owners can get regular support from young people to conduct e-commerce.
The project aims to bring on board 10 businesses out of the 107 shops in Boon Lay Shopping Centre and five young people who will intern at the participating shops for six months.
The youth are assigned to the shops to carry out tasks such as setting up an e-commerce account, marketing, managing orders, inventories and finances, coordinating delivery, and extracting data to track performance.
The interns will be paid a stipend for the internship.
"I want to gain new knowledge from the youth to explore and widen my business through e-commerce," said Madam Aisha, who aims to help the elderly and low-income people in the west gain easy access to halal frozen food.
The initiative, mooted and funded by the SIM People Development Fund, was launched by Minister for National Development Desmond Lee at Boon Lay Shopping Centre on Sunday (Jan 9).
The pilot project, in partnership with Boon Lay Merchants Association, youth community organisation Belanja Singapore and Heartland Enterprise Centre Singapore, intends to expand to other constituencies if the initiative is successful.
At the launch, Mr Lee, who is also Minister-in-charge of Social Services Integration and a West Coast GRC MP, said heartland shops are an iconic and important part of Singapore.
He said young people are "digital natives and we hope that they will be able to use this internship to share their experience and knowledge of digital space with our heartland merchants".
"On the other hand, our heartland merchants have got decades of experience. They have seen ups and downs, trials and tribulations, and they know how to do business.
"We hope that they will use this chance to share with our interns a lot of their experience, knowledge and wisdom that cannot be so easily taught in schools."
Mr Gordon Neo, 25, a final-year international trade student at the Singapore Institute of Management who will be helping Madam Aisha, said: "I think it's a great chance for me to contribute back to the community that I grew up in through these small businesses, and I do feel like it just came at the right time before my graduation."
Another business that has joined the initiative is Protech, a one-stop shop for computer parts and services.
Owner Xavier Yeo, 31, who started his business in 2020, said it has a presence on Carousell, Facebook and Google. But as he is managing the business alone, he finds it difficult to handle all of these outreach channels at the same time.
Mr Yeo said: "We will try to learn from (the young people) what they will be doing within these six months and how our business has improved. If it is successful, we will get someone to manage it for us."
He looks forward to working with Ms Cheryl Tan, 23, a final-year hospitality business student at the Singapore Institute of Technology, who will be interning at his shop soon.
"I just spoke to her and she seems to be very knowledgeable about e-commerce platforms. We hope that she can help us to generate more sales and increase our exposure (on the online platforms)," added Mr Yeo.
Ms Tan, who previously helped Boon Lay Market hawkers tap an e-commerce app, believes she can help Protech expand beyond Boon Lay and reach out to a greater pool of younger audiences.
"I am very happy to be part of this initiative. Heartland shops are the businesses that really need help, and I believe and hope that we can make a positive impact on them," she added.