Causes Week

Job on a platter, with a side of confidence boosters

NOT many employees are told that if they stay in a job for two years, they will get a chance to be part-owner of a shop.

But that was what Aishah, 18, was promised when she first started work at Sandwich Heaven cafe, a social enterprise, two months ago.

Then, her self-esteem was so low that she would not even pick up the phone when it rang. Instead, she would wait for her employers to answer it. With their encouragement, she now has no qualms doing so.

Sandwich Heaven is managed by Malay-Muslim non-governmental organisation Majlis Pusat, with outlets in Bedok North and Changi Road. Besides sandwiches, the eateries also sell items like fried chicken, satay and pizza.

Majlis Pusat's secretary general, Mr Zakaria Abdul Gapor, set up the enterprise with a friend in March because they felt that there were not many Malay-Muslim social enterprises around. They applied for government grants to launch the business.

With help from the Social Enterprise Association, the first outlet, called Chicken Haven, opened in Bedok in September.

Most of the nine employees at the two outlets come from low-income or broken families, or they lack higher education, said Mr Gapor.

His policy is to try to hire whoever responds to his job advertisements, regardless of the applicant's qualifications or background. New employees are paid $5 or $6 an hour, a rate he intends to raise when the business turns around.

For some of his staff, getting a job is one matter. Keeping at it, however, is sometimes a difficulty, Mr Gapor said. A woman in her mid-20s quit after three days because she found the job boring.

"They tend to have a problem with commitment," said Mr Gapor. "I had some who came in at 3pm when their shift started at 1pm and they told me it's because they could not wake up."

One one occasion, none of the three employees scheduled for the same shift turned up. Mr Gapor had to rope in his two daughters, aged 18 and 20, to help out.

"They are my backup plans C and D. The only person I've not called is my mother!" he said with a laugh.

This prompted his offer of part ownership to anyone who stays on for two years.

"We'll give them a small percentage of the shares and give some ownership of the shop to them," said Mr Gapor. Full details have yet to be worked out.

As the business is still in its infancy, his focus is on improving the customer service attitudes of his staff and boosting their self-esteem. While serving food, they tend to just go up to the customers, put the food on the table and walk away, he said.

"Once, I was serving and chatting with some customers," recalled Mr Gapor. "When they (the employees) saw that, they asked me if those were my friends. I told them that's how serving customers should be."

He has already seen improvements. Instead of phoning him every time they had to make a decision, they have learnt to be confident enough to make decisions on their own.

This is in part due to the freedom Mr Gapor gives them. They are free to come up with their own food items to sell at the shop, as long as they tweak the recipe to perfection and teach it to the other employees.

Response to the start-up has been encouraging; it sees regular customers, and companies have been ordering deliveries for events.

Kept busy with the good business, Aishah is thankful for her job and her colleagues. She said: "They feel like my family."

To find out more about how you can help, e-mail Mr Zakaria at