Needy Singaporeans to get boost to their employability with 'towkay' programme

Mr Zaini Hamid (wearing helmet) and Mr Jamauludin Awang at the launch of the Towkay @ South West programme.
Mr Zaini Hamid (wearing helmet) and Mr Jamauludin Awang at the launch of the Towkay @ South West programme. ST PHOTO: NADIA CHEVROULET

SINGAPORE - Two years ago, Mr Zaini Hamid spent his days selling pens in Bedok, Geylang and Woodlands.

The 36-year-old, who is wheelchair bound due to cerebral palsy, was unable to land a desk-bound job. The company he worked for took a slice of his profits, and Mr Zaini was left to scrape by on just $120 a month.

Combined with his wife's monthly salary of $1,800, the money was barely enough to cover the couple's expenses. Mr Zaini held the position for only six months.

But thanks to a new pilot programme, his life may soon change for the better.

Launched on Thursday (Sept 15) at Boon Lay Bus Interchange, the Towkay @ South West programme seeks to boost the financial independence of people from low-income households. It is a collaboration between Gobbler5, a social enterprise under the ComfortDelGro Group, and the South West Community Development Council.

Under the programme, participants will be given the opportunity to become their own "towkay", or boss, by selling tissues to passers-by at one of three SBS Transit bus interchanges located in the west: Boon Lay Interchange, Clementi Interchange and Joo Koon Interchange.

Participants will not be tossed straight into their new jobs - following their recommendation for the programme by Members of Parliament, social service offices, Family Service Centres or voluntary welfare organisations, these "towkays" will undergo training in financial management and customer service.

"The programme will help our residents build up their capabilities through training and reskilling, thereby enhancing their employability," said Ms Low Yen Ling, Mayor of South West District.

After the participants pass a written and practical assessment, they will receive a free start-up inventory of 1,200 packets of tissue paper, as well as an ez-link card with a stored value of $88 to cover their travelling expenses.

All participants are also been given a permit to sell the items at one of the three participating SBS Transit bus interchanges, as well as a uniform. Once all the tissue packets they got for free have been sold, participants can purchase more from Gobbler5.

Through the pilot programme, which will last six months, "towkays" like Mr Zaini could potentially make between $800 and $1,200 a month, Gobbler founder, Mr Janan Kwek, said.

And the best part? They get to keep whatever they earn.

"The more I sell, the more I earn," said a delighted Mr Zaini. "Whatever I earn, I get to give to my wife and pay the bills, which I can afford."

After the conclusion of the pilot programme in February next year, participants may be able to expand their business by buying other items such as snacks or candies.

Currently, three needy individuals have been enrolled in the programme, but Mr Kwek hopes to add another two before the end of the year. In 2017, he would like to expand the number of beneficiaries to 20.

Mr Zaini is looking forward to beginning work at the end of the month. "I like that I can plan the hours I work and the interchange is near to where I live. I look forward to helping my wife contribute to our monthly expenses," he said.