Saturday, December 25, 2010

Project Dignity

Week of 1st Nov
A university graduate walk in and wanted to be trained as a hawker. He holds a degree in Engineering from a local University and wanted to start work immediately. 'Why?' the question that dawn on me. A graduate wants to be hawker. We spoke for a while and I guess has to do with a baby coming.

The first month is to get the food right and we tried. The food of the first stall has at least taste reasonable. It is nit perfect, I believe it can be better. Stall 2 is Ngoh Hiong. The business is no good. Need to get the crowd.

The idea of Lunch treat for the elderly was part of the initiatives of Project Dignity. I wanted Dignity Kitchen to serve and do good for as many people as possible. The idea was to invite all the elderly residing in old folks to come for lunch. There are two groups of elderly - One is those who are staying in old folks home and another is those who are in senior citizen activity center. I started with those in the senior citizen activity centre, they are more mobile. The Lunch Feast concept include a city tour. We will pick them up at 11.30 am, bring them for a tour of the city and then settle for lunch at Dignity Kitchen. Who pays? Well we will then look for individual to sponsor the outings. It does not cost a lot of money. For 30 elderly including lunch and a city tour is $360. How much does it cost to bring a smile for the elderly?? Not much.

We have other event to stimulate the sales like a Christmas flea market planned for Christmas, a school children holiday program called "working with the disabled" and even a tour of the history of Balestier by professional tour guide line up for the coming months. We needs the sales and as any startup enterprise you have to go out and create the sales.

There are nice people and there are not so nice people. I was pretty disgusted when I found Malaysian 50 cents coin in the cashier machine. For the Blind, the Singapore 50 cent coin is pretty similar to the Malaysian 50 cents coin. How could anyone cheat a Blind person??????

There was also the lady who scold the blind boy when he stretch out his hand in the wrong direction and drop the coins. She shouted "Are you Blind?".

Then here was the group of giggling school girls who find it funny that a Blind person is a cashier.......

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Project Dignity

20th Oct

Let me explain the company logo. It comprise of actually two hands and three fingers. The logo is actually the working hands of three paraplegics. The left and right hands are the working hands of two very charming paraplegic ladies and the three yellow strokes are the three functioning from a quadplegics(if there is such a word) boy who uses the three fingers to do computer graphic work to earn his keeps. Remarkable people. All three are on these electric wheel chairs zoning all around the office. There do print on demand service provider.

Lesson here is - always have something tangible to remind you why you are doing business. In my case I use name card, logo and company naming. Some day in business you get good customers and someday in business you get the bad ones. When you go home, you feel like dropping the whole idea of enterprise but when you look at the name card, the logo etc, you realise that you have to do it all again the next day.

Week ending 28 October

This is a good week. Recruited a marketing staff (no experience especially a project like Dignity Kitchen), sorted out the issues of insurance (very critical), sorting out allowances/CPF issues and managing the initial conflict of the various students (my students come to Dignity Kitchen bringing along their problems)

This is a good week when we got visits from governmental agencies like Workforce Development Agency and non government agency like Sinda, CDC and CDAC and charities like Bizlink. The most surprising was a call from Unilever who is looking to help in some way. Need for further discussion with Unilever.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Project Dignity

15th Oct
Today I had a meeting with a church for the hearing impaired. The pastor is deaf and so is his congregation. They have services over the weekend. Over the last few months I started to learn some of the sign languages and interestingly I learn that like our verbal languages, there are also different form of sign languages. Just take a song like Merry Christmas and if you youtube the song you will find that there are different way of "signing" the lyrics. At the end of the day I learn the basic alphabet A - Z.

The purpose of my meeting was to recruit hearing impaired to long at the opportunity for training to be hawkers. The conclusion is that the hearing impaired like any normal person needs to be convinced that a food stall operator is just another opportunity for them. I know some of them like the idea but to move out of their comfort zone need some effort.

Today we also started our first class - "Legal requirment - the hawker and peddler act" and no kidding this is the actual title. Surprisingly the students find this interesting and we also have a good lecturer. There was also join by the other food stall operator who just want to learn. Irregardless of your social or educational status, people are all the same.... they want to learn. There was just no opportunity for someone to open the door and invite them. In the course of the following weeks we will be conducting classes on a daily basis. The idea is to take management concept of MBA curriculum and decipher to the level of the food stall operator. Topic in marketing like the 5 P's do have relevance to the food stall operators. The task is to find someone who has that knowledge, work on the course material and then able to explain the management concept in a hawker language........

In the course of our lifetime, we collect our O level certificate, our A level certificate then the various diploma and degrees and in due course the paper either faded or get eaten up by worms. The knowledge however that comes with the paper qualification stays inside somewhere in our "hard disc" space up on our head. When we die, so the knowledge dies with it..... unless we share the knowledge.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Project Dignity

14th Oct

The location for Dignity Kitchen is not ideal. The business peaks in the morning at 8.30am , then 1 pm for lunch, then 9.30 pm for dinner crowd and surprisingly the busiest time is 11 pm to 1 am next morning. The crowd is generally pub goer and nearly hotel guests.

Dignity Kitchen operates from 10 am to 8 pm and in the afternoon the crowd is very poor.

Dignity Kitchen needs customers. The idea is to have regular customers coming at fixed time of the week like what they have in restaurant with the tourist crowd.

The idea is to invite the elderly staying in the old folk around the country to Dignity Kitchen for lunch, throw in a tour of the city and it will be a fantastic outing for the elderly. To cover the cost, we approach friends and company to sponsor the lunch outings. Generally the money involves is not a large sum after all it is hawker food.

Today we invited the first 14 elderly from Queenstown Multi Services Center. The visit was rewarding. This Center caters to the elderly around Mei Ling street and it is an activities center. Why this center was chosen is due mainly to mobility of the elderly.

As this is our first tryout we look for elderly who are able to walk categorized as category 2 (Cat. 1 is can walk / Cat. 2 requires support apparatus / Cat. 3 unable to walk in wheelchair and Cat. 4 is immobile). This center do not get many outings per year and hence were glad to have a chance to go out.

The experience was very satisfying watching the face of the elderly enjoying the meal. In a conversation with one of the elderly, this elderly was smiling and was happy chatting away. He turn to a topic of the changes in "Ang Ting" and kept talking about "Ang Ting". He talk about the changes, the various buildings he remembered in his younger days. After a while was was puzzled as to where is "Ang Ting" Eventually I realized that he is talking about Marina Sand. It suddenly dawn on me that here is someone who has no access to newspaper and TV and did not know of the changes in Singapore in the last five years. I was later told that he does not talk a lot and this trip got him talking. I guess is the stimulus generated from the outing.

The total cost of sponsoring was $360 including a city tour and a 4-course meal for 30 elderly people.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Project Dignity

12th Oct

The Dignity Experiment.
One of the idea of Dignity is to explore the possibility of the disabled working with the abled disadvantaged, a physically challenged with a socially challenged like an ex-convict. Task that the disabled cannot perform will be assisted by the abled person. In the case of the Mr. Polio with the abled Mr. Ex-Convict.

The approach to this experiment is:
1. making the abled person to appreciate the disabled and vice versa
2. Identifying the physical constraint of the disabled like unable to lift heavy equipment
3. Working out and setting up the work routine and procedure and explain to them.
4. Encourage and motivate them to work together

In theory it works but in practice there are a lot of intangible issues to manage. For example the pace of work between the abled and disabled, the definition of the work and responsibilities for the money earned etc.

The chemistry has to be in place and matching them require a lot of chemistry. Quarrels and disagreement occurs every single days in the beginning. Patience is the key.

Today the discourse reach a stage that I personally cannot tolerate. I actually blow my top. Something I never do in my professional life......

Friday, December 3, 2010

Project Dignity

9th Oct

The week ended smoothly. Food is ready, the students are ready and now to focus on the teaching.

I always believe learning is very important part of living. The Chinese saying "huo dao lao, xui dao lao" or "live till old learn till old". Never stop learning it make life more interesting. I also believe that knowledge dies with you. Imagine you spend all your life learning and culminating all the paper qualification and when you die, its all gone. SO knowledge gain in your lifetime should be shared.

For Dignity Kitchen the idea of learning is to take MBA education which so many of us is pursuing and share with the hawkers for example in marketing there is the 4 P's or in purchasing there is the supply chain management concept. the art is how to tune MBA education to hawker level. Never try never know.

The training for Dignity Kitchen starts at 2 pm to 4 pm every day from Monday to Friday. On top of culinary skills by chef, the soft skill training include
- basic accounting (which also include understanding banking and finance)
- basic food costing (for the cost of a noodle dish what is the cost component)
- basic marketing (taking the 5 P's of marketing and applied to hawker business)
- purchasing (think of supply chain management and hawker business)
In total 16 subjects

Finding trainer is not an issue, finding a trainer who can relate to a hawker business is the real issues. Not an easy quest. In the course of the last weeks, we have approached Polytechnic lecturers, school teachers and even consultant trainers. (For the accounting, I even approach partner of one of the big four accounting firm. He is good but do not have the time to spare.) By the way we pay for trainers.

After we get the trainers, the next issue is to get the student to learn. For these students, most of them are not study-friendly and has tendency to either fall asleep in class or skip the class altogether. Initially we insist that the classroom lesson is compulsory or else no allowance given out for that day. On our part we have to make the class teaching interesting and engaging. Fortunately we have a good English speaking trainer.

There is another aspect of training that is not in the textbook. Training the disabled to perform a component of the hawker trade.

Training the Blind Boy to be a cashier. He is visually handicap from birth and depend on his other senses to live his day. Our task is that we need to understand money and how the visually handicap manage their money. The key issue which is the toughest to built their confidence of the disabled to manage money. This is something that we sighted people take for granted. After a visit to the Singapore Association for the Visually Handicapped, we came up with three method. This is by no way exhaustive. There will be other methods for other visually handicapped which I believe can be better.
Started on training for the blind. Being a hawker is never an option for the blind, I believe there was never a blind hawker in Singapore's history, for a simple fact is that the blind will not be able to qualified for a hawker license. I know I asked. It was then a challenge to train a blind hawker and my Blind student Manese is a very good candidate. Blind feel by touching and when you are dealing with food, touching food is not a hygienic option. After studying all the role in the food stall, the best job function is that of a cashier for the hawker stall.

Like something out of the textbook of F W Taylor on method study, we device several method to help the blind to operate as a cashier.
First the environment
- we modify the ordinary cashier machines to Braille ( a voice response cashier machine will cost US$ thousands)
- a bell to signal a customers
- a ergonomic position of every thing within his reach including the voice response calculator

Then the method to handling money. So for our Blind Boy, we have develop three methods

Method 1 - use the braille that is on the top right hand of the dollar note
Method 2 - fold the money into a triangle and gauge against your index finger
Method 3 - hold the dollar note between the two hands with the finger touching.

Once the method is finalised, the rest is just practiced. Every other money, the Blind Boy will be subject to several tests
1. given a series of notes and asked to identified (Can do $2 to $50 and all the coins)
2. given a series of addition and subtraction
3. use of the POS cashier machine

Then it is repeated every day till he get it right.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Project Dignity

7th Oct

Ms Single Mother and The Blind Boy turn up today. I was very relief. My gut feel tells me that they will succeed in Dignity Kitchen.

The overview of the strategies for starting up Dignity Kitchen is in three phases.

Phase 1 get the food good. I sincerely believe that the food has to be good, real good. Only when it is real good will customer overlook your disabilities. Customer may buy from you the first time out of sympathy but for their second coming or the third coming, the food must be the main attraction. Plan to spend the whole of October to get the food good.

Phase 2 get the food right. The process and the system must be in place to ensure hygiene and food safety. Customer may have a perception that disabled people serve dirty food. Perception has to be overcome. Will spend the month of November getting the food process and hygiene in place. Easier said than done.

Phase 3 get the food promoted. This is the hard part. May have to spend money to get the promotion.

Coming back to the stall happening. Stall No. 2 sells Nasi Lemak. The food has to be good. So for the stall 2, we break down into the various food component and find the best chef to teach them.

First the chicken wings,there were many things to consider - there is the size of chicken wing, the seasoning of the wings and also the final appearance. I eat more chicken in one day than I ever eat in a year, all for the sake of culinary excellence. We were fortunate that we have one of the top chef to marinate and cook the chicken. By the end of the day we have a dilemma - what chicken wing do we want to sell- the traditional wings which is small and dry or the chicken wing which will suit the current customers who are brought up on KFC type and taste. I decided on the latter because of cost and profit factor. Then is the issue of the rice, otah and sambal chili which we decided to stick with the traditional. Next is the EGG. Yes, is it going to be fried egg or sunshine egg, which is easy to cook but not so healthy, boiled egg which is easy to boil and serve but not traditional or cooked egg omelet which has higher margin (put lots of milk) but not attractive.

Whoever tell you that starting a stall is easy, think again. Basically at the end of the day it is a case of trial and error.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Project Dignity

6th Oct

Today interview several candidates -

- the lady of leisure (tai tai ) who just want to experience the life as a hawker
- the bus driver assistance
- the schizophrenic man
- the leprosy lady
and several unemployed elderly.

The mistake I made that day was agreeing to take the leprosy lady. She called a week after the advertisement and arranged an interview today. She was sitting on the table when we were talking. I handed her the appilication form but nothing happen. Fifteen minutes into the interview, she search for a pen in her handbag and start filling in the application. I then noticed the condition of her hands. One finger were missing and the rest of the fingers were bend inwards. She still able to hold the pen and write. There was a silence as she felt my discomfort. "What disability?" in Cantonese. "Mild leprosy, very mild" she replied.

When I started this school I want to help all disabilities. I have come to realized later when I meet with people from the government agency that some disabilities may not be able to get the hawker license. I turn away people with skin problem, wheel chair bound with urine bag and later on ex-prisoner who commit child abuse crime.

Recruited two trainees which will start in November.

Still no telephone call from Ms Single Mother and the Blind Boy. Stall 2 is still not operational.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Project Dignity

Tues 5th

Project Dignity is unique and in setting up the Dignity Kitchen (the branding), there is no reference point.

For Dignity Kitchen, there are three operating model for the start up of the food stalls
  • Model One is to recruit a good hawker and employed him permanently, attached to a stall and let him manage it. The students will be attached to the food stall and learn. The problem is where to find a hawker who can cook, teach and manage the stalls at the same time. The good hawker will be managing their own food stall business, why do they want to come to train others. Even if I can find them, they will not be cheap. Serious I spend the month of September and October, exploring this model. I even went to Johor to interview potential hawker-teacher.
  • Model Two is to recruit the students and get part time restaurant chef to come and train them. The students need to have some cooking background and we provide all the facilities for them to learn. My timing was wrong for this model. With the starting up of the Integrated Resort, restaurant chef is in demand and coming to work part time for Dignity Kitchen was difficult. (I should know I have very good network of chef in Singapore)
  • Model Three is to find company that manufacture the food product on a commercial basis and then purchase the ready-to-sell product to sell at the stalls. The company will provide the food and the expertise to set up the stalls and in return we help the company to promote their product.
We starts off with business model three and I know will end with a hydrid of the three business models.

Stall 1 is sells Ngoh Hiong - traditional deep fried foodstuff. Mr. Polio and Mr. Ex-Con started work on time and spend the day cleaning the equipment. Their first instruction is "I want Changi Prison Kitchen standard."

No matter how much of planning you do for your starting up there will still missed out on a few items. We missed out the bowls, the chopsticks and plates required. These utensils are not cheap.

The first batch of deep fried Ngoh Hiong was surprising not too bad.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Project Dignity

4th Oct Monday
Electrical was incomplete. Loose cable and lights not working. Though the equipment are in place, the facilities are not ready. No plumbing, no lights and no student. Got some kitchen equipment for the kitchen and realised that the electrical source is single phase power source. Why did I not think of this. This is the start of the first working day.

Mr. Polio is the first student and he actually came a day earlier to check out the route to the school. He used to work in the kitchen of a restaurant chain but was retrenched due to his disability and old age. He has a walking disability and has problem standing for long hours. I actually did discouraged from training to be a hawker. In the first day he fell down five times. His hip will lock up and he will bend ninety degree forward. Then came Mr. Ex-Con, looking for work. The next two students - Ms Single Mother and The Blind Boy will start tomorrow.

It is good to be trained as an engineering fitters, the skills come in useful when you really cannot find a plumber or an electrician and/or trying to keep your cost down. Do-it-yourself approach. The day was spend DIY job.

Time 1930 hrs
I always believe with no matter how much planning you do, something will still go wrong with any startup.

Just got a call from the blind boy's mom telling me they are still in KL, want a longer holiday and want to start in a few days. Where do we find the replacement?

Project Dignity

1 Oct 10 am
Sitting at the food court and looking at the four stalls. A dream that ihas finally come to fruitation. The equipment is finally in place. The electrical work is in progress and the fridge just arrived . Need to get the fridge cleaned. All the equipment are second hand equipment. The decorators are painting the class room and sorting out the electrical lightings.

Monday will have to start work on the food. Nasi Lemak will be by Molly's staff. They will get the fryer, rice cooker etc working for the students to come in for training on Tuesday. I want to start with stall one first before starting the food for stall 2.

Finalising the curriculum with the students from the Polytechnic working with an experience trainer. Educating the hawker is an important part of the success of PD. The curriculum is the intellectual property of PD and secondly there was never a formal education structured for this trade and this hawker trade has a workforce of thousands. The idea is to take MBA standard and structured to the hawker level. This is not an easy task and hence will require a lot of creative input on the pedagogy. The idea is to spent an hour or two a day to educate on theoretical details of hawkers.

Will leave Saturday and Sunday to do the finishing touch to the stalls and the kitchen. I believe as we are dealing with food the environment has to be perfect.

Monday is the food tasting.

Project Dignity

30 Sep

Could not sleep. Today starts writing cheque to pay up the advance rental, deposits, some of the renovation cost and gst ~ to the tune of ten of thousands of dollars. When you start spending money and waiting for the income it is time to start sweating. This by the way is a good thing, it get your adrenaline pumping and hence cannot sleep. Too many things to think about as tomorrow I took over the food stalls and start paying.

Project Dignity

27 Sep

Today the money is finally transfered. I can start the drawdown.

Total budget for this project estimated $200k. The drawdown is $120,000 with $80k as backup. Always has a backup. In all the projects that I have been involved in setting up over the last 25 years, I learn about need and want. What I want to finance in the new business versus what I need in term of financing the new business startup. There is a difference. This startup will cost about S$200k. In any business startup one has to separate what u want and what u need. I want $300k to comfortably start up PD but to satisfy the needs I will require $200 considering a 4 stall setup.

There is another lesson that I learn is that it is not possible to to micro budget a project, there is always something that you missed out, many a time you hope it is a small "missed out". This is especially true for unique project like Project Dignity where there are so many variables.

There is a line drawn between family and business. There is a old saying that said 'Settle yourself, your family then your country'. So before you go out to save the world, make sure your wife and children are well taken care.

In the case of PD, the money comes from the re mortgage of my office. I can seek investors, but PD being such a new concept, finding and pursuing someone to part with their money is not going to be easy.

For a start, my belief is based very much on what I learn from the development of Dubai - "Build and they will come". I always believe some concepts and ideas are hard to explain and even harder to raise money. For PD everyone I spoke to in the last four years like the concept but when it comes to the funding, it is an uphill task. There will definitely be many assumptions and constrain highlighted like you are dealing with disabled, dealing with association and government agency and hawker business. PD is an unique project and the only solution is to 'build and they will come' approach.

The other belief that I have was - "Think big, start small". I have big plan for PD but I start small with 4 stalls. PD is scalable, an unique preposition and a first mover advantage. Additional funding will be required in the future.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Project Dignity

22 Sep

Presentation to handicap centre

It was an audence of about of about 15, mainly stroke and amputee. There were also a Mother and a mentally challenged son, a wife with her husband on wheelchair and a couple of mentally challenged elderly person.

The presentation went quite well considering I was 30 mins late. My intention was to share with them the project and then invite them to visit the school. About half agree to visit the school and find out more and the other half were not too sure. I stressed to them that it is not a easy job being a hawker but if they are willing to learn we are willing to teach and find the opportunities for them.

That night when I drove back I was deeply disturbed. Something I called The Mother's Dilenma. Sitting in the audience was a Mother in her early early sixties and accompany her was a mentally challenged man in his late 30's. After the talk she ask me to recruit his son for the school. I looked at his son,all crumpled in his wheelchair and saliva dripping down the side of his mouth.
'Can you collect money?' I asked and show him a $2 note. 'Yes' came the immediate answer and I can see that he is trying to smile. 'But I cannot had' he injected. I thought for a while trying to understand what he mean by 'had'. After some thought, I replied. 'It OK, I will give you a calculator.'

As a mother, there must be many a time that they must have must look at the child and the situation they are in. I tried not to use the word predicament. They must have wondered when and how will it end. There was a beginning when they found out the condition of their baby and they made the decision to carry on, did they really think of the consequence and the responsibilities. There is the financial issues of raising a mentally challenged child and the emotional commitment of maintaining his or her daily needs.

Did they think of their own lives and the quality of their life. I believe the answer is NO. The love of the mother out reason all common sense. She wants to protect,to provide & to care for her child. In the years that follows, she will look back and reflect on her 'decision'. I never believe that the Mother look at this decision as right or wrong. Killing a life is wrong. It is a good and bad decision, for we do not know what the future holds and there will be time when the Mother looks back at her decision as better or worse decision. For I believe there will be period of joy and sorrow in the child's life. Hopefully there is more joy (good decision) and less sorrow (bad decision).

The way Project Dignity is conceived is hopefully to lesser the burden and address the Mother Dilemma. The idea for the management of the stall must be on a team basis, like the blind son and the Mother as a team. Hopefully the child can look after themselves long after the Mother is gone and the child will by them found someone to work with them as a team, maybe a disadvantaged like an ex-inmate.

I stood down to the boy and asked him to come down on Monday. If he and his Mother turn up, then we will have to find a solution.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Project Dignity

18 Sep

This week many things happen

Different newspapers field different response. In the Chinese paper, I got over 300 calls mainly from people lookng for work & wanting to be trained. On the English version I get over 100 calls & in this case mainly volunteers and even some wanting to donate money. It was funny. I come to conclude that there are really good people out there. I noted all incoming calls and will call back when the school is up and running.

I also come to believe things happen for a purpose. I was struggling with finding the food for stall number two when a call from a company wanting to find a consultant who can take their food product overseas. The food product is Ngoh Hiong - a local delicacy. Meeting with the company (started in 1928) it dawn on me the potential of the product for stall no 2. After some convincing they agree to help me set up stall no. 2. Their food is good & very traditional, my school & students will preserve the heritage

Finding trainee is not difficult, finding the trainee who is willing to be trained and thereafter to restart their life is the difficult. So far I have 4 trainee will need 4 more by end Oct.

Arrange a meeting for the trainees of the blind boy & the mother to meet with their trainers. The ldea is for the trainer to assess the trainee. Feedback is that it is not going to be easy. Attitude & the keeness to learn is very important. The trainee tried the product,tasted the food & even take away. I believe both the mother and his son is ready for the class.

Project Dignity

12 Sep
Another newspaper interview and the article will come out tomorrow. Looking for a Yong Tau Foo trainers. The trainer must be an ex hawker, comfortable to train and willing to work with disabled. Not an easy task,hence the newspaper article.
Why an ex-hawker? Most of hawker training in Singapore is from going to community centre attending classes, the hawker environment is missing. The other training option is to pay $3000 for an existing hawker to train you at their stall worklng for free or nominal, in this situation one do not learn the rudimentary of cooking. There is the other option of working for a hawker and later starting out on your own. Likewise do you really learn cooking & whether the hawker will teach you his/her secret recipe.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Project Dignity

11 Sept 2010

The events that happened

Ms S the Sandwich Teacher
I always thought that Ms S is too good looking to be a teacher to teach hawker to make sandwiches. I was proven right when she came down to view the stall at Balestier. The men starts to stare. For Ms S is German and I believe there is not many German hawker teacher in Singapore. I will await for her concept on how to sell sandwiches at a hawker stall.

The newspaper interview
To overcome the lssue No 4, I need publicity. I need coverage for PD and the most viable option is publicity. Through a mutual friend, Mr Reporter heard of my project & he conducted the interview on site. The newspaper articles came out on the Sunday Chinese newspaper and over the next four days total of 300 plus phone calls were received.

The callers are mainly the unemployed in their 50's and 60's with some keen on teaching. My response to them is that I need to start off with the disabled as I need to fine tune PD's curriculum. If it work on the disabled then it will work with the abled bodied. Maybe I am wrong. The over 300 telephone calls really boost my confidence in PD, I realised that there is a need. I noted all the telephone numbers and will call them after October the 1st. Some sound desperate.

The Renovator
There are people that believe what I am trying to do. Most think that it will be very challenging and failure is a very real option. My renovator is one of them and yet he supported me for the last two sites that I have viewed and he quoted. In this site, he is still supportive and guiding me on the money I need to spent for the site at Balestier.

The case of the leper
I do make mistake. One day in the food court a lady in her 50's came up. She is a friend of the cleaner and was told about Project Dignity. We talk & I explain the details to her. After my presentation there was a long pause. All the time we were talking her hands were below the table. She is very keen and then I notice the gloved hands. She has a form of minor leprosy. She noticed my discomfort.

Later on. I spoke with one of my friends who owns a food court chain (I have several industry expert who I go to to seek guidance) He advise me that she do not qualified. I have to break the news to her.

On 6 Sep
The man with fits decided to drop out. To be precise it is the family who felt he should stick to his existing job and get $22 per day. I guess as a parent myself I can appreciate the feeling of the Mother who wants security for the son and the siblings who believe in his ability to support himself. At least the reqular income of $22 per day from placing paperclip is assured. I felt sad as I thought this is what he wanted and I truly beieve he can do it if I can find him a good partner. I even spoke to a Doctor friend at SGH to understand fit.

The caregiver will know best.

The Student Mr V
'Please keep us in mind' . This was part of the sms message from Mr. V on the eve of Hari Raya. He and his wife was suppose to be my 4th & 5th students. About two weeks ago I receive a call from Mr. V who was an officer in the uniformed services. About a year ago, he had a medical problem which caused him to be going blind. He eventually lost his sight. he wanted to seek some advise on one of his business idea and in the conversation I told him about PD. I explain PD to him and asked him to think about it. I wanted to train him to do sandwiches and salads in one of my stall. We ended the conversation and he told me he want to discuss with his wife. A few days later, he called and he is very enthusiatic about the idea of starting up a business with his wife. (The wife is actually working part time and looking after him.)

This morning Y has a seizure and when into surgery. We are suppose to meet the coming Thursday(The eve of Hari Raya) on the work details. He is keen and together with his wife may actually work. He was sighted before his illness and do understand the food prodect better. Now I have to wait and pray for him. When u are blind from young and when u are blind in your early 30's, it is very difference. Depression set in. V is still in high depency ward.

I will definitely keep him in mind.....

To be continued

Friday, September 3, 2010

Project Dignity

19 Aug

Today I interviewed some of the students for the school. Many thanks to Servehope for arranging the interviews.

The first interviewee is a boy or a 32 years old man called PH who suffers from fits. He came with his sister & the sister's godma. The interview starts with the introduction to Project Dignity. You can tell from the look of PH eyes that he is engrossed but sure whether he likes it or not. The sister explains the inabilty of the brother.

When she finished I turn to PH and asked 'Do u know what we are talking about?'
He shaked his head and the sister said answer the question and continued with the history of the brother and the concern of her Mom. (I have come to understand the predicament of the people or caregiver surrounding a disabled. As the caregiver be it the parents or sibling grow older, the disabled child grews as well. The worry comes when the caregiver cannot care any further).

Again I turn to ask the boy 'Do you know what we are talking about?'.

There was a long pause and he nodded and cried. 'I want to do this'. There was another paused as he wiped his tears with the back of his hand. 'Uncle Seng Choon, I cannot carburator'. He studded and his left hand pointing at his right palm. 'Uncle Seng Choon, I cannot carburator' He repeated earnestly. 'Oh' I exclaimed 'you mean' I paused without completing the last statement.

'Not to worry I get you a calculator'. At that moment, I emptied my wallet a two, five and a ten dollar note. I have to be sure. I cannot allow my passion to help cloud my objectivity of whether he can do the work. 'What is this plus this?' showing a five and a two dollars note. 'SEVEN' he shouted and a big smile spread across his face. I believe I can try to help him work in PD.
The next interviewee is more challenging - Blind man.

When Servehope spoke to me about a blind man wanting to learn the hawker trade, I told myself it will be quite challenging never heard of a blind man in the hawker trade.

His case involves the Mother as well. Mother care very much for her son and worried that the son will have a problem to look after him after she passed away. The worry is very real as the son do lacks skills to provide for himself and is just learning computer skill. I ponder the situation for several days without calling her. What can a blind man do as a hawker?

The idea comes to me (it is always good to talk to friends) when a friend show me the $2.00 Singapore note, there is a two dots on the top right hand corner- Braille on dollar note. Actually not many people know about this feature.

The interview was an emotional one. For a start I boot up my computer and explain to the Mother. The blind boy in the meantime kept touching the computer interrupting the Powerpoint Presentation. At the end, I decided to switch to a word software and allow him to do some typing. He typed.

'What can you do as a hawker?' I asked. He sway his head. 'Can u collect money?' I enquired further. He smile. I took out a $2, $5 and a $10 note. 'How much is this?' $2 dollars' he replied. Then the $5 and the $10. 'very good, 3 out of 3' I handled him a 4th dollar note.'this is not a Singapore dollar' I explained.

'Yes lt is a US$ 1 note'. You passed. The next gesture surprised me. He took out his hankerchief & wipe his tears. A blind man cried, the tears of eyes that cannot see.

Questions follows with more questions, not from the Mother but from the blind boy. Finally he said 'I want to do this' turning towards his Mother.

'I really don't know whether this will work. I am willing to try if you are willing to give it a try too. ' I explained. 'Yes' came the reply.

As we were walking out. He hold my hand and his face move towards my face making sure I heard what he is going to tell me. There was a pause and the word 'Hope' came out of his mouth. The word cause a shiver down my spine. I felt a sudden surge of emotion down my throat.

To be continued

Monday, August 16, 2010

Writing Blog

This blog is written for my students. It was the idea of the first batch of Entrepreneurship student who feels that my overseas travel experience will be good learning experience for them.

One of them took the intiative to create this JHJW blog. It has to be politically correct and educational.

Do any of the students still do read this, I really don't know.....

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Project Dignity

Today 16th August 2010 (Chinese Calender is 7th day of the 7th month)

Project Dignity PD is registered as an entity.

PD was conceived 4 years ago wlth the idea of giving back to society.

PD has to be a platform where varlous races, religion, creed; rich or poor can come together. It has be be a platform that everyone can relate to - the food court.
One don't just wake up and want to do social work. I have been going social work since I came back to Singapore in 1994. Firstly with senlor citizen at Spottiswoode Park Resident Committee & then with Changi Prison.

The impetus to PD birth has to do with an altuistic boy (as the caregiver/parent grow older the child as grow older. The child must be able to care for himself),The ex prisoners of A5 Changi prison (Do they really have a second chance?) & the queue at South East CDC of family queuing for state help.

Why the four years to startup? PD has four key considerations in starting up.
1. Issue of Rental.
PD has to find a place where the initial investment and the running cost cannot go too much to rental expense. Looking for a site was priority. Many sites were evaluated and many disappointments like
- the church in Paya Lebar,
- the halfway house cafe in Geylang,
- Bukit Merah coffee shop
- factory canteen in Ubi
- failed tender of ex Queenstown police station
- Yeo's building in Telok Blangah
- Kallang warehouse conversion
The current site was purely incidental. Just having coffee with my accountant at the food court when he suggest taking over the 4 empty stalls and there is a glass room which is ideal for a classroom, the rest is history.

2. Issue of trainers.
Where do I start to look for trainers who can talk local dialects,work with hawkers and can cook good hawker food. I do not look for certified trainers; just someone with the passion to teach hawkers. The solution comes from a combining an educated trainers combine with someone with hawker experience.

3 Issue of students.
Having worked with prisoners and handicapped people, I realised that their self confidence and self esteem is low. I am not suggesting that all of such cases is of this nature, but a large majority especially ex prisoners. In prison I guess to get compliance you have to remove the self esteem. Recruiting student will require some selling.
4. Issue of Perception.

I guess this is the hardest to resolve. Buyer of my hawker food will have certain inhibition when they buy from someone with disability. Only solution is through education and that will cost money. About 40% of my startup funding is in education of the general public to accept the notion of buying food prepared and sold by disabled.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Learning Experience India July 2010 No 3

Day 3

Sitting at the airport waiting to go home. Strange feeling that this will be my last business tour of India for some time.

It has been ten years since I started this Indian development. Still remember the first trip to New Delhi. I know it was crazy at that time to even think that I can start sometime in India. No one wants to come to India. You can't do consultancy work for India. They don't pay. Those were the comments that always haunt me in the early days.

Looking back it was really funny how the India network got started. I remember the first trip. I book the hotel somewhere in South Extension. I did ask someone to recommend a hotel that is cheap and near to town. Did not know that the whole New Delhi is a 'town'.

When I check in, I do not mind the occasional cockroaches that runs along the edge of the window sill, but showering in hard water was another thing. Strange sensation on the skin after the shower. Not much effect. Room-wise was small and there was a TV that screen all India movies. Not really that bad, I mean the movies. There was room service, cannot expect much for $60 per room.

The idea of the trip is to build up a network of client which will be useful for me. Consultant needs network and India is the next growth area in the world.

Four appointments were made for the next two days with two accountants and two local consultants. Got the contacts from the library and the Indian Embassy. Internet was not much help as only the big boys are featured in the net. The rest was through cold calls from the yellow pages I found in the hotels. The lesson I learnt is Indian speaks English at a faster pace.

After three days, no one really want to see me. Firstly I got nothing they want and secondly I do not know what I can do for the Indian. The first trip was a disaster. Sigh. Down by nearly 2K (air ticket, hotel, food etc) and nothing to show except a $4 leather sandals. (I did return several times to the same road side stall to buy the sandals for my wife and children).

The Indian visa is for six months and I decided that I want to try a second time. This time I manage to fixed a few more appointments from the first trip and this time I am also going over to Mumbai just to make the visa worth it. The meeting is cordial and most are looking for funding of project. (this was to change as the years go by where it was money chasing project to invest)

This time I decided to give myself a treat. By the way, Indian do judge by where you stay. I was staying at the Taj. Got a good rate. At least there is no cockroaches. The day's appt was not fruitful. No real money making opportunity (I was to appreciate what these early contacts did for me in later years when they start inroducing new contacts to me).

That night, at the Taj lobby there was a wedding. Guest was streaming in, the music was loud and rythmic. Dancers then start dancing in front of the groom coming in a white horse. The festivities carry on in this big ballroom. Curosity kills the cat and I was curious. I walk in and started asking questions like a blurred tourist seeing a wedding for the first time. Seeing a Chinese in a Indian wedding must also be a rare occurence and started getting people staring at me.

A smile is a powerful weapon and the a sense of wanting to understand an Indian wedding helps, for next thing I know I started joining the festivities. Whoever said that India do not know how to have a good time have never attended an Indian wedding.

By the end of the night, I finished all my name cards in my wallet and have about a stack of Indian contacts. Jackpot. I just found a way to network and have contacts for India market. It is the wedding.

By the way for those who do not understand Indian weddings
1. It is over many days - 5days
2.Everyone from all over the country to attend the weddings
3.Caste related
4.Held from Oct to March
5.It is always a big event

I got invited the next day to attend another wedding across town and another in some farm house. From then on it is network through weddings. I must confess that I sometime gatecrash weddings but selectively on a certain caste & only if they are at a major sites & have elephants :-) Wedding takes me from Kolkatta to Lucknow, from Pune to Jummu Kashmir. Must have attended many weddings and visited many parts of India.

The initial three or four years of building the network in India has given me a fantastic insight of India. The learning is great and I love India.

Now for the next phase for Christopher Benjamin Consultancy........ Project Dignity 2010

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Learning Experience India July 2010 No 2

Day 2

Staying at the Park Hotel. Many foreigners. Hotel rates has gone up exponentially for the last years. A good sign of the growing economy and yet the cost of the shoe polisher charges at CP has not gone up.

I am on a water project and looking for partner in India and after the days meeting, I realised that water is politics in India. Lobbying on water issues in the state parliament can win and lose an election. cannot talk much about this project as it is still work in progress. Interesting bringing water to India is very easy to interested investors.

Leaving Delhi in the old terminal Via Go Air - a domestic airline, for Bangalore or Bangaluru but I still prefer the old name.

The last time I was here I was to do a talk for lecturers on teaching of entrepreneurship. Bangalore has become one big car park - a series of traffic jam every corners. Worst is there is always a motor bike or 3 wheelers trying to squeeze in. The city is growing faster than what the infrastructure can code. I believe Bangalore has grown because of the coming of big multi national corporation and the reason these MNC are here has to do with the quality of its work force - very smart and well educated young Indians. All goes to the good university existing.

Went to visit a water plant on the outskirt of Bangalore. Surprising the standard is very good. Companies are recognizing the importance of good manufacturing practices and accreditation. You cannot undermine the Indian manufacturing base who are going up the value chain.

One meeting today is with a NRI, Indians who return to their motherland after many years aboard. Many are coming back - for their children education, to catch the growth of India and wanting to give back to India.

Time to go home.....

Learning Experience India July 2010 No 1

India 12 July 2010

Just landed in New Delhi. Not bad. Things are changing. A new airport, especially so in the car park where the taxi is better organised. All these for the coming Commonwealth Game.

I was last here in 2008. Many things have changed. First is arriving in the new airport. Look nice on the outside, look nice on the inside but still long long queue. Hardware there software not there. At least the officers are friendlier.

Delhi is a city in the midst of change. Every time I landed we will go passed the highway and finally NH8 is completed. Many of the marg cleaned & greened. As for poverty not quite eradicated. You still get beggars - young ones with babies stopping at traffic light junction begging & pleading. Always a disturbing sight for a foreigner.

Indian are people that live & accept imperfection. Road incomplete,house in derelict state, sand dune everywhere,pot holes on highway & many more. Imperfection I believe create resilience. This resilience allow the Indian to take on anything in their stride.

In CP one part is clean and orderly and the other half is like a big construction site. This is July and the Commonwealth Game is just around the corner. Don't thing that it can get ready for the game. Following China's Olympic I got a feeling that India is looking to This game to showoff.

to be continued...