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.