A new online social enterprise kills three birds with one stone – helps seniors get extra income, retailers get sales and VWOs get some funding.
BY: Eleanor Yap
Roderick Goh (left) had been working for 34 years as an executive in a logistics company before he retired in July 2008. After retirement for three months, he shared: “My mind was not working, I became very lazy, tired and sickly, and my expenses were eating up my savings.” He decided to then go back to work but more on a part-time basis.
He has dabbled as a customer service officer, event officer, interview screener, cargo surveyor as well as in telemarketing and data entry. This year, at 65, Goh got recommended to a new online social enterprise called GIF or Giving It Forward, by voluntary welfare organisation for seniors, Singapore Action Group of Elders (SAGE) to become a freelance marketer. He was attracted by its flexible hours, but most of all, through GIF, he could give back to charity.
He joined the company in August this year and has been enjoying the work ever since. “I have learned how to use the computer better through my GIF colleagues, including the use of Microsoft Word, Excel and Facebook,” said Goh.
The grandfather of one spends 16 hours a week or more as a freelance marketer. His responsibility includes cold calling retailers and arranging appointments with them, and meeting the retailers with his GIF colleague to secure the partnership agreements.
Helping those in need
Simon Loh, the CEO of GIF, shared how the idea of the social enterprise came about: “We are all PMEBs and we can emphathise with those, especially seniors, who are unable to find a job and instead are given menial tasks that do not come close to their capabilities. Not all of them can also fit into a nine-to-five job because it can be quite physical but yet they may need an income. We are here to plug a gap where we can offer them a flexible income and yet utilise their skills they have obtained from the corporate world.” He added that their targeted beneficiaries are those that are “not poor enough” – those that fail means-testing and whom are not adequately supported by existing Government schemes.
Besides helping the seniors get extra income, the GIF e-commerce model looks at helping the VWOs it works with. GIF chief technical officer, Steven Foo, shared that having worked with SMEs, he noticed that most contribute to charities in their own personal capacities, but why not extend it as part of their corporate social responsibility initiatives and getting their staff involved? Marrying these two needs together, the seeds of GIF was planted late last year and launched in September.
The website has four sections. The GIF store is an e-commerce store where customers pre-pay before they get their items which currently includes mostly IT items. The deals that are found on the GIF site can go from 30 percent to 80 percent off the original retailed price. There is also GIF vouchers similar to Groupon (a service which is currently available in Singapore) where customers download the vouchers or bring them up on their mobile devices, however, retailers capture the amount when consumers enter the door so they can capture the amount immediately. The coupons include various discounts or offers from F&B outlets and spas. There is GIF here, a location-based service, where retailers can create promotional campaigns that could be fed to customers’ mobile devices if they are only 1km away; and finally, GIF causes, a store for VWOs to sell their products. This is similar to what NCSS has done on its website listing some VWOs and their various merchandises. According to Loh, the GIF store and vouchers are mainly success-based where nothing is paid to them if nothing is sold.
However, if an item is sold, the payment received is apportioned to the e-payment provider, if any, and the rest divided among GIF, the retailer, the marketer and participating voluntary welfare organisation (VWO) for that sector. Loh shared that about 30 percent to 50 percent of the payment is typically shared between the VWO and marketer. He said, “If the uptake, particularly for the vouchers are a lot, the amount can go up to a couple of thousand. The marketer can do as many deals as possible so the onus will be on him to get the deals. The more quality the deals, the more consumers will purchase the vouchers.”
He added: “Everyone wins including the retailer, consumer and freelance marketer.”
Prior to its launch, there have some setbacks. One of them is finding and training freelance marketers. GIF worked with SAGE on getting seniors. “As the site was yet to launch, the seniors were already acquiring retailers but they couldn’t see the money coming in immediately. Furthermore, the class of 20 marketers that went for training, in the end most of them found full-time jobs. We realised the attrition rate would be high particularly in the start-up phase for a few months. We are scratching our heads on how best to overcome this,” said Loh.
He added that one way could be to give them an advanced allowance or to recruit seniors who already have stable incomes but are looking to add to it. However, the latter would defeat Loh’s original purpose of the social enterprise of helping those in need. “We have lost more than 20 marketers and we are looking for corporate sponsors who might consider sponsoring a group of five to 10 marketers with a monthly allowance. If they are remunerated, they could see the commission and they would stay.” For freelance marketer Goh, GIF provides him with a monthly allowance. From October onwards, he hopes to earn around $1,300 which includes projected commissions from his sales plus his allowance.
Shared GIF’s Loh, “The time a marketer commits to the role depends on his own decision. He can look for his own retailers and not depend on the cold calls. The deal is usually sealed within two visits and their products then are posted online.”
He hopes to groom at least a committed 50 freelance marketers who can earn at least S$1,000 per month, while another 150 doing more irregular deals of one to two per month. Besides SAGE, GIF is working fundraising projects to provide needy seniors living independently with emergency assistance services and are looking for retailers who want to support this cause. In the future, GIF hopes to broaden its VWO reach by looking at other marginalised individuals. Said Loh, “From the lessons that we learn in recruiting the seniors, we will then choose the next group of beneficiaries.”
** The story above has been reprinted with permission from SALT Online, part of the National Volunteer & Philanthropy Centre.