Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Aspiring teen social entrepreneurs raise $20,000 for charity


For teenagers Zhao Dian (pronounced Di An), Wang Zhe, Vanessa Goh and Lin Yeqing, the chance to gain first-hand experience in a social enterprise and organising their very own community involvement project (CIP) prompted them to join Citi-YMCA Youth For Causes.

Naming themselves Spectrum, the team comprising students from Victoria Junior College and Temasek Junior College exercised their entrepreneurial spirit to develop and implement a business plan to raise funds for their adopted charity, Club Rainbow which provides comprehensive help to children and youth who suffer from chronic and potentially life-threatening illnesses.

“Citi-YMCA Youth For Causes provided us an invaluable opportunity to start a social enterprise and further our efforts in volunteerism,” said team leader Dian. “The idea of implementing our own CIP is challenging, but attractive and gave us a great sense of achievement.”

Dian says that their team name was inspired by their chosen charity as “rainbows, widely regarded as symbols of hope, feature a continuous spectrum of colours.” It also symbolises the team’s desire to organise a variety of activities to raise funds and awareness for the beneficiaries of Club Rainbow.

Between May and September this year, the team mobilised a total of 120 volunteers to publicise their cause and sell customised rubber wristbands, balloons, T-shirts and toys at various locations islandwide.

“Our business plan was based on three tenets: recruit quality volunteers, widen our outreach and minimise cost,” elaborated Dian. “During the process, we learnt to strike a balance between our targets and reality; we experienced how to arrange logistics, solicit for sponsorships, manage volunteers and learnt the importance of communication.”

To boost their resources, Spectrum ingeniously tapped on their wide network of local and overseas contacts. They had used their “existing network of friends, relatives and schoolmates to reach out to more possibilities of cooperation.”

To reduce our cost and utilise our advantage of having overseas contacts, we secured a toy company in China as our sponsor,” elaborated Dian. “This approach proved effective and enabled us to gain significant profits from selling a wide variety of nice toys at reasonable prices.”

Spectrum’s resourcefulness did not just end there; with a unique strategy, the team also managed to avoid direct competition for sales with the 99 other teams.

“To get more opportunities to publicise our cause, we contacted People’s Association (PA), which provided us with a list of PA events for us to join,” explained Dian. “Since we were the only group who participated in these events, we were able to avoid fierce competition with other teams and thus, maximise our revenue.”

Spectrum’s innovative approach paid dividends as they managed to raise more than $20,000, nearly 13 times the amount of seed funding allocated to each of the 100 participating teams.

Over the course of Spectrum’s social entrepreneurship project, they were mentored by Mr Sanjay Balaji Shankaran, Assistant Vice President from Citibank whose main objective was to “sharpen” the team’s ideas.

“Whenever the team came up with a new idea for driving revenue or raising awareness, I would put forth different aspects and possibilities to them and get them to respond to all of them,” said Mr Sanjay. “That way, the whole development was the team’s brain child, and they were exposed to real time situations which they need to tackle whilst planning for executing their plans.”

Organised for the 11th year running, the Citi-YMCA Youth for Causes programme is a community initiative jointly organised by Citi Singapore and the YMCA of Singapore. Funded by Citi Foundation, the programme is a catalyst for social entrepreneurship and community leadership development among Singapore youths. It provides youths aged 13 to 25 with seed funding, resources and guidance of selected mentors, to execute sustainable social entrepreneurship ideas and business models that benefit and support Voluntary Welfare Organisations (VWOs) of their choice

Mr Stephen Loh, President, YMCA of Singapore, describes the programme as “a fertile ground to plant the seeds of entrepreneurship and nurture the growth of responsible and impactful community champions.” 

“Citi-YMCA Youth For Causes provides youth with the opportunity to be exposed to positive values-in-action, learn about resource management and servant leadership, and be equipped with entrepreneurial skills,” reinforced Mr Loh.

Teo Mui Eng, Chief Financial Officer, Citi Singapore, said, “Citi is honoured to be a part of this meaningful programme and partner YMCA to develop social consciousness and community leadership amongst youth in Singapore. Our support goes beyond the funding from Citi Foundation as our employees are encouraged to contribute their time as volunteers to the programme. Our senior management endorses the programme by serving as committee members or judges on the selection panels. Every year, we also have up to 50 of our colleagues who volunteer as mentors to the youth teams.”

In recognition of Spectrum’s outstanding efforts in mobilising resources to further their cause, they received the ‘Most Promising Entrepreneur’ award at the Citi-YMCA Youth For Causes 2013 Awards Celebration on 19 November. Madam Halimah Yacob, Speaker of Parliament graced the occasion as the Guest-of-Honour.

A total of nine awards were presented this year and the winners are as follows:

Best Team Award (Category A)
Best Team Award (Category B)
Team K.I.T
Fund Management Award
Volunteer Management Award
Public Outreach Award
Team K.I.T
Most Promising Entrepreneur Award
Best Mentor Award
Mr Tew Ming Wei
Most Supportive VWO Award
Lions Club of Singapore Goodwood
Most Supportive School Award
Hwa Chong Institution
Teams were assessed by their mentors and two judging panels; the Citi-YMCA YFC Judging Panel assessed teams on project implementation, volunteer management and public outreach, whilst the Citi-YMCA YFC Secretariat appraised the teams’ fund management, training and enrichment and timeliness of report updates.

Asked which aspect of their project contributed to their win, Dian said that their unique sponsorship arrangements and wide variety of sales events were crucial to their success.

“We definitely feel honoured to win the Most Promising Entrepreneur Award and to have our efforts recognised,” said Dian. “All the work we have done for the past
15 weeks has boosted our confidence in starting our own business. It has also given us more insight on entrepreneurship and serves as precious experience that can guide us in the future.”

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