PEOPLE WITH disabilities in Singapore no longer need have concerns about their future thanks to the hiring practices of a social enterprise running a Thai restaurant in the heart of the city where individuals with disability comprise 90 per cent of its workforce.
Daniel Teh, founder and executive director of Pope Jai Pte Ltd, told a group of Asean journalists who joined the Singapore International Foundation’s multilateral journalist programme last week, that he would like to prove that disabled people are capable of doing great work, if properly trained.
“There is so much discrimination in society, whether it is in a corporate or a smaller company. They [the disabled] usually face discrimination almost everywhere. I do not want them to get depressed,” he said.
In this respect, Teh has been hiring people with disabilities since he first entered the food industry by opening a small coffee shop in Chinatown seven years ago. The business gradually grew enough to become a good dining restaurant. He had to shift to Serangoon, as the building had to tear down. There, he facedhigh rental fees, which led to the relocation of his restaurant to the current venue on Orchard Road.
“I started with only $3,000 Singapore dollars (Bt71,964) in 2011. We have enjoyed a gradual growth over the past seven years, employing more people every year,” he said.
Teh said the enterprise has practised the “Never stop hiring” policy since the very first day of commercial operations.
“I do not want to turn away anyone as long as they are ready to help us. I will offer them (the disabled) a job. No interview is required. As they have different conditions that I might not be aware of, the best way is to give them a try here,” he said.
“By doing so, I can see their strengths and weaknesses as well as attitudes and behaviour. It tells you everything. A resume cannot tell you everything because it can be well-planned.” According to Teh, proper training is usually provided with a major focus on the strengths of an individual. Teh capitalises on what the disabled can do, and trains them to better serve the consumers.
“We train them to be independent. There are three things we are very much focused on – accountability, ownership and bonding. We have to be sincere with them so they are able to sense your sincerity, and understand how things are being run,” he said.
Teh confessed that he was once a troubled youngster but had turned his life around.
“Many years ago, I myself created a lot of issues in the community. Later, it came to a point where I could do something meaningful with my life. My aim here is to solve the ecosystem that could create jobs for disabled people to be a part of your workforce because I employ them and now my business is valued at $400,000 (Bt9.57million),” he said.”
“It is a business. So, we cannot afford to be a sheltered workshop. What we want is to fill the gap and to allow them to be independent so they are able to take care of themselves.”
Currently, the enterprise employs around 30 people with disabilities, and plans to hire more in the months to come. Teh takes pride in the gradual growth of his restaurant – the first of its kind in Singapore that allows disabled people to serve the clients.
“I did not know what a social enterprise was until four years ago. When it comes to business, the very first thing that comes to my mind is that I need to earn money. If I do not have money, I cannot help them. All the income comes from my consumers. They are the ones who help us to do it,” he said. “A lot of people think social causes means doing charity. But that is not the case. You can employ them and they will be part of your team.”