How We Started
Although established in 2010, our story actually started in 2005. Project Dignity founder Seng Choon met Tony (in picture), a polio survivor who dreamt of becoming a chef. Tony, however, thought it was impossible with just one functional hand. No employers were willing to hire him too.
It was then when Seng Choon met Hiok Keat (Project Dignity's former General Manager), an accountant by training who was then running his own themed cafe at Armenian Street.
The two would meet every Sunday while waiting for their sons to finish classes and talk about their vision of opening up a hawker training school for the disabled, wondering why nobody in Singapore was doing it.
Why Project Dignity?
Since day one, our mission has been to restore dignity to the differently-abled and disadvantaged through vocation with passion.
We provide sponsored training for unemployed adults with special needs and place them with our employment partners within the F&B, hospitality and retail sectors. We also hire some of our graduates at our food court and book retail stores.
Project Dignity - Version 1
We started our first venture in 2010, Dignity Kitchen™, at Balestier Road. The premise? A food court run by people with disabilities (physical and intellectual) and disadvantaged (social and mental). We test-bedded the concept with just 3 stalls but faced a lot of challenges in the process. Social enterprise was not a known business model then and customers asked us if they will "die from eating the food". Yet we continued to experiment with:
- Training a visually challenged individual to be a cashier
- Training a hearing impaired individual to take food orders
We also started lunch treats for the elderly, bringing them out from nursing homes and serving them a meal sponsored by companies or individuals.
Project Dignity - Version 2
Around 2011, we moved to Kaki Bukit View with 14 stalls. This was the implementation stage - although the business was still operating at a loss, we never lost sight of our mission:
- We started our second social venture, Dignity Mama - a retail store concept selling upcycled items and secondhand books. The platform enables mothers with intellectually challenged youths to run a small business while accommodating to their personal needs
- Strengthening our Train-and-Place programme based on Universal Design for Learning and Singapore's WSQ F&B framework
- We also continued to innovate like introducing a one-hand noodle cooking equipment and a pictorial point-of-sale machine.
By 2015, raiseSG was established, and when we were conferred Social Enterprise of the Year at Singapore's first social enterprise awards, we started getting more publicity among local and international media. Singaporeans started to support us.
Project ˈpɹɒdʒɛkt (noun)
Because every individual we train is a serious project we invest our time and resources in. Similarly, the company is constantly in beta, moving through four distinct phases. From the first stage of creation at Balestier Road, to the second stage of innovating and implementing at Kaki Bukit to the third stage of sustaining at Serangoon. Our next stage is scale.
Project prə-jĕkt (verb)
We want every person who walks out of here to project a sense of dignity through earning an honest living. We empower them with skills, employment and most of all, provide them the opportunity to be a productive member of society. This is the reason we are set up as a business entity with a social mission instead of a charitable foundation.
The Dignity Brand - Over The Years
We have come a long way since we started 10 years ago. The journey was full of ups and downs, some wins and some losses.
The Dignity Brand - Looking Forward
As we head into the next 10 years, we are striving towards greater consistency and clarity in how we communicate our impact. Along with a refreshed website, you may have noticed that we have also upgraded the look and feel of our visual identity. Keep your eyes peeled for our new blog to find out why we kept the hands in our logo!
Our Social Business Model
All four ventures are aimed at strengthening our capabilities in skills training, placement and employment within the F&B and retail sector as well as achieving greater integration and inclusion.
Dignity Learn, an inclusive training centre, provides WSQ and SkillsFuture eligible hawker culinary courses for the public. We also run a 22-day Train-and-Place programme for adults with special needs seeking employment.
Dignity Kitchen is where we operate an air-conditioned food court as well as food delivery service. Currently situated in Serangoon, the 7 stalls are manned by the differently-abled and disadvantaged. We provide lunch treats for the elderly from nursing homes across Singapore every day.
Dignity Mama stores are retail book stores selling upcycled, unwanted books. They are located in local hospitals and are managed by caregivers together with young adults with special needs.
Dignity Outreach combines team bonding with impact, offering corporate and government entities an avenue to engage in corporate citizenship while achieving team building objectives. At the same time, it accelerates our goal of social inclusion and integration with marginalised communities.
Our profits are channeled back into the Train-and-Place programme as well as lunch treats on days there are no sponsors. The rest are invested in solutions that enable us to provide better services as well as reduce operational costs.
Our Business Philosophy
- We firmly believe in our mission "to restore dignity to the disabled and disadvantaged through vocation with passion". Everything we have done since day 1 is guided by this.
- Because of the audacity of our mission as well as breadth of disabilities and disadvantaged groups we work with, fear of failure is not baked into our culture.
Our Partnership Philosophy
- We believe in building meaningful tri-sector partnerships and creating a culture of support that rejuvenates the community around us.
- From our placement partners and senior activity centres to our food suppliers and our long term event clients, it truly takes a lot of collaboration with NGOs, government and private sector.
Our Employment Philosophy
- It’s not just training and placement of our trainees we invest in.
- We also believe in setting an example for other businesses to be inclusive by employing some of our trainees. It’s all about adopting certain changes and a shift in mindset.
- About 60% of the full-time staff we employ are physically challenged and disadvantaged.
Achieving over $7 million in impact
3 in 4 trainees placed with our employment partners
Recent controversies about social enterprise have prompted us to rethink these key values: authenticity, transparency and accountability. This is why we want you to know how you're really contributing. Accurate as of July 2019*
*Based on CPF contributions for trainees we have placed with our employment partners as well as those we employ in Dignity Kitchen and Dignity Mama. If you're someone who is good with data and want to use it for social good, please drop us an email at email@example.com
It is a platform that Singaporeans (and even foreign visitors) understand. Everybody from all walks of life and backgrounds are welcome. This makes achieving integration and inclusion much easier.
From a training and placement perspective, there are also lower barriers to entry compared to restaurants. Most stall owners also specialise one dish. We just had to come up with a system for each hawker and adapt some of the equipment to cater to their needs. We have a one-hand noodle cooking machine, Braille cash registers and worktops that are height-adjustable.
From a business point of view, food is also an industry that is constantly evolving. With the development of enabling technologies, implementing cost-effective solutions and user-friendly design, we believe that there is a lot we can do.
About the Founder
Our founder, Koh Seng Choon, grew up in Singapore and lived here for several years before earning advanced degrees in business and international studies overseas.
Despite coming from a humble background, Seng Choon achieved success and when he came back to Singapore in the mid-90s, he set up his own consultancy business helping SMEs break into foreign markets.
At the same time, he wanted to give back to the community. This started with the occasional volunteering including conducting entrepreneurship classes for prison inmates. Seeing the plight of those in abject poverty, he felt there was a more sustainable way to solve this problem besides donating time and money.
A full-fledged foodie (like most Singaporeans), Seng Choon decided to merge his love for food with a poverty-fighting business model. Project Dignity, one of Singapore’s early social enterprises, began operations with its first initiative, Dignity Kitchen™ . There were only 2 people.
10 years on, the social enterprise has now grown to a 56-strong team of full time staff, 60% of whom are from marginalised communities.
For the full story, go here.
Frequently Asked Questions
No we are a social enterprise; but we understand why it's easy to confuse the two. There are now many definitions of what a social enterprise (SE) is due to differences in regulations, policies and governments around the world. We think that it’s a good thing because it shows that there is a lot more awareness about conscious business; but with more people who have a stake in defining what a social enterprise is, there is also a lot of ambiguity.
In Singapore, all social enterprises have to be registered with raiSE, which defines SEs as business entities set up with clear social goals; and where there is clear management intent and resources allocated to fulfill social objectives.
Project Dignity is also registered as a private limited entity with ACRA.
Dignity Learn is an Approved Training Organisation.
Dignity Kitchen is ISO22000-certified and halal-certified
Absolutely! Our operating hours are stated at the bottom of this page.
The best way to reach us is via our general email. For other products and services, please fill in the forms so that your request reaches the respective teams more quickly.
Alternatively, you could send us a private message on Facebook @proj.dignity for Dignity Learn, Kitchen and Outreach queries. For all Dignity Mama stores, @dignitymama.
The nature of what we do means we do take some time to reply during our hours of operation. If you can provide us with as much information, we would appreciate it as it enables us to respond to your queries swiftly. (PS: we know there're chatbots but where's the dignity in that)