Giving women a leg up to run home food businesses

Ms Samantha Kwan helped five mothers, including Madam Siti Khadijah (right), launch home businesses. She set up an order platform, managed deliveries and got a friend to create visual assets such as photos and videos that could be used on social media.PHOTO: COURTESY OF SAMANTHA KWAN

"I believe it is only just and equitable to use our privilege to help others with less."

Madam Siti Khadijah, who goes by Ijah, knew she was a good cook.

The 29-year-old mother of four had long dreamt of running her own business and even knew what she wanted to sell - poprolls, or frozen popiah rolls with carbonara, satay and rendang fillings, a convenient meal for other busy mothers.

But the obstacles always seemed too great. While pregnant with her youngest child last year, Madam Ijah was not sure if she could cope with the additional workload.

And although her cooking was well-loved by the family, she did not know if the public would like it as much.

Meeting Ms Samantha Kwan, 31, gave her the boost of confidence she needed. Ms Kwan, who works in marketing at Facebook, got to know Madam Ijah while volunteering with ReadAble, an organisation that teaches and mentors children in the Jalan Kukoh area, with a focus on literacy skills.

Located near Chinatown, the neighbourhood is largely made up of rental flats and is known as a low-income community.

In April, Ms Kwan roped in five mothers in the neighbourhood and helped them launch home businesses as part of an initiative she termed Project Cookoh.

She set up an order platform, managed deliveries, helped source ingredients and got a friend to create visual assets such as photos and videos in various formats that the women could use to market their products on the social media pages she created for them.

Ms Kwan did most of the heavy lifting at first. But the women, mostly in their late 20s, learnt the ropes quickly. "I just see myself as helping to kick-start something they have been thinking about, and don't know where and how to begin," she says.

She adds that it was good timing, as some families' finances had been affected by circuit breaker measures and working from home gave mothers the flexibility to care for their children while earning some extra income.

For Madam Ijah, running her own business is tiring but worthwhile.

She makes the popiah rolls about four times a week, starting at about 9pm once her children are asleep, and working till about 4.30am.

After a short nap, she is up again to prepare food for her husband, a 34-year-old security officer, to take to work. In the day, she catches precious shut-eye when her children, aged between six months and six years old, nap.

Selling the items under the brand Lady's FoodIcon (str.sg/Jedi), she has earned about $800 over the past two months. This goes towards helping her husband with the household bills, and the occasional treat for herself and the family, such as ice cream or dessert.

Just as rewarding is her sense of accomplishment. "Even though it is hard, I am working for myself, so I am happy," she says.

With Project Cookoh's businesses off the ground, Ms Kwan's priority is to keep them running sustainably. This means guiding the women to handle orders and deliveries on their own.

She also wants to rope in friends to run a workshop on basic accounting, social media marketing and simple food photography to equip the women with skills to run their home-based business.

All these are ways to redistribute resources and provide them with access to knowledge, she says.

Ms Kwan adds: "I believe it is only just and equitable to use our privilege to help others with less."

About the series

This series is in collaboration with The Sunday Times to showcase people in Singapore who have come together to uplift the community in these trying times.