Tucked away in the quiet neighbourhood of Kreta Ayer, an unassuming café buzzes with life. From selling eco-friendly ware to reaching out to individuals from challenging backgrounds, The Social Space is about making a positive impact on both people and planet.
“We chose Kreta Ayer as it has a good mix of tourists and residents, a balance between the heartland and the city” says Cheryl and Daniel, founders of The Social Space. “This diversity helps us with reaching out to different groups of consumers.”
“We’re also quite familiar with the neighbourhood as we live around the vicinity. In fact, we cycle to work daily, to reduce our carbon footprint,” Cheryl shares.
We find out from Cheryl and Daniel the motivation behind their social enterprise and how the multi-concept space plans to give back to society.
Hello Daniel and Cheryl, tell us about yourselves!
Cheryl: I started my first social enterprise 5 years ago with The Nail Social, a nail salon that provides vocational and employment opportunities for marginalised women. Since then, I’ve dedicated myself to creating meaningful companies that inspire and drive social change in our community – including The Social Space.
Daniel: Growing up, I was inspired by my mother – a volunteer counsellor at Changi Women’s Prison and Director of Turning Point, a community dedicated to helping marginalised women. Cheryl is a social entrepreneur and encourages me to be more active in the social enterprise community. In my previous job based overseas, I encountered issues such as the wide income disparity and plastic pollution. So when the opportunity to establish The Social Space with Cheryl came, I jumped on it.
What was the inspiration behind The Social Space?
Cheryl: The quality of socially-conscious products and services is generally assumed to be subpar. However, social enterprises today offer products and services that are of good quality. To raise public awareness, Daniel and I decided to create a space for the public to discover unique, well-designed and socially-conscious products.
In addition, The Social Space acts as a safe training space for students from schools such as Association for Persons with Special Needs (APSN) to be employment-ready. We offer temporary attachments to Movement for the Intellectually Disabled (MINDS) students who’re interested in working in the F&B industry.
Cheryl: By equipping individuals with vocational skills, employment opportunities, and a stable income, our hope is for our team members to be independent and capable of supporting themselves and their family. We also aim to provide them with a safe space by embracing their differences and creating a network of support.
Daniel: Both Cheryl and I truly believe that it is possible to build a profitable business that makes a difference. Through this, we also hope to inspire other business owners to do the same. Caring for the environment and the community goes hand in hand!
Tell us more about your team!
Cheryl: 90% of our team come from challenging backgrounds. The Social Space does not focus on a particular group and provides opportunities for everyone. This is reflected in our current team which comprises single mothers, at-risk youths, ex-offenders, ex-drug addicts, persons with special needs, learning disabilities or physical disabilities. Having a diverse team allows us to better understand each other’s challenges and needs.
Like us, some of our employees live around the neighbourhood. We also work closely with the Social Service Office at Kreta Ayer. Together, we hope to serve the needs of the residents, especially those with challenging backgrounds.
Who is the longest serving employee?
Cheryl: Our longest serving employee is a 43-year old lady who suffers from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). She was let go from her previous job due to a relapse and joined us as one of our first few hires. She currently undergoes intensive therapy at the Institute of Mental Health and we work closely with the institution to assist her recovery journey.
When she first joined the team, she was hesitant to interact with the customers. Today, she is well-skilled in every aspect of our operations, including cashiering and customer service – she even assists with training the new employees!
Our team is like family – in addition to providing employment opportunities, we look out for them and ensure their well-being.
What are some of the challenges you’ve faced?
Cheryl: One of the challenges we face is with customers who lack understanding and empathy towards our employees. As some of of our employees struggle with confidence and anxiety, unkind words and attitudes can have an adverse impact on our team.
What are some of the most memorable moments at The Social Space?
Cheryl: We’d been planning the business for over a year while facing various challenges. The Social Space is a cause we’re passionate about and have worked hard for, but we were worried it wasn’t good enough. One particularly memorable moment was during the second weekend of our opening, when we had to manage a full house of customers with more waiting in line. It was a great challenge, but all of us in the team couldn’t help but exchange smiles because we knew then that our hard work had paid off.