Valen Tan, Social Gifting, Singapore
PayPal’s Changemakers of Tomorrow series pays tribute to everyday heroes in Singapore who impact society and bring purpose into the lives of Singaporeans.
Social Gifting is a Changemaker that was born out of a wish to make the community a better place. It is a nonprofit founded by Valen Tan and her group of undergraduates from the Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS). It trains older adults, people with disabilities, and other vulnerable groups in how to craft and create unique gifts, empowering them and offering them a livelihood.
Running a nonprofit entity might not be everyone’s cup of tea – but it surely is for Valen Tan, founder of Social Gifting. She works hard, turning part of her home into a craft workshop, sourcing scrap materials, finding and training crafters, making home deliveries, as well as managing volunteers and beneficiaries. She strives to create a community bound by crafting to enable, impact, and enrich the lives of many Singaporeans.
Caring for the emotional needs of crafters and concurrently managing a large team of student volunteers is no small feat. Valen and her team regularly reach out to residents in various neighborhoods to inspire them to become a part of this initiative. Many older adults live alone and struggle to find employment. Some have lost their jobs due to the pandemic, while others have lost purpose and zest due to the isolation.
In addition to older people, Social Gifting also empowers crafters with disabilities, individuals with illness such as cancer, and other vulnerable groups to find purpose in their lives. Members of the team personally visit their households to inspire, motivate, and help them earn a new source of income.
They train crafters to turn scrap fabrics into crafts like bags, pouches, keyrings, charms, masks, and hair clips. Social Gifting provides them with tools such as sewing machines, needles, threadwork, and more. The crafters produced around 10,000 masks last year, which were sent to MWC (Migrant Workers’ Centre), migrant dorms, and assisted-care homes. Another bestseller among Singaporeans are crochet items. Affordable crochet crafts are a rare find in Singapore – recently, the crafters made around 600 pieces that sold out quickly.
The beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic was an exceptionally challenging period for Social Gifting, as it was for many other businesses in Singapore. The uncertain economic climate made Singaporeans more hesitant to spend. As a result, sales dropped significantly. However, instead of succumbing to the challenges, Valen became more creative in her approach towards producing and selling crafts. Prior to the pandemic, Social Gifting relied on roadshows and pop-up shops, which used to bring in an influx of sales. With social-distancing measures in play, Social Gifting partnered with GiftBack vending machines located in various parts of Singapore to dispense gifts. Crafting sessions were also done online. As crafters worked remotely, student volunteers leveraged platforms like Zoom, WhatsApp, and YouTube to assist crafters virtually.
Valen has attributed the survival of Social Gifting to opportunities presented by PayPal, which helped open the doors to corporate clients. Social Gifting initially catered to shoppers, who on average bought two to three items with each transaction. At that rate, it was difficult for the initiative to scale. However, incoming corporate orders have taken sales and the enthusiasm for the crafters to a new level.
PayPal’s merchant solutions helped Social Gifting transition to a newly optimized website for a seamless customer experience. Social Gifting had an extensive and diverse range of product categories (SKUs) which was becoming challenging to manage. Thankfully, the PayPal team that helped with the website transition also instated a systematic process to manage and classify inventory.
Valen hopes that Social Gifting will leave a mark on those who have been part of this initiative – including her three children. Prior to the pandemic, she used to take them crafting so that they could interact with the older crafters; today, she takes them along for gift deliveries.
“This is their opportunity to learn empathy and understand that there are different people with different needs,” she said. “Today’s generation is very used to seeing everything from their point of view; this exposure will help broaden their horizons and have a different perspective”.
Valen strongly urges entrepreneurs to stay focused and motivated, as well as remembering that giving back to the community is not just for personal satisfaction but also to protect and assist those in need.
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