Boss' mission is to create employment

PHOTO: Boss' mission is to create employment
Mr Lim (above) is CEO of Bizlink, one of four social enterprises showcased at DBS' Social Enterprise Exchange

Bosses are not pleased when their staff get poached by rival firms but Bizlink chief executive Alvin Lim could not be happier when it happens to his employees.

Bizlink is a non-profit organisation that trains beneficiaries to become highly-skilled workers, so getting poached is a sign the firm is doing something right.

Its motto is enabling people through employment - something it strives to do by providing job assessment services for the disabled and disadvantaged groups.

It also recognises that it is not possible to place all the beneficiaries with external employers.

"We find that many of them cannot be productive enough for employers outside to hire... we have found that it is better for us to create some form of sheltered employment," said Mr Lim, 51.

Employment serves a dual purpose for Bizlink, raising funds and helping to empower beneficiaries.

"While work for the beneficiaries is a source of income, it also gives them dignity. The dignity of not just receiving a handout," said Mr Lim, who added that the average monthly salary of a beneficiary employed by Bizlink is between $700 and $800.

He also noted that work can serve as a form of therapy for people who have undergone traumatic life experiences, or who might otherwise suffer from loneliness and depression.

Mr Lee Min Wu, 58, a line supervisor on Bizlink's production floor, agreed.

The former businessman started working at Bizlink after suffering several major health problems.

"When I didn't work, I was at home at the time and it felt like my life had no meaning or purpose," said Mr Lee in Mandarin.

He added that working at Bizlink has given him a new lease of life, and he has even managed to find love after meeting his wife at work.

Mr Lim said the push towards creating a more business-centric organisation started when he joined the company seven years ago.

"When I came on board, the charity element was there but the business components were very much at an infancy stage and quite a lot of what we were doing were money-losing businesses.

"Coming into Bizlink after working for a (multinational corporation), I had the mindset that the businesses had to be profitable in order to be sustainable."

In the restructure that followed, loss-making services such as custom printing of T-shirts and mugs were scrapped.

Bizlink employs 165 beneficiaries, including mentally and physically disabled people, former convicts, single mothers and disadvantaged elderly people.

It offers a variety of services such as cleaning, data entry and greeting card design. These enterprises pulled in revenue of about $1.45million last year.

"My primary mission is to create employment... so long as I create employment, it doesn't matter what type of business I'm engaged in," said Mr Lim.

The company is game to explore new ventures but Mr Lim said it still prefers testing out options before jumping in.

He recounted how Bizlink had started a project selling cookies with the support of food and beverage operator Han's.

Encouraged by the project's success, Bizlink successfully tendered for the lease to run a commercial bakery at the Institute of Mental Health.

The bakery, which is slated to open early next year, aims to provide flexible shift-work options for beneficiaries.

DBS Bank is helping to finance the start-up costs with a grant of $100,000. Bizlink was one of four social enterprises showcased at the bank's recent Social Enterprise Exchange.

"Bizlink is a pioneer in developing social enterprises to help disadvantaged individuals achieve independence through work integration," said head of SME banking at DBS Bank, Mr Lim Chu Chong.

"The new bakery social enterprise they are setting up is expected to create more than 100 job opportunities for beneficiaries over the next five years, and DBS is pleased to play a part in making this project a reality."

Bizlink's Mr Lim says the partnership with DBS has the potential to benefit Bizlink's expansion plans.

"I'm looking at the possibility of collaborating with social enterprises in Taiwan and China... DBS, with its SME banking service and with its regional footprint, can hopefully be our banker and help facilitate these partnerships when the time comes."

Aside from regional tie-ups, Bizlink's Mr Lim hopes to reach out to more people over the next three years, aiming to oversee a team of 1,000 beneficiaries and qualified professionals by 2016.

"There's a group of people in their mid-40s or older, very skilled, but somehow... they fall through the cracks," he said.

"I would like to encourage them to come to Bizlink, take their skills and experiences and, in their second phase of life, to come join me. I'd be happy to create new businesses with them."