Dishing out dignity
Updated: 2013-04-15 16:33
By Jaime Koh (China Daily)
For Koh Choon Seng, setting up Dignity Kitchen has been challenging and the biggest one which Dignity Kitchen still faces today, is perception. [Photo/China Daily]
Dignity Kitchen provides training to the disabled and the disadvantaged so that they are able to operate food stalls.[Photo/China Daily]
A management consultant and restauranteur, Koh Choon Seng probably never expected Dignity Kitchen to bleed for so long. Despite that, he tells Jaime Koh that he is happy to be able to help the disadvantaged.
Fourteen months into operation, Dignity Kitchen in Singapore is still in the red. Its average monthly loss is a five-figure sum and any other investor or business owner would have shut it down to stem the bleeding. But Dignity Kitchen is not just another food business and its boss, Koh Choon Seng, is not just another businessman.
Dignity Kitchen is a social enterprise first, and business second. The return on investment, for Koh, is not in terms of dollars and cents, but in the progress of his staff and the smiles on the faces of those elderly who come to Dignity Kitchen for their treats.
Dignity Kitchen is a food court management school focusing on the training of the disabled and the disadvantaged to be food stall operators.
Workers and trainees at Dignity Kitchen are considered "unemployable" in the conventional marketplace - the deaf and dumb, the blind, the elderly, those suffering from depression, Down Syndrome and the handicapped. Among Koh's trainees and workers are also those who suffer from Parkinson's Disease and kidney dialysis patients.
It is not easy training these people, Koh admits.
Instructions, standard operating procedures, and rules are all clearly written and displayed all over the work area. This constant visual reminder makes it easier for the trainees and workers to remember, and Koh says it also helps them see the big picture and plan their work for the day.
Koh pairs every disabled trainee and worker with an able-bodied one to help them along. "They won't be able to work on their own otherwise," he says.
Koh himself wears a few hats. In addition to being executive director at Project Dignity Pte Ltd (which runs Dignity Kitchen), Koh is also visiting professor entrepreneurship at S P Jain Center of Management and managing consultant at Christopher Benjamin Consultancy Services.