Pilot project funded by SIMPDF facilitates mom-and-pop shops to go digital

12 Jan 2022

5 mins read

Heartland business owners can look forward to receiving regular support from youths to set up and manage their shops so as to conduct e-commerce. Under the initiative iShop@heartlands mooted and funded by the SIM People Development Fund (SIMPDF), youths are trained and provided with an internship stipend to carry out e-commerce tasks on behalf of heartland shop owners.

The pilot project, which kick-started in Boon Lay, was officially launched on Sunday, 9 January, by Mr Desmond Lee, Minister for National Development who is also Minister-in-charge of Social Services Integration and Member of Parliament for West Coast GRC. This initiative was organised in partnership with the Boon Lay Merchants Association, youth community organisation Belanja Singapore, and Heartland Enterprise Centre Singapore (HECS).

(From left to right) Mr Seah Chin Siong, Vice-Chairman, SIMPDF Board of Directors; Mr Yeo Hiang Meng, President,
Federation of Merchants’ Association of Singapore; Mr Desmond Lee, Minister for National Development;
Mr Kuek Chiew Peng, Chairperson, Boon Lay Merchants Association and Board Member, HECS; and
Mr Tay Sar Thor, Vice-Chairperson, Boon Lay Merchants Association, gathered at the Boon Lay Shopping Centre
for the official launch of iShop@heartlands.

As a pilot, the iShop@heartlands project targets to bring onboard ten businesses out of the 107 shops located at the Boon Lay Shopping Centre. Five youths who are mainly Boon Lay residents with relevant work experience have been onboarded through Belanja Singapore. They have been trained in e-commerce competencies as well as communications and interpersonal skills. The youths are assigned to shops to carry out the full suite of tasks from setting up the e-commerce account to marketing, managing orders, inventories and finances, as well as coordinating deliveries.

Mr Desmond Lee handed out a wobbler to the owner of Peti Sejuk, a halal frozen food store, to signify her
participation in the iShop@heartlands project.

While they are not expected to perform the tasks themselves, the business owners can look forward to picking up basic e-commerce competencies from working alongside the youths. Likewise, the youths can expect to learn firsthand from the shop owners how to run a business. The youths would also appreciate that while going digital is critical in today’s context, there are other success factors such as life skills and soft skills which are better acquired through age and experience instead of the classroom.

Mr Desmond Lee said: “This pilot project will connect heartland business owners with youth interns, so that they can work together and learn from each other – the business owners can get support in building their digital capabilities to grow their businesses, while the youths can learn more about how to run a business and improve their interpersonal skills. This initiative is a good example of how heartland shops can play a role in forging stronger bonds between Singaporeans of different generations and backgrounds, while serving the needs of residents. The Ministry of National Development and Housing & Development Board will soon embark on a public engagement exercise to study how we can revitalise our heartland shops to help them stay vibrant and relevant to meet their community’s evolving needs. We hope many Singaporeans will participate in this exercise and we look forward to hearing their views and ideas.”

Mr Desmond Lee spoke with the business owner’s son (centre) from Mong Lee Enterprise as well as a youth intern.
The iShop@heartlands initiative is a win-win for both the shop owners and youths as they get to
learn from one another during the project duration.

Mrs Lim Hwee Hua, Chairman of the SIMPDF Board of Directors, said: “Mom-and-pop shops are an endearing part of our way of life in Singapore. But to survive, the shop owners need to understand and participate in e-commerce. The youths who are usually more digitally savvy can therefore lend support to these shop owners, especially those who may feel uncomfortable with digitalisation. We hope that the residents of Boon Lay would also support their very own neighbourhood retailers who may not be able to compete with the established retailers on price points but can more than make up with their friendly and faster-to-deliver services.”

Mr Yeo Hiang Meng said: “We are glad to be part of this initiative in Boon Lay, where merchants and youths alike can work together to learn invaluable skills from each other. The heartland shops can rest assured they have various avenues to build and generate more revenue for their businesses. We hope this pilot programme can be replicated to other precincts as well."

(From left to right) Mr Desmond Lee pictured here with Mr Yeo, the business owner of Peti Sejuk and her
daughter, as well as two youth interns. The iShop@heartlands project aims to benefit the community as a
whole through building a stronger gotong-royong spirit. The pilot project takes one year, and can be scaled up,
if successful, to benefit more heartland shop owners at Boon Lay and other constituencies.

Ms Cheryl Tan, one of the interns and also a resident of Boon Lay, said: “The launch of this project will open many doors not only for business owners but also residents. With the aim to enhance the landscape of the heartland businesses by including the element of digitalisation, these businesses will greatly benefit as they will be able to reach a wider audience outside of Boon Lay."

Mr Desmond Lee conversed with Mr Xavier Yeo (centre), owner of PROTECH, a one-stop computer retail and
services shop, and his assistant. Mr Yeo, who is participating in iShop@Heartlands, views the project as timely as
the youths will provide him with the additional manpower resource to manage and improve his
business’ e-commerce account. He hopes to be able to share his entrepreneurship experience with the
youths to help them gain some real-world business know-how.

SIMPDF was set up in 2020, as part of SIM’s social mission, to support Singaporeans in realising their career potential through lifelong learning pathways and experiences. Its purpose is to enable Singaporeans to participate in the ever-changing marketplace by realising the potential of their life skills through providing them with access to the pathways. As an Institution of a Public Character (IPC), donors are given tax deduction for donations made to SIMPDF.