Giving back to society while growing business overseas

by SMEhorizon

Founded in 2018, Social Gifting was established to empower differently-abled individuals and seniors through crafting, in hopes of helping them reintegrate back into society. Yet while the social enterprise provided much needed support for these individuals, its own survival as an organisation was tested during the onset of the pandemic.

Fortunately, working with PayPal and developing their e-commerce capabilities meant that they were able to access new opportunities that helped them survive, and even expanded their operations abroad.

SMEhorizon speaks with Valen Tan, Founder & Chief Empowerment Officer on her company’s founding, the challenges they have faced since the onset of the pandemic, and how e-commerce has opened new doors for them. Rakesh Krishnamuti, Director of Enterprise Sales, PayPal, also shares how the COVID-19 pandemic has offered a silver lining for SMEs in Singapore in terms of the e-commerce boom, and how organisations like Social Gifting can leverage it to expand further ashore.

Championing the vulnerable

During a career break in 2018 to help her children cope better with school, Valen wanted to continue giving back to society in a manner that champions the vulnerable. “Through conducting in-depth market research, gaps on the ground were identified surrounding individuals who are isolated and fighting behind closed doors,” she says.

“These individuals are unable to find employment due to physical constraints or caregiving duties and experience social disconnectedness.”

Social Gifting was established to empower the differently-abled individuals and seniors through crafting, in hopes of helping them reintegrate back into society. Many of these individuals were not only isolated, but lost their jobs when the pandemic started and the initiative helped to create job opportunities for them as well,” says Valen.

Beyond the financial support the company offers to its crafters, the skill also provides intangible – and equally important – benefits in terms of enhanced self-esteem, strengthened fine motor skills, and increased relaxation and calmness.

“The benefits of crafting extend to improving the crafters’ mental well-being, relieving stress and it allows them to build on their strengths to find meaning and purpose in their lives,” she says.  

Facing the woes of the pandemic

The support offered by Social Gifting was invaluable during the pandemic. Yet as an organisation, they themselves were not immune to its effects. “Pre-Covid, Social Gifting relied on events, roadshows, and pop-up shops pre-pandemic,” shares Valen.

“However, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit us, the uncertain economic climate made shoppers more hesitant to spend, and sales dropped significantly. Additionally, with the increase in unemployment, we had more crafters onboard our platform.

“Though the number of crafters increased, the demand and sale of products declined; hence the pandemic presented a challenging period for Social Gifting.”

Such issues will be familiar to many SMEs who have also had to face major disruptions to their operations and strategy. Yet, as Rakesh observes, while the pandemic has brought about a series of restrictions that impacted the bottom line of many SMEs, “many leveraged on the global e-commerce boom as a platform to navigate through these unprecedented challenges – not only to survive, but also thrive.”

Indeed, PayPal’s Singapore Online SME survey 2021 showed that 43% of online SMEs in Singapore did not see a negative impact from the pandemic. “That is because, explains Rakesh, “while consumers were shopping online even before the pandemic, stay-home mandates suddenly made e-commerce a necessity – from groceries to clothing, bulky furniture and even luxury products.”

“With increased social media consumption combined with stay-home restrictions, the perfect conditions for a social shopping phenomenon emerged. This sentiment was echoed in our survey where social media emerged as the number one way to grow a business during the pandemic – with 53% of SMEs now using social media to sell – compared to online marketplaces and third-party e-commerce platforms. “

Social Gifting’s own pivot into e-commerce was guided in partnership with PayPal. “PayPal guided us to be creative in pivoting our business approach through refocusing our resources from offline to online sales,” shares Valen. Besides working with GiftBack vending machines to raise awareness through gifts dispensed at shopping malls and coffee shops, PayPal also helped Social Gifting tide through the fall in sales caused by the pandemic, by enabling us to open their doors to corporate clients.

Bringing Singapore’s SMEs abroad

The growing acceptance for online shopping has, of course, not been limited to Singapore, but has occurred globally. As such, says Rakesh, this is an opportune moment for SMEs who have not engaged in e-commerce before to begin their digital journeys, and to benefit from the revolutionary shift in consumer behaviour.

“The global e-commerce boom also generated opportunities in cross-border trade, which is key for SMEs in a small domestic market like Singapore where the appeal to expand into the global e-commerce marketplace is strong,” continues Rakesh.

Indeed, 81% of PayPal’s survey respondents have already embarked on cross-border trade or are planning to do so. “The ability to sell across borders is enabled by digital payments, and trusted payment solutions that ensure a seamless and safe consumer experience will continue to serve as a key enabler for cross-border transactions.” 

Social Gifting is one of the businesses venturing beyond our shores. Working with PayPal, says Valen,they have been able to sell cross border and widen their customer base in USA, Europe and elsewhere.

“Social Gifting was able to transition to a newly optimized website to manage and classify inventory for greater efficiency. An advocator like PayPal helped us share untold stories from the crafters and garner more significant support from the community.”

Overcoming obstacles to reach new shores

Despite the support for e-commerce offered by digital payments platforms, there are still challenges to overcome. “When selling cross-border, SMEs face the task of understanding and catering to local market preferences while being resource-constrained,” explains Rakesh.

“Another challenge in venturing abroad is dealing with cyber threats and the prospect of fraud. Cross-border shoppers say security is the number one driver in choosing a payment method, followed by convenience, speed of processing and acceptance.

“Finally, online businesses need to optimize their conversion rates to ensure success. To do this, they need to understand the pain points a customer faces when making an online purchase and provide a seamless checkout process to minimise instances of “abandoned carts”.

For organisations that can surmount these, the possibilities are up for the taking. For Social Gifting, achieving increased sales is part of their strategy to support more crafters and help them integrate back to society through the passive income they can generate. Reflecting on the insights gained from her organisation’s journey, Valen shares that she believes “everyone has a unique strength, and when we combine our strengths, we can achieve greater good together. Don’t be afraid to try; when you do good for the community, you’ll be able to feel good as well.”

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