W / Women
#HerWorldHerStory: Social entrepreneur Cheryl Ou on why she employs the underprivileged
The owner of The Social Space and The Nail Social on the challenges of running a social enterprise, and why she does it anyway
My first entrepreneurial venture was with a nail salon business in 2005. A bad experience with an investor made me realise that I did not want to be solely motivated by money, so I decided to start a social enterprise.
The Nail Social is a nail salon that trains and employs underprivileged women who lack a support network. We’ve trained over 30 beneficiaries since we started, and while some of them have moved on to other types of employment, we’re comforted in the knowledge that they now have an employable skill that no one can take away from them.
HAIR Jimmy Yap MAKEUP Zoel Tee
Top, necklace, & earrings, Mango. Pants, Koton
One of our first trainees, a single mother of six, now manages the daily operations of our Haji Lane outlet. We’ve also had beneficiaries who joined us when they were at the lowest points of their lives and had no confidence. Today, they are able to hold their own conversations with customers, and even use their skills and experience to mentor the new trainees.
In 2018, I also started The Social Space, which comprises a nail salon, cafe and fair trade retail area. Like The Nail Social, it is a social enterprise, and 90 per cent of our team are people facing various challenges in their personal lives. The space also serves as a reminder for the public to be socially conscious when going about their day-to-day activities, such as getting a coffee or manicure.
“Due to the nature of the people we work with, our role is not just that of an employer. Many times, we’re also a social worker, counsellor and therapist.”
We do get customers who are rude, impatient or less than kind to our employees because they may be a bit slower, less articulate or just different. We are very protective of our staff, we do not hesitate to stand up for them in such situations, but most of the time, the damage has been done. Some of our employees struggle with self-confidence or anxiety issues, and such incidences leave a lasting impression on them.
Due to the nature of the people we work with, our role is not just that of an employer. Many times, we’re also a social worker, counsellor and therapist, and this can be mentally draining at times. But we also have to upkeep the nitty-gritty of the business to ensure that we remain financially viable and sustainable, so we can continue supporting our social cause. Our biggest challenge will always be balancing our social impact and business needs.
If you’re in the midst of starting your own business, my advice is to always remember why you embarked on this journey. When the going gets tough – and it will – remembering what got you started in the first place will help to keep you going.
— In partnership with Estée Lauder —
Tell us how you power on, from your self-care tips to your motivations. We’ll pick 10 readers with the most inspiring and empowering IG posts to win a 50ml bottle of Estée Lauder Advanced Night Repair serum and Advanced Night Repair Eye Supercharged Complex, worth $280. Make sure that your IG profile is public, follow @HerWorldSingapore and @EsteeLauder_SG, and include the following hashtags in your post: #HerWorldHerStory #HowWePowerOn #EsteeLauderSG. Contest ends March 28, 2021. Posts may also be featured on Estée Lauder’s Instagram.
PHOTOGRAPHY Veronica Tay & Vee Chin
ART DIRECTION Ray Ticsay & Adeline Eng
STYLING Lauren Alexa