A 14-year-old starts an art business that aims to help underprivileged children and make their world a better place.
Contributed By Melissa Chen
Elijah Ted Ng, 14, is probably one of the youngest social entrepreneurs around. He started off his art business known as Art with a HeART with the initial intention of funding his own tuition fees, but was later moved with compassion to help underprivileged children. Young though he is, Ng’s desire is for his small business to make a difference in the lives of children.
It was during the Global Social Innovators Forum 2009 organized by Social Innovation Park in Singapore where Ng was inspired by speaker, John Hope Bryant, founder, chairman and CEO of Operation HOPE, USA. Ng posed Bryant the question on how youth like him could contribute to the marketplace. Bryant said, “As a young person, you can make yourself prosperous first before people will start listening to you. Start thinking and behaving like an eagle.” He further elaborated by explaining that one has to establish a certain status first before being able to help others and even make an impact in society. Bryant himself lived his childhood under tough circumstances, but turned his situation around to be the champion of social causes and entrepreneurship he is today.
Bryant’s compassion for the underprivileged resonated with Ng, who has been contributing to various charity organizations, such as the National Kidney Foundation and the Red Cross, ever since he was young. Ng’s empathy toward the poor and needy stems from his upbringing as the only child of business owner, Timothy Ng and Suzanne Chee, sales manager. Since he was young, his parents would discuss issues with him and talk about current affairs happening around the world. All the years of input and teaching have borne fruits in the form of a talented teenager, savvy beyond his years.
Says Chee, “When Elijah first came to me with the idea of his art business, I was very excited because this boy has our DNA; not only naturally, but also in vision and drive.” She adds that her husband has always hoped his son would start a business of his own by 16.
Chee also attributes Ng’s passion to the teachings he’s learned from church about doing good and having a heart for the weak.
Ng believes that having a business like Art With A HeART would help him to contribute directly to the community, rather than going through a third party.
Art With A HeART can be found at The PaTH Market@VivoCity on every first and last weekend of the month from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., providing art services on a pushcart stall, where art enthusiasts can purchase high quality canvases and paint using equipment and materials provided by Ng. Shoppers can take a break from their shopping and instead of settling down for a cup of coffee, sit down to do a spot of painting—proven to be very therapeutic and relaxing in nature.
Patrons are able to reduce the hassle of cleaning up bychoosing to paint at the stall. Those who choose to paint in the comfort of their homes can have the art supplies delivered to their homes at a minimal charge. Unpainted figurines are also available.
Taking the business one notch higher, Art With A HeART also caters to personal and corporate events by providing a mobile shop for special “art parties.”
No one is spared from challenges when it comes to running a business—including teenagers. Ng faced and continues to face several setbacks, “While I’ve inspired some of my peers, I’ve also received criticism and pressure from others.” He is quick to add, “But that’s nothing compared to the challenge of sustaining the business to fund the high cost of the art materials!” Ng wants to put aside unnecessary distraction to focus on nurturing this dream.
|PHOTO COURTESY OF ELIJAH TED NG
Says Chee, “As parents, we do worry for him—what if he gets cheated by suppliers, what if no one patronizes the stall, what if the business fails, will he be able to take the “rejection” and the failure in a positive way? But we trust in God and we trust that as his parents, we have done a relatively good job; we believe that our input into his life all these years will not be in vain.”
Through this business venture, Ng has gained valuable lessons such as people and time management, learning to communicate on different levels. “Communication doesn’t come naturally for me because I am not a very open person to begin with, especially to people I do not know. But if you want to be in business, you need to learn how to communicate. So I simply have to step out of my comfort zone.” Aside from learning how to communicate effectively, Ng is also learning how to study market trends, customers’ likes and dislikes, and how to advertise his business to potential customers.
Beyond his school hours, Ng follows a timetable where his time is divided into revising for his school work, spending time with his family and doing market research to keep himself updated on the latest trends in artwork and materials. “Time management is about setting the right priorities,” declares the teenager.
“Like every one of us, Elijah is only given 24 hours. At the end of the day, he is an ordinary kid—he enjoys LAN gaming and movies—who needs to juggle between school, tuition, violin lessons and extra-curricular activities. He doesn’t always have it altogether. But that’s where he learns the hard lessons in life,” states Chee.
Discipline and focus seems to come naturally for this prodigy who received merit awards from the Ministry of Education and was in the top 25 percent of his cohort for his academic results last year.
His compassion for children was sparked when he was 10 years old, during a mission trip to Indonesia with City Harvest Children’s Church. There, Ng was touched by the plight of the less fortunate children his age, and those who were younger. Ng developed a heart for underprivileged children. “Having worked with and seen children from the orphanages who are either without parents or have poor family backgrounds, I feel very blessed to have parents and friends who really love me, and who support me in my personal life and business. I know that I cannot change the past or the situations of the orphans, but I can help them to live their lives to the fullest wherever possible.”
Ng aims to be able to one day take his art store to orphanages, to provide fun and enjoyment to the children. His plans include not just providing free art materials but also teaching the children proper art skills. “For some, it may be their first time experiencing the joy of art,” he quips.
This is indeed no small feat for the aspiring social entrepreneur, who received S$500 from his godmother to start Art With A HeART. He broke even after the first month. Today, Ng’s business proceeds are contributed to orphanages after paying off his tuition fees and purchasing art materials.
Ng has learned that to be successful, one needs to work hard. He knows that opportunity is given once, but hard work and determination is what’s needed to make his dream a reality.