How a young social entrepreneur is changing the lives of children many miles away.
Elijah Ted Ng may be just 18, but he is no stranger to the social entrepreneurship scene in Singapore. Five years ago, the enterprising young man started the first of a number of businesses—Art With A HeART, a pushcart business which operates twice a month in VivoCity. Customers can buy his artwork, or purchase a canvas and art supplies to paint on-site or at home.
Ng initially intended for his business to be a way for him to earn his own keep and fund his tuition fees, but as business grew and Ng understood more about his potential to make a difference in the lives of others, Art With A HeART evolved.
His vision to impact the lives of under-privileged children was birthed when he was just 10 years old. On a learning mission trip to Jakarta organized by City Harvest Children’s Church (now Harvest Kidz), he saw children dwelling in dilapidated slums and was moved by their poor living conditions. He realized then just how very fortunate he was, and his heart was moved to something about what he saw.
That thing was “Project Vision 2011—Vision With A HeART”, a five-year plan aimed at providing proper eye-care to under-privileged children. Seizing every opportunity to further his cause, Ng creatively transformed his 15th birthday party into an art fair.
Through sales revenue from the paintings he sold (priced between S$100 and S$500) to friends and family members, he was able to raise funds for Project Vision. This provided the springboard for Project Vision’s first program: Love The Student, in 2011; children with myopia (near-sightedness) would be fitted with proper spectacles so that they could see clearly in class and would not be disadvantaged at school.
To achieve this, Ng traveled to Medan, Indonesia with his parents to carry out the project. On this trip, 197 children in Medan received a free eye examination and a pair of prescribed spectacles of their choice; at the same time, the initiative provided economic support to local optical businesses.
That first event was reported in the local newspaper in Medan. The secretary of the sub-district head of Medan was impressed by Ng’s enthusiasm to help the children of Indonesia.
Taking inspiration from Proverbs 29:18, “Where there is no vision, the people perish,” Ng firmly believes that each of the beneficiaries his project serve have a good future.
Three and a half years later, in September 2014, Ng revisited Medan with Elim Chew, a fellow social entrepreneur and founder of the 77th Street fashion brand. On this second visit, Ng helped another 152 underprivileged children through the program. As a foreigner in a different land, there were communication barriers, but through the connections Ng’s church, City Harvest Church, had with the churches in Indonesia, Ng was able to work alongside interpreters to bridge the language gap.
One of the encounters seared into his memory was that of meeting a badly abused young girl. When Ng first met her back in 2011, she was 6. “She was so badly abused that her eyes were not even parallel to each other, her head was misshaped and her nose was crooked to the extent that it could not support a pair of spectacles. On top of that, she was going blind and there was nothing we could do back then,” Ng recalls.
On this trip back to Medan three years later, Ng met up with her again. Now aged 9, she has already gone blind in one eye, but with Ng’s help, she was fitted with a pair of spectacles and could now see more clearly vision with her other eye.
The trip not only received coverage on Channel News Asia’s weekly Red Dot programme, but was broadcasted on the Indonesian news network. The reporter even quoted Proverbs 29:18 on national television. To Ng, this was a form of “crossing over”, as he and his partners were recognized as salt and light in the marketplace, on a secular platform.
Going forward, Ng is determined to continue his work in Medan and other parts of Indonesia. He does not discount the opportunity to expand the project to other countries.
In the midst of juggling Project Vision, his undergraduate studies in business management, and writing his first book Vision: Driven By Passion (published last year), Ng managed to find time to embark on a new business, MyBox, a retail platform at *SCAPE which rents out box spaces to aspiring young entrepreneurs and start-ups.
As with his other ventures, Ng views MyBox as a “business with a cause”, which aims to inspire youth in Singapore to pursue their passion for entrepreneurship. Wherever possible, he also builds relationships with his customers and mentors them out of his own experiences.
“I want to change the common mindset that it takes a lot of capital to start a business. I started Art With A HeART with only S$500. MyBox has 122 locker spaces for rent; I see that as 122 opportunities for young, aspiring entrepreneurs who just need a platform to pursue their dreams,” says Ng. In just one year, MyBox has expanded from 200 to 350 sq ft of retail space.
Ng was recently enlisted into National Service and will be serving the nation for the next two years. But given his history, one can only expect greater things to come from this young man.