Everything social entrepreneur Elim Chew has done can be traced back to her high SQ or “sensitivity quotient”. She shares about this concept that she presented last week at TEDxNTU.
“I had a staff member at 77th Street who used to be in construction. One day we needed a Gothic-style table for our brand, Gothic Princess. We couldn’t find it in any store, so he hand-made it. For my sister’s birthday, he built a mobile bar counter that we could mix drinks anywhere in the office. I have many jackets, so he built me a coat stand. We never asked him to do any of this—he was just sensitive and found solutions for these needs. And he didn’t just do it, he did it very well. He came along on one of our buying trips and ended up being our menswear buyer. When we got back, he became our visual merchandiser and handled our displays. Today, he runs his own business back in China.
“So, when you exercise sensitivity and work with excellence, take action and deliver your best work, you will eventually be successful in life, whether you become an entrepreneur or a leader in your company.
“People say ‘That’s not my job scope.’ Early this year, there was a report about an Alaskan Airlines stewardess who noticed a well-dressed man sitting with a disheveled teenage girl and felt something was not right. She signaled to the girl to go to the toilet, where the girl left her a note saying ‘Help me’. The stewardess alerted the pilot who contacted the police. The man was arrested when the plane landed—the girl was saved from being trafficked. What the stewardess did was beyond her job scope, and it saved a life.
“People say ‘I’m not paid to do that.’ That’s going about it backwards. It’s when you go beyond what you are paid to do, that’s when you will get paid more.
“These days, when we see something happening, our immediate response is not to help but to take photos or videos. Last year, a 12-year-old boy was the only person to go to the aid of victims of a car accident, because the other passersby were too busy taking pictures. The people who take action are the ones with high sensitivity quotient.
“We’re fostering a culture of insensitivity with our phones. People say, ‘I’m going home to spend time with my family’ but every family member is on his or her mobile phone! I watch how kids are just glued to their iPhones or iPads, with the maid feeding them. They are not experiencing the food, they are not engaged, they are totally unaware of their surroundings. In contrast, I recently saw a 2-year-boy eating broccoli in my restaurant, eating with his fingers, feeding his mother. He was present and enjoying his food. That’s what I miss. When we become unaware of what’s happening around us, we lose communication.
“I have found that the Internet generation tends not to put their hearts into what they do. But I’m also surprised when I meet people like the young TEDxNTU volunteers who worked so hard the last eight months to deliver the annual talk on such a professional level. I see this also in the volunteers in [City Harvest] church—everything is delivered with excellence.
“So how do we build up our SQ? It starts with being aware of people around us, being sensitive to what is going on. By doing that we become less selfish. We see this trait in volunteers, social entrepreneurs, changemakers. If we can bring this mindset to what we do every day, we will excel and other rewards will come.
“The person who taught me to be sensitive was my teacher at Fairfield Methodist Girls School, Miss Yee. She went beyond her job scope. I was 13 when she asked me what I wanted to be. I told her I wanted to start a business by 21, be a millionaire by 25 and retire by 45. Every year after I left school she would meet up with me and buy me my favorite chicken rice, and she would always ask me if I had achieved my dreams. Sadly, she died in the 1997 Silk Air crash.
“Because of that spirit that she planted in me, I continue to mentor as many people as I can. Once, I met a young man at an F1 event. I asked him, ‘What do you do?’ and he replied that he was a part time waiter. I asked him what Miss Yee asked me, ‘What is your dream?’ He replied, ‘I hope to be an actor, a host and a stand-up comedian.’ I asked him what was stopping him and he said he was a street kid and wasn’t very well-educated. I told him the steps to take to succeed.
“Seven years later, at an SG50 event, the same young man—his name is Fakkah Fuzz—came up to me and said, ‘The 15 minutes you spent talking to me changed my life. Today, I’m an award-winning actor, host and comedian.’
“It hit me that 15 minutes can create a change for someone. I’m starting a movement —#15MinutesChange—to get people to take 15 minutes once a day, week, month, to step out of comfort zone to talk to people around them, to help anyone who needs help. That will build up your SQ.
“I set up FastFast Delivery in mid-2015 with three other co-founders. We saw a need in the SME (small and medium enterprise) market because we don’t have our own drivers anymore. I sit on the board of an organization and they would send a staffer to me with documents to be signed. I calculated the money spent on cabs, plus her salary for those few hours, and it amounted to quite a lot. I also noticed that in the last few years, there are many people who cannot find work or cannot work full time. So, I went to Adrian Ng, who runs Codigo, and asked, ‘Is there a way to match drivers to the need?’ and he replied, ‘It’s very easy.’
“Today we have 3,000 on-demand crowd-sourced drivers, making 3,000 deliveries a month. Of what FastFast makes, 90 percent goes back to the drivers. We keep 10 percent to maintain one admin staffer who also teaches the drivers how to use the app. She is a single mother with three sons.
“One professional wrote to us recently that he had lost his job, and FastFast helped supply him an income till he found a job. It’s little moments like these that make me feel encouraged.
“At my family business—we own GoroGoro Steamboat, I M Kim Korean BBQ, I M Kim Junior—we take in the hearing-impaired, the elderly and high-functioning people with special needs to work alongside the able-bodied staff. All our staff are trained to be sensitive to customers’ needs.
“I started ElimChewTV in September 2016. Our program Changemakers features people who see a problem, find a solution, take action and implement the solution.
“Our second program, which is scheduled for the early part of 2018, is Pitch For Change. It’s a reality show across Asia that encourages people to start social enterprises. You have an idea, you pitch for funding. We want real solutions to problems.
“We plant to seed a thousand seeds. We want to raise a generation of young people who will pitch for change.”