Every year, The Singapore Women’s Weekly gives prominence to 18 distinguished and powerful women who are successful in their own right as part of the Great Women Of Our Time awards. Meet 2020’s Public Service & Education nominee, Emily Teng, Founder of Blessings In A Bag.
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Meet Emily Teng – Great Women Of Our Time 2020 Public Service & Education Nominee
At 20 years old, Emily wanted to do something purposeful and meaningful with her life. Little did she know it would lead her to start Blessings In A Bag, an award-winning and globally recognised community organisation, that champions the kampung spirit and journeys with children and youth.
Growing up in Jakarta, she noticed at a young age that a lot of her unused items and stuff would be given away, and she didn’t really understand why or where it was brought to until she personally went to the kampungs in Jakarta and met the families and children there.
“Singapore is known for a lot of shopping, a lot of waste. And I just really wanted to do something to combat that, especially because people were throwing things out for Chinese New Year when they do their spring cleaning. Things that were brand new, things that have been worn maybe once or twice but they end up in the trash.” Emily, the 33 year old entrepreneur goes on to share, “That is just really heartbreaking to think that we have some incredible items but there are some people who don’t have it and I wanted to bridge that gap in some way.”
There’s a fine line between charity and empowerment and Emily quickly took to realising that the model needed to shift to be more sustainable and effective in the long run. “It morphed into asking the local communities in the Philippines and Indonesia, what are the things they would really appreciate. What would be a great help? That’s when we decided we weren’t going to do just handouts where we ship items that we think are going to be good for them, but we asked them what they required instead.”
“A lot of them wanted house supplies, kids stuff, educational supplies. Instead of using them as handouts, a lot of the local communities use them as social incentives. So if kids were attending their classes regularly or if parents came and attended health workshops, they would be given these blessings in a pack.”
As she recounts how Blessings In A Bag came to be, she shares that it’s a bit of a challenge to talk about it because she never came into this with a business strategy or five-year plan in mind. She was in her teenage years trying to start something purposeful and meaningful and this was the best way she knew how. “I felt a sense of fulfillment but I also see that what I’m doing is positively impacting somebody else and it is a help that they appreciate. So that’s why I kept on doing my work.”
This led her to start Beyond Awesome, Blessings In A Bag’s signature programme that journeys with the youth. As an alternative learning programme for under-resourced children and youths in Singapore, children join the program every single week for four years straight and learn topics from art, meditation, sports, to STEAM topics (science, technology, engineering, art, and math).
Alongside impact and empowerment, sustainability is one of the core pillars of Blessings In A Bag. In 2019, Singapore generated 7.23 million tonnes of waste and though it decreased from its numbers in 2018 by six per cent, it still stands at an intimidating amount. For Emily, she believes, “We are redistributing items that would normally go to the waste, and on top of that, we have this initiative where children and families can come to our space and purchase items for a lower cost. That’s how we fundraise for our programmes and also keep ourselves aligned with our commitment to sustainability.”
One of the realities of working closely with communities and having to work in a capacity that can be likened to social work is that the emotional labour can be toiling. As she shares, “Social workers are overwhelmed with all the cases and struggling with compassion fatigue. So it is very normal for people in the sector to have burnout. I know that I wasn’t the only one experiencing it.” Throughout her years dedicated to Blessings In A Bag, she also learned to slow down and prioritise her mental health and wellness. This satori also inspired her to start Global Community Connection Call, a monthly virtual gathering for people who are in the sectors of community leaders, care-givers, or social workers who want to receive support from a global group and find their own safe space.
Apart from her work with Blessings In A Bag, Emily also spends her time supporting other community leaders, mission-led entrepreneurs and people with purpose by encouraging them to start where they are, cheerleading people to own their superpowers and to use them to change the world – all in the name of making an impact in communities.
The Great Women Of Our Time Awards 2020 is brought to you by the presenter, Lancôme.