Sustainable act of charity


  • Community
  • Wednesday, 17 Oct 2012

Official act: The Project W.A.T.T.S for Season 3 Promise Me campaign that was launched by Health Minister Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai (centre) in August.

GENEROUSLY donating in kind or cash or helping to spring clean a home for the needy is the usual form of assistance rendered to charitable organisations.

So what if you could aid in a more sustainable way that translates into long-term savings for the homes instead?

This is what Project WATTS (an acronym for Where Aid Turns to Sustainable) envisions to achieve when it provides some 12 selected homes with energy-saving electrical appliances and light bulbs that will significantly reduce money spent on utility bills.

Lauched in August, Project WATTS was initiated by social enterprise The Truly Loving Company (TLC) as part of its “Promise Me” campaign that engages youths, companies and the public with an aim fulfil the wish list of less fortunate individuals and charitable organisations.

The Promise Me campaign was first conceptualised in 2010. During the campaign youths were tasked to realise some 70 wishes or promises of residents from four identified charitable homes, after which they had to blog about their efforts.

In the second running of the campaign last year, the concept was changed to address issues at an organisational level, rather than just individual needs alone. Companies were asked to sponsor the wish list, called Golden Wishes, for 12 charitable homes.

In both campaigns, the wishes were delivered with such overwhelming support from the donors that it is no wonder TLC chief executive officer Julia Chong is all hopeful and excited about the campaign’s third season of Project WATTS this year, which is opened to the public.

“By ‘greening’ these 12 homes, we aim to replace all their electrical fittings like refridgerators, washing machines as well as lighting with energy-efficient appliances, which also helps however little to conserve the environment, while bringing down their monthly electricity bills by about 30% to 40%.”

She says an energy-saving light bulb costs just RM25 and, based on her calculation of average savings per month, it is possible to accumulate up to RM138 of saved electricity costs in a year.

“These saved expenses can be used for other purposes. For me, a project like this contributes towards a multiplier effect for sustainability that is more rewarding than just writing a cheque,” says Chong.

“We have received some RM300,000 in donations so far for this project. Firms like Panasonic are supplying us the electrical appliances at dealers’ prices while Philips is helping to refit six homes free-of-charge and for the rest at a reduced price,” she adds.

As of Oct 8, all six homes have already been refitted with Philips energy-saving light bulbs for free while one home has had new energy-efficient electrical appliances put in.

“Some corporations that have been involved since the inaugural Promise Me campaign have returned to be a part of this. Thanks to sponsorships received in various forms, we have more leftover’funds that can be used to reach out to more homes than the initial 12.”

The project continues till November, and work on the first home started last month. A Project WATTS Facebook page featuring short a video clip of local celebrities has been created by the Arachnid advertising agency to lend weigh to the cause.

Seven of the 12 identified charities are children’s homes. Among them are Montfort Boys Town in Shah Alam that takes in children from poor backgrounds and dysfunctional families, as well as the Dignity for Children Foundation in Sentul which houses some 700 children and provides them with holistic education up until 18 years of age.

Children and their issues, it seems, are subject matters close to Chong’s heart, and her awareness of children’s rights runs the gamut of not hiring child labour and ensuring her business practices — from the network of suppliers to distributors — are in no way violating a child’s interest.

“To illustrate our dedication, we also do background research on the recepients of our aid, like Montfort Boys and Dignity for Children, whose work for children we found exemplify what TLC does and stands for.

“Monfort provides children with vocational training and equips them with a diploma once they have come of age (for future employment), while Dignity makes education possible for the children as a key to eradicate their cycle of poverty. Both are advocating the basic rights of a child that way,” she says.

Other beneficiaries of the project are the Handicapped and Mentally Disabled Children’s Association Johor Bahru, Home of Peace, Hospis Malaysia, Malaysian Association for the Blind, National Autism Society Of Malaysia, National Stroke Association of Malaysia, Rumah Aman, Shelter Home for Children, Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and United Voice.

Chong was also recently invited as a business representative to a closed-door forum jointly organised by Unicef Malaysia and Global Compact Network Malaysia for the launch of Children’s Rights and Business Policies.

There, she got to share her views on the value of child-focused CSR efforts and the incorporating of children’s rights as sound business practice.

The launch makes Malaysia the first country in South-East Asia to introduce 10 principles where actions that can be implemented takes into account the impact on children of activities and relationships in relation to the workplace, marketplace, community and environment.

Later at a media conference, Unicef’s representative to Malaysia Wivina Belmonte said businesses that focus on children and support their rights are creating a more stable and sustainable future while enhancing their name.

“I wish to urge more private sectors to see children-focused CSR as an investment. It is not just good business sense but also the right thing to do ethically,” says Belmonte.

Chong says TLC has fulfilled many of these principles even before they were introduced. In August last year, the company developed and launched its Green Range of household products that are certified children-friendly.

These are plant-based, biodegradable and kind to the environment, and Chong says she has had mothers come back to her truly loving how the floor detergents, for example, are so safe that their toddlers can crawl and roll on the floor after being cleaned with the products.

These products are manufactured with stringent quality by the same contract manufacturers for some of the market’s leading brands, she added.

“A lot of eco-friendly products are imported and therefore costly; we are here to make them affordable. In fact, our Project WATTS is in part inspired by our Green Range — we were thinking how we could combine our two CSR pillars of environment and community and this project was perfect union of how a green idea can be beneficial to those in need.”

She proudly notes that TLC is the country’s first social enterprise to pledge 100% of its dividends to its charity partners, and strongly believes that doing CSR does not dilute one’s profits or cost a company to fork out more money.

“We want to show how small medium enterprises can actually inspire others to join forces and do good too.

“And it was merely a facilitator role we played that brought like-minded people together with shared values,” says Chong in reference to the Promise Me campaign.

“This whole brand is built for the disadvantaged and less fortunate. Going forward, it is my hope to engage the disabled for work in our supply chain network or perhaps, for single mothers to become the marketing agents of our products,” she says.

Meanwhile, more details about the WATTS Project can be viewed at www.project watts.org that would require you to log into your Facebook account.

An enhanced version of this story came out in the Oct 10 edition of The Star Editor’s Choice, which is a free downloadable app available on tablet devices.

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