Written by Audrey Chew
Photography by Victor Lim
Abigail Magdelene Fernandez, a second-year Public Policy & Global Affairs (PPGA) student, is the Director of Finance & Operations of local social enterprise WeHiro. Taking over operations from the original founders, Abigail was motivated by the potential she saw in the enterprise – the ability to make a difference and give rise to a more empathetic society. To focus on getting WeHiro up and running, Abigail took a gap year and put a pause on her education.
Managing a social enterprise is challenging and more so when one also happens to be a student. In fact, many would think that running a social enterprise is non-profitable but Abigail, who has studied social issues in Singapore since her Ngee Ann Polytechnic days, where she earned her Diploma in Business and Social Enterprise, begs to differ. Social enterprises are businesses, not charities. Beyond that, they earn profits to support meaningful social causes.
WeHiro, formerly known as Camp Hiro, evolved from a Final-Year-Project to an established business working with large corporations such as DBS Bank and Temasek Shophouse. Originally a camp initiative to cultivate social responsibility among youths, WeHiro has since expanded to target adults as well! Through ageing simulation programmes that recreate challenges faced by the elderly, WeHiro aims to foster empathy and understanding among their clients towards the pioneer generation.
Though WeHiro’s niche is gerontology, the enterprise is also exploring poverty in the local context, focusing on the invisible challenges faced by low-income households. Plans have been underway since June 2020 and we can look forward to seeing WeHiro’s Poverty Simulation Programme (PSP) later this year.
Ageing is easy to tell, it’s blatantly obvious. But you can’t tell poverty from face.
Contrary to popular belief, many low-income Singaporeans struggle to keep up with the rising costs of living here. Although we are aware that poverty exists, we tend to think of it abstractly, oftentimes at the expense of local realities. Furthermore, our reputation as a modern cosmopolitan country masks the severity of hardships in Singapore.Through PSP, Abigail hopes to pose a critical sentiment to Singaporeans: “Why are we looking at poverty overseas when we already have it locally?”
From what I gathered, developing a comprehensive simulation programme is anything but a walk in the park. Curious about the process, I asked Abigail how things worked within WeHiro. She shared that the team always begins with extensive research. Delving into poverty in Singapore, they uncover local insights into the poverty trap as well as its deep-seated psychological impact. Integrating these insights into the crux of the PSP, the team then develops the programme from there on.
Over the Circuit Breaker period, WeHiro also came up with virtual simulation programmes. With physical simulation programmes put on hiatus, the move online has helped WeHiro tide through the pandemic.
Abigail has been with WeHiro for the past four years. When asked about her most heart-warming memory with the enterprise, she fondly recalled the Yes! Festival in 2018, an intergenerational event where youths and seniors embarked on a short journey rediscovering Singapore’s heritage and food together. Prior to the festival, both seniors and youngsters found it difficult to connect with each other, but this changed in due time, thanks to WeHiro!
Aside from WeHiro, Abigail is also the President of the NTU PPGA Sub-Club and the Events Director of the Welfare Services Club Growth & Opportunities (GO!). Every week, she has multiple meetings from her various commitments. Whenever there are ad-hoc events, however, more meetings pile up. Yet, no matter how packed her schedule gets, Abigail sets aside time for WeHiro. Although she considers the social enterprise her “side hustle”, the time and effort she puts into it suggests otherwise.
At the same time, Abigail has also expressed her wish to move on from WeHiro in June to embark on new challenges. We wish her all the best as she ventures out! Before closing the interview, Abigail offered advice to students who aspire to become social entrepreneurs:
Go for it. It’s the best time to start something and there is room to fail.
The key is to have a structured business plan and the perseverance to make it work!
Abigail has been featured as part of our Humans of NTU series, where we spotlight NTU undergraduates and their passion projects. From environmental startups to dating services, these individuals truly bring out the diversity and innovation of the NTU spirit. Check the rest of them out on our website!