Genashtim: Bringing Technology Closer to Marginalised Communities (Supporters’ Specials)

Genashtim has been working with SPD to provide training and employment opportunities to our clients since August 2019. Founder and CEO of Genashtim, Mr Thomas Ng shares more in this [...]

For 25 years, the founder and CEO of Genashtim, Mr Thomas Ng, had a successful corporate career in regional senior management roles. In 2004, he set up Genashtim, a for-profit social enterprise operating in Singapore, Malaysia, China, and the Philippines, that leverages on technology and the Internet to connect marginalised communities to the global economy. Genashtim (pronounced jen-ash-tim) is an acronym of Thomas’ family members. His wife’s name is Genevieve, daughter Ashley, and son Timothy. 

Genashtim has been working with SPD to provide training and employment opportunities to our clients since August 2019.  Senior communications and outreach executive, Melissa Tan, speaks with him to find out more about his work.

1. Hello Thomas, thank you for agreeing to this interview! Tell us more about Genashtim. 

In 2004, when I resigned from my corporate job after 25 years, I joined the board of trustees for a computer school for people with visual impairments in Manila, Philippines. While I was there, I learnt about assistive technology and how it can be a powerful enabler for them to access computers and the Internet effectively. However, because of their disabilities, they faced many challenges in finding employment. After three years of helping them to secure employment without any success, I started Genashtim and an online learning business, to employ people with visual impairment, and before I know it, I had hired a diverse group of people with different disabilities. 

2. Do you remember your first time giving back to the community? Can you share with us what you did and with which charity or organisation?  

I have been blessed with a strong sense of empathy since young. Hence to be able to give back to the community was something I had wanted to do for a long time. Also, my late mother used to teach me that it was always  better to give than to receive. 

3. What motivates you to keep doing what you do in the charity scene? 

After having a successful corporate career, I felt that rather than just give or charity, I could use my skills, experience and network to create something that is more meaningful, sustainable and scalable. That is why Genashtim was set up as a for-profit social enterprise. If Genashtim were to operate using a charity model, it would not be sustainable as the organisation’s mission and impact would depend largely on donors, which is not sustainable. Also, by providing employment opportunities to people with disabilities, we are giving them dignity versus them being just on the receiving end.  

Genashtim provides training and employment opportunities to people with disabilities in Singapore, Malaysia, China and the Philippines.

4. What’s the most rewarding part of doing what you do? 

It would be seeing how far my colleagues have come – from having no employment opportunities open to them at first, to being able to support their families financially. They buy stuff, start to enjoy simple luxuries, get married, start their own families, buying their own homes, etc. 

Mr Thomas Ng, attended his colleagues’ wedding in the Philippines in 2019.

5. Any memorable stories or incidents to share? 

There are so many of them! One of my colleagues is a quadriplegic, and is fully dependent on a ventilator. With the right accommodation and tools, she is able to work very independently from her bed! To being financially dependent on her family, she is now self-reliant and financially independent. 

6. Has your experience helped you in any way, or changed your perspectives? 

Significantly. Working very closely with people who are facing so many challenges, and trying to claw themselves back from the bowels of society, make me feel how little more I need in my life. It has made me a happier and contented person. A wise man once said “wealth is not measured by how much you have; it is measured by how little more you desire”. 

7. Any words of encouragement to people who are considering to get involved in the charity scene? 

There is always room and need for charity, but I think we can do much more by being innovative, and by leveraging our skills. I believe that we can move the needle much more for ESG (Environment, Social Impact and Governance) if we can start focusing on how we make our profits rather than what we do with our profits.