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Straits Times: "Companies partner help groups in 'scalathons' "

By Priscilla Goy

· Press Mentions,Conjunct Consulting

Non-profit firm brings corporate experts, social service groups together to find solutions.

It could have taken weeks of meetings and head-scratching for the Restroom Association Singapore (RAS) to draw up a communications plan for its upcoming project. But with some free professional help, the charity, which pushes for clean public toilets, managed to do so within a day on a shoestring budget.

The communications strategy for its Happy Toilets @ Pre-Schools Programme, which includes a Face-book competition and engaging parent support groups and bloggers, was drawn up with help from public relations firm Edelman.

"We got the opportunity to receive professional consultation without the costs," RAS executive director Emerson Hee told the Sunday Times.

His association is one of six non-profit organisations and social enterprises which have received pro-bono help - in areas such as fund raising or marketing - at "scalathons" organised by another non-profit, Conjunct Consulting, since May last year.

"Scalathons" originally referred to collaborative computer programming events called "hackathons" that used Scala, a programming language.

But Conjunct Consulting, which gives guidance to the social service sector, uses the term to describe day-long events at which a company volunteers teams of seven or eight staff to help solve a social service organisation's problems and "scale" up its operations.

Conjunct Consulting has been providing pro bono consulting services to welfare groups since 2011, mainly through its university student volunteers. But the scalathon model of partnering firm with social service organisations and coming up with ideas in a day is relatively new here, said its vice-president for external affairs Faith Bogue.

It works well because it provides a conducive environment for professionals with different skills to come together and create solutions, she noted.

And it is not just the help groups which benefit from such partnerships. Companies that took part said these events fostered teamwork and showed staff how useful their skills could be in the social service sector.

Edelman Singapore's managing director Amanda Goh, for instance, said staff got to work with colleagues from different specialties, "meshing together traditional and digital communications skills".

A spokesman for Deutsche Bank added: "Our people set up systems, work on budgets and crunch numbers, so while they may not be experts on specialised beneficiary needs, they have a lot to give on everything else needed to run a successful organisation."

And Mr Jasmeet Wadhwa, vice-president of consumer banking group at DBS Bank, said: "For many of us, developing business strategies may be a part of our job, but the scope is usually confined within our functional units.

"To do this for a social enterprise whose purpose includes creating social impact was extremely gratifying."

He was one of 40 staff who took part in a scalathon helping two social enterprises last month.

Help groups were glad for the free advice and solutions offered speedily.

Mr Prasoon Kumar, founder of Billion Bricks - which builds homes overseas for the poor and offers job training - said: "The scalathons did a lot of the 'thinking work' for us. We could just be decision-makers on whether to implement those ideas.

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