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Image Mission is Singapore's dedicated non-profit organisation that helps disadvantaged women to "achieve economic independence by providing them with personalised coaching, support and professional attire to gain employment".
For more than six years, the organisation has assisted over 700 women in Singapore to find and retain employment and gain self-confidence via the Image Mission programmes Dress for Success and I M Ready. According to the organisation, their "clients are referred to us by other social service agencies, including single mothers, unwed young mothers, victims of domestic abuse, those with disabilities and the marginalised".
"I started Image Mission to manage the Dress for Success Singapore affiliate (part of an international network of 150+ affiliates," explains founder Ms Pang Li Kin. "The mission to empower women to achieve economic independence and the programmes are very much aligned to my values, and I had the expertise needed to start the charity".
Ms Pang comes from a humble background with a single mother who raised a family of eight children: "I have always believed that employment is the solution to overcome poverty. Since I graduated, I've never stopped working as I believe in financial independence even for a married woman, and even after I semi-retired, I couldn't stay home".
After leaving a well-paid corporate job, Ms Pang launched an Image and Communications agency focused on personal development. She then discovered a new passion for "helping people transform their image from inside out, and my personal vision was to touch a life a day".
This confidence empowers them to present themselves well at the job interview because they are dressed professionally
"That led me to do some philanthropy work with people with disabilities, conducting pro-bono grooming workshops. I was inspired by their determination to present a positive image, and that planted a seed in my heart to want to give back to society with my image and coaching skills. The Dress for Success programme was the right fit for Image Mission's objectives in Singapore," says Ms Pang.
Ms Pang recently became one of the inaugural Singapore: 40-over-40 Inspiring Women list established by Career Navigators Singapore, recognising women in Singapore who push boundaries to forge new paths.
Recently appointed new Chair, Elizabeth Chew, discovered Dress for Success in 2015, after reading an article and "was struck by how this simple idea could create such powerful outcomes".
"With their newfound confidence, the women who were helped not only got the job but went on to realise their full potential in life. Confidence begets confidence! This seemed to be a real game-changer for these women, and it made a deep impression on me. Coincidentally, not long after, I was looking for volunteering opportunities and saw that Image Mission was looking for volunteers to start up the local Dress for Success affiliate. It seemed like a sign! So I signed up."
Ms Chew explains that many of the women the organisation helps are from low-income households or disadvantaged backgrounds and need additional assistance in returning to the workforce.
"They have been out of the workforce for a long time and often have low self-esteem," explains Ms Chew. "Our programmes help them improve their confidence – to believe in themselves, their abilities, skills, experience, and the way they look."
"This confidence empowers them to present themselves well at the job interview because they are dressed professionally and have prepared for the interview questions. Getting the job, in turn, boosts their sense of self-worth and gives them the means to work towards achieving financial independence and creating a brighter future for themselves and their family."
Image Mission Executive Director, Philomena Ang, uses her previous 20 years of experience in the corporate hospitality sector to help women reintegrate into the workplace.
"When I came across Image Mission and saw how its mission is aligned to my passion in helping women build confidence. I started as a volunteer career coach and stylist and then to programme development. During that time, I saw how each intervention or programme we run directly impacts our clients and how their success in gaining employment impacts the people around them. Most recognisable is the confidence they exude after a makeover session or when they complete an assignment, e.g. their resume," explains Ms Ang.
While there have always been women in need of Image Mission's Dress for Success programmes, recent upheavals due to the impact of the Coronavirus has seen an increase in clients, says Ms Ang.
"With HBL and when kids are unable to go to school, women are most impacted as it means they are often the ones who sacrifice their jobs for child-caring responsibilities, especially if they are single mums," Ms Ang explains.
"Many of those doing contract or part-time roles have also lost their jobs. As such, we have embarked on many virtual programmes since April 2020 to keep our clients engaged and provide them with the necessary job search skills and tools so that whenever the situation improves, they are ready to apply for jobs again."
According to founder Ms Pang, even though Singapore has relatively low unemployment, even during the pandemic, women's unemployment rate is higher than for men.
"The long-term unemployment rate for women is even higher due to the many challenges they face," Ms Pang explains. "The women we serve come from the lowest rungs of the economic ladder and have the least means to overcome barriers to employment."
"While Singapore is one of the richest countries in the world, there is poverty you can't see in the streets, nor through the skyscrapers that dot our island. While education is free (and compulsory) in Singapore, the women we serve are the ones who did not make it to an 'accepted' level of education to qualify for a decent job."
"While clothes are relatively inexpensive for the average Singaporean, the women we serve would not spend on themselves if they have money and frequently only have a T-shirt and pants to go to a job interview. Most of all, these women lack the confidence to face tough interviewers and do not know how to present their best to potential employers."
"We have the tools and resources to help them build their confidence and present their best and help them find sustainable employment. If we can help every unemployed woman become economically independent, we can have a Singapore where women do not live in poverty."
If you would like to be a part of Image Mission and Dress for Success, the team suggests some ideas. You can spread the word to people you know who could benefit from the organisation's help, or you can adopt the organisation as a charity of your choice.
You can also volunteer. "Apart from career coaches, stylists and make-up artists, we also need volunteers who can help in graphic design, admin or ad-hoc events management," says Ms Ang. "If you have the expertise, please do sign up at https://www.imagemission.org/volunteer."
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