Ritu, second from left, together with volunteers of GoodKarma (PHOTO: GOODKARMA)
In this edition of Groundup Features: we speak with Ritu, Founder of GoodKarma, a groundup which aims to foster volunteerism, inclusion and service while bridging and building communities. Hear from Ritu as she shares about the inspiration behind starting the initiative, and future projects that GoodKarma will be embarking on.
Hi, my name is Ritu and I was born and raised in India. I left India in my youth and relocated to several countries before coming to Singapore and this year marks the 15th year since I have settled down here in Singapore. Throughout this journey, I was able to find different ways to channel my passion for giving back to the community, and GoodKarma was borne out of that passion.
GoodKarma was initially created for me to feel connected with the place I was at. When I was young, I did not think that I would leave my home country. However, as I grew older, I went through so many changes in my life and my environment, and I knew that I had to adapt to these changes. As such, I decided to embrace the opportunities I had to see the world, by consciously choosing to embrace the local culture and immersing myself into the community.
Coming from a humble background, I grew up learning to express and practice gratitude. Carrying these values from home, I decided to give back to the community by going into community work and I created GoodKarma years ago when I was still travelling around the world – to inspire simple acts of good in our daily lives.
As I settled down in Singapore, I became involved as a grassroot leader as well. While giving back to the community, I discovered several gaps in the social service sector and I wanted to plug those gaps. I decided to scale GoodKarma by registering as an entity and in doing so, I was able to gain legality and credibility to invite others to join in and do good for the community.
GoodKarma’s main goal is to foster volunteerism, inclusion and service across the board while bridging and building communities. At the heart of it all is the planet and my hope is to create a circular economy that forces us to leave a minimal footprint.
Our values are rooted in the belief that we are all citizens of the world, and we all have a responsibility towards leaving it a better place for our children. No matter which land we may be upon at the time, the change begins with us to serve with humility and gratitude for all the gifts it bestows.
Over the years, we have organised several projects serving different communities such as the elderly, children, single mothers, and youths, and we will continue to create more as we go along, identifying needs that we can support. We encourage and empower volunteers of all ages by welcoming them with an open heart and mind to build interest, nurture motivation and inspire friendships.
Festive clothing drives held at community spaces (PHOTO: GOODKARMA)
GoodKarma takes action by addressing issues in the community and building community capacity. One big issue we realised was wastage, in terms of food and resources.
We noticed that there was a lot of resource wastage within the local community, and we wanted to reduce this through mindful giving. Our mission statement is “the art of giving” as we want to inspire people to see the value in reducing, reusing, and recycling. We launched Project Mithaas (which stands for sweetness) where we connected resources between donors and communities in need – by repurposing furniture, household items, toys, books etc. During this process, we also educate the community on “giving with dignity” – which essentially means that we should not see giving things away as “throwing” but instead to see it from the perspective that the items you’re giving away will truly help others.
Through Project Mindful Raya, we ran festive clothing drives, collecting festive clothing from the community and distributing them to families who do not have the capacity to purchase these festive items. In doing so, we were able to reduce waste and at the same time, promote inclusion by allowing these families to feel included during the festivities. We also noticed that there were many Muslim migrant workers in the dormitories who were fasting during the month of Ramadan. As such, we decided to send them meals tailored to their needs. At the same time, we supported small neighborhood businesses and hawkers who were struggling due to the pandemic by purchasing our food supplies from them.
We have adopted UN Sustainability Goal No.11 as our guiding principle in support of the SG Green Plan 2030. We feel food is existential, more so in the COVID-19 aftermath and we must do whatever we can to ensure no one is hungry and food is not wasted. Therefore, we have increased our focus on food related projects. For example, a project we recently worked on was to help set up a free fresh food market for low-income and vulnerable families. We collected rescued fruits and vegetables from sources to curate, pack and distribute weekly. We also aim to be a zero-waste market and encourage green habits through educational actions like bringing your own bag (BYOB), to only take what you need and to repurpose, reimagine, and recreate value in existing resources.
Once we had to distribute hundreds of trays of eggs at the market and we wanted to find a “greener solution” to distribute. I spent time with the elderly egg seller to learn how to make an egg carrier purely out of an egg tray! Bringing this knowledge back to our market and sharing it with my volunteers, we managed to create reusable egg carriers for everyone, ensuring that waste is reduced. Furthermore, we collaborated with a paper recycling company to collect all paper waste, a composter for the food waste, and a soup kitchen to collect all the leftover produce.
To complete the circularity of the project, we worked at the soup kitchen weekly to chop the vegetables and helped distribute the cooked food to migrant workers and other locals who required meals. We raised over $30K in 2 months for the soup kitchen to help them increase their ability to feed more. We believe that if everyone plays a small role in living intentionally and reducing waste, we will create a ripple effect and eventually make an impact.
Even though the pandemic has impacted our in-person activities, I received tremendous energy during this period of time, with many writing in to offer help. To grow community capacity, we also searched for collaborators to work on projects together.
Our volunteers are called GoodKarma Troopers and throughout the pandemic, our Teen Troopers arm also grew in large numbers. Our passionate kids and youth volunteers have been particularly active in creating a hopeful future for our world. For instance, when we ran our market and soup kitchen projects, we received a huge number of sign-ups from youth volunteers. One teen even reached out to me for advice on how to further contribute his time and went on to attain a food hygiene certificate so that he could prepare meals for the vulnerable communities! Another teen organised food drives to assist our meal distribution projects.
Following the quote, “If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. If you teach a man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime.”, our goal is to educate and empower our volunteers to make the world a better place to live in.
Ritu, together with youth volunteers at GoodKarma's fresh food market (PHOTO: GOODKARMA)
I think the biggest challenge for me was trying to prove myself and my work.
As I was not born and raised in Singapore, I faced some difficulties in building credibility. However, I did not let this bring me down and my intrinsic respect for local ecosystems helped me to continue to focus on my work without worrying too much about such hurdles.
I believe that volunteering is all about taking action and hence, I am highly involved in fieldwork where I spend at least 3 days a week on the ground. Over time, people gradually recognised my efforts, and I am very grateful for all the opportunities and wonderful people who joined GoodKarma. Together, we have grown the impact footprint on the local community tremendously.
As we are not particularly involved in social media, we had people asking us, “How can we trust you?” and to that question, we simply answer, “Roll up your sleeves and come with us, you’ll see it!”
The greatest tip I would give is to be mindful about your ability to do something.
Before starting a project, you must conduct extensive research to ensure that your project is sustainable. As we consciously choose to serve the vulnerable communities, we must be exceptionally mindful of our actions and be respectful towards them. As our goal is to uplift and support these communities, we must ensure that our efforts are sustainable in the long run.
Hence, I would advise fellow groundup founders to keep sustainability in mind, start small and slowly build scalability over time based on your resources and circumstances.
Volunteers preparing resources to be distributed (PHOTO: GOODKARMA)
Going forward, we are looking to scale up the market model that we currently have and once the COVID-19 restrictions loosen, it would be good for us to resume the in-person format for our volunteering activities. Our focus now would be to look for a way to set up a physical centre for collection and distribution where people can donate books, toys, clothing, etc.
Within the centre, we want to curate several programs and the main idea is to provide educational support, food support and more. We are also looking to expand our existing project, Project Vidya (which stands for knowledge). With the digital shift, we want to ensure that the vulnerable communities do not get left behind. We collect digital devices in mint condition and refurbish them, to help them kickstart their digital journey.
Project Sayang was recently launched to bring monthly birthday celebrations to children devoid of family love at a children’s home. Project THREADS will be expanded to include more local festivals; to bring more communities together to foster racial harmony, mutual respect and cultural sensitisation.
I believe that the readers can support our projects by donating their time, skills, passion and funds for the many causes we support through our creative programming. If you are a corporate, please consider our small groundup in your Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) activities, and together we can multiply the impact of our collective synergies on making our local communities better. Like and follow us on our Facebook page for updates on how to get involved in our varied community engagement and green initiatives.
I hope that GoodKarma’s initiatives build community through simple acts of kindness. We want to inspire people to practice mindfulness and understand that these simple acts of good can be executed anytime, anywhere. Acts can include bringing your own bag when you are shopping, reusing your food packaging, finding ways to repurpose materials, refusing to buy more than you need, reimagining usage of items, recreating value from existing products and basically, living more intentionally! With that, we hope to create a ripple effect where more and more people own a green mindset and join in to contribute to the community.
I am a die-hard fan of Toast Box - I am a tea person and Toast Box is my go-to place to grab a cup and the most delicious butter toast in town!
* This feature has been edited for clarity
About the authors:
Felinda is a Skills For Good volunteer who wishes to see a world where everyone can come together to spread kindness and positivity!
Jannelle is Content Producer at Groundup Central. Armed with her camera, she looks forward to meeting & documenting the everyday heroes of our lives.
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