Havan Clothing's Ivan Eng On The Challenges Of Being A Social Entrepreneur

By Chong Jinn Xiung

The former corporate finance manager gives us a glimpse of what it is like being a social entrepreneur and what keeps him going

Tatler Asia
Ivan Eng, co-founder and director, Havan Clothing
Cover  Ivan Eng, co-founder and director, Havan Clothing

In the What Matters To Me series, a Generation T honouree describes what they do, why they do it, and why it matters. 

In 2018, Ivan Eng quit his job as a corporate finance manager to pursue a career helping underprivileged children. It was something both he and his wife, Hany Chang, agreed to do as they loved helping children. After volunteering at a shelter home over the Christmas holiday season, they decided to start Havan Clothing.

The social enterprise sells clothes featuring artworks by shelter home children and directs 10 percent from each sale to fund its learning programme. Chang, who has a background in psychology and experience as a student counsellor, designed the programme to focus on building emotional intelligence (EQ) in children—an apt focus as an estimated 64,000 children in Malaysia live in childcare institutions such as government and private orphanages. Evidence also suggests that these children often suffer from delays in physical, emotional, social and cognitive development.  

Through its classes, children are taught how to manage their emotions through effective communication, conflict management and expressing empathy. The results of the programme are clear, as the couple saw improvements in the children's behaviour and self-confidence after just four months of rolling out the programme.

In his own words, Eng shares more about how he tackles the challenges he faces in running a social enterprise and what keeps him going.

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Starting a social enterprise is not easy. The first thing we gave up was having a steady source of income. The first year after we quit our jobs, we were stressed and anxious about our finances, as we wanted to start a family. I even resorted to working as a Grab driver during the day and working on Havan Clothing at night.   

Despite the hardships we faced, we remained dedicated to our cause. I was researching for business models to help keep our social enterprise self-sufficient and took a page from Toms Shoes, the US shoe brand, which is built on a one-to-one giving model where one item is donated for an item purchased. I thought selling clothes featuring the artwork by shelter home children would be a good way to let these kids express their creativity and boost their self-confidence at the same time.

An important lesson I've learned as a social entrepreneur is the importance of having a business partner. Sometimes, I get so involved in running the enterprise that I get stuck creatively. Fortunately, my wife is also my business partner, so I can ask her for help whenever I need a fresh perspective.  

When I started Havan Clothing, I didn't draw up a business plan. Instead, I made an agreement with myself that I would commit at least three years of my life to build this social enterprise. I found this process essential because instead of giving up, I would remind myself about this promise and look for solutions to overcome any problem I faced.  

One of the most challenging decisions I've had to make was to let our staff go during Malaysia's Covid-19 lockdown period. Fortunately, business has picked up since our economy opened up. We are now able to recruit back the people we had let go. This coming year, we are going all out to grow the business and hitting our target of positively impacting 1,000 shelter home children by the year 2025. 

See other honourees from the Social Entrepreneurship category of the Gen.T List 2021

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