Smart wallet for special needs adults to make cashless transactions independently among ideas to win National Youth Council funding
SINGAPORE — Three teachers who used to work at the same special needs institution spotted a crucial gap after their students graduated at the age of 18 – they no longer received financial literacy education.
- The National Youth Council's Youth Action Challenge 2023 saw 61 teams of youths receive funding for their pitches to develop solutions to problems in their community
- One of them, Team SpedGrow, is developing a smart wallet system to support adult individuals with special needs in making cashless financial transactions independently
- The team has received S$50,000 in funding through the youth challenge
- Another entrant, Team Kapaw&Co, is repurposing food waste into pet food products and has salvaged around 200kg of food waste to date
- The team has received S$20,000 in funding through the same programme
SINGAPORE — Three teachers who used to work at the same special needs institution spotted a crucial gap after their students graduated at the age of 18 — they no longer received financial literacy education.
Since dealing with money is such an important part of life, they put their heads together and came up with an idea to address the challenges faced by adults with special needs as they navigate a confusing financial landscape.
Their idea is a cashless smart wallet that is tailor-made to suit those in this community and comes with safeguards to avoid pitfalls such as scams.
The trio — Ms Zoe Poh Yu Yah, 29, Ms Tan Yan Ning, 30, and Ms Clarrissa Hon Sin Hui, 29 — went by the name Team SpedGrow in this year’s edition of the National Youth Council’s (NYC) Youth Action Challenge (YAC) held from October 2022 to January 2023.
They have all worked at Metta School.
They formed one of 61 teams that were awarded funding to develop their project ideas.
The team won S$50,000 in funding through the YAC to bring their smart wallet idea to fruition.
“For an 18-year-old, as a neurotypical individual, it means that your life is just getting started," said Ms Poh.
"But as a neurodiverse (individual), there’s a lot of fear because once you graduate out of the system, there are not many places you can go to to further your education," she added.
"That’s why we wanted to engage them in lifelong learning, and we figured that money management was actually a critical barrier to independent living.”
Echoing this sentiment, Mr Alvin Tan, assistant director, independent living and caregiver support at SG Enable noted that some persons with intellectual disabilities or autism may find it difficult to handle money, or feel anxious about processes such as counting coins for payment.
“As cashless payments become more common in the community, some of them may also not fully understand how contactless payment works – including the use of mobile payment apps,” he added.
The smart wallet being developed by the trio aims to help vulnerable adults independently carry out financial transactions in the community – while also providing their caregivers with a level of control, via a smartphone application, to protect them.
The smart wallet will function like a contactless mobile payment system, where users can tap their devices on payment terminals to make transactions.
The system then processes these transactions by deducting the funds from a pre-stored sum that can be topped up from caregivers’ mobile devices.
Through the smartphone app, caregivers will also have the option to approve or reject transactions remotely.
“Given that persons with disabilities are more vulnerable, caregivers are concerned about the increasing prevalence of online scams and fraud, and how their care recipients may become victims,” said Mr Tan.
“Given that persons with disabilities are more vulnerable, caregivers are concerned about the increasing prevalence of online scams and fraud, and how their care recipients may become victims.Mr Alvin Tan, assistant director, independent living and caregiver support at SG Enable”
There are also concerns around how their care recipients can learn and familiarise themselves with the increasing modes of cashless and contactless payment.
Mr Tan believes that the development of such a smart wallet could encourage responsible spending habits among those with special needs.
At the same time, caregivers' ability to remotely monitor transactions strikes the right balance between providing their care recipients with independence in handling money, and managing potential financial losses to scams, he said.
While the smart wallet is still in its prototype stages, the team is currently using the software as an educational tool in select institutions, including Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore (Minds). SpedGrow is also a training partner with SG Enable’s Enabling Academy.
To date, the team has also conducted a trial of the system in their community – partnering a local convenience store near one of their beneficiary institutions to allow students to practise making their own purchases and financial transactions.
“It’s their pride – being able to do something on their own, and that’s what really drives us,” Ms Poh said.
HARD, HEART WORK
Over at Tanjong Pagar one of the other teams in the NYC YAC has been diligently going down a stretch of food and beverage (F&B) units over the past year to speak with restaurant owners and managers on collecting and recycling their food waste.
The team of four adjourn to one of their homes to manually re-purpose these food trimmings into pet food products.
Team Kapaw&Co is made up of four graduating students from the Singapore Polytechnic’s School of Business – Mr Irfan Cantero Abdul Halim, 21, Ms Megan Lee Si Ling, 20, Mr Premkkumar Nagaraja, 20 and Mr Michael Chang Min Khant Zaw, 20.
The team, which has won funding of S$20,000 from YAC, adopts a four-step process – save, clean, curate and test:
- To save food waste and trimmings collected from F&B outlets on a weekly basis
- To clean and handpick salvageable items
- To curate them to develop pet product offerings
- To test them for protein, nutrition and food safety levels
Ms Lee, one of Kapaw&Co’s co-founders, acknowledged that in Singapore’s move towards a zero waste nation, many are becoming more aware of the need for sustainability and helping the environment become more green.
However, not so many are willing to change what they consume, she said.
The team also found that pet owners locally were conscious of what they fed their pets, and that kibbles were not the healthiest because of their lack of moisture and nutrients.
“We surveyed a number of pet owners and asked if they would be willing to feed their pets healthy food made from misfit raw materials, and a lot of them said that they are willing to,” Ms Lee added.
“It further pushed us that, hey, maybe we can come up with this solution where we upcycle food and promote a circular economy, and at the same time promote healthier living amongst pets.”
To minimise waste in every step of the process, the team operates on a subscription-only basis, where food waste collected is re-purposed to meet the specific volume pre-ordered by their customers.
Additional unused food trimmings collected – amounting to about 20kg a week – are donated to animal shelters and other beneficiaries.
To date, they have salvaged around 200kg of food waste.
YOUTHS IN ACTION
YAC is organised annually by the National Youth Council (NYC), in partnership with Citi Foundation and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) through their Youth Co:Lab initiative.
The challenge aims to empower youths and provide them with a platform to recommend policy changes and champion ground-up initiatives in partnership with the Government, businesses and community organisations.
Into its fourth iteration this year, the latest YAC season saw teams coming up with ideas and solutions to problems relating to four themes: environment and sustainability, mental wellbeing, support for vulnerable groups and inclusivity.
For the first time this year, NYC also launched an inaugural Participatory Budgeting exercise where youths voted for projects to receive additional funding.
Spedgrow was awarded an additional S$7,300, while Kapaw&Co received an additional S$5,900 through the exercise.
SpedGrow is also one of two Youth Co:Lab teams selected to represent Singapore and the Youth Co:Lab Regional Summit that will be held in Bangkok this year. The team will join other teams from around Asia-Pacific to pitch their solutions to challenges faced across the region.
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