Surprisingly, what these old men and women are making are paper hangers. However, these paper hangers are a little different from the ordinary ones. DoHands, where all these special hangers are created, not only hangs clothes on these paper hangers, but more importantly, hangs hopes and dreams of the homeless people.
DoHands Company is a social enterprise founded in 2012 that provides work opportunities for homeless people by making paper hangers. The name DoHands has two meanings: “two hands” as “do” means “two” in Korean, and “doing things with hands.”
The company originated from a team project of Enactus in Sungkyunkwan University that aimed to help homeless people become independent. Enactus is a global non-profit organization composed of university students, entrepreneurs and professors that contribute to local communities with their entrepreneurial and creative spirits.
“Before I tackled this issue in Enactus, I had a stereotype toward the homeless that they are too lazy and not willing to work,” said Park Chan-jae, the CEO of DoHands Company. “But I realized that more than 70 percent of homeless people are already working or willing to find jobs. So I thought extending DoHands as a social enterprise to provide work for homeless people would definitely make a big difference.”
DoHands makes profits in two ways: by posting company advertisements on hangers and by creating new paper hanger designs. Members of DoHands, comprised of five university students and graduates, take orders from companies that want paper hangers as their means of advertisement.
The members also create new designs that can attract customers in the market. When all the materials needed to make the paper hangers are ready, homeless people gather in homeless centers to make the products.
When Park designed the first version of the paper hanger, Park truly understood what the famous maxim in business, “field study is the right answer,” means.
Members once visited a dry cleaner’s with their design to see whether their products could be used there. Contrary to their original belief, the dry cleaner’s used a V-shaped pole to pick up clothes, which meant there should be a hole on the upper part of a hanger.
As a result, they had to change the design completely, adding little holes on the hangers.
“Though all designs should have been done in support of the fuctions, we had not done our field research,” Park said.
By talking to a number of homeless people, Park realized that dealing with the issue of homeless people requires giving attention to their different needs. For homeless people, what they do for a living is directly related to a matter of life or death.
“Three hundred homeless people lose their lives every year due to poverty and disease,” Park said. “What lies under disease and poverty is economic difficulty and lack of means of living, which directly threatens homeless people to stand on the edge of a precipice.”
However, hiring homeless people as workers does not make things better instantly. There is one more thing for Park to consider when hiring them. In order to maximize the profit allocated to homeless people, they should “not” be registered as formal workers. As most homeless people are recipients of the National Basic Livelihood Security Act, they cannot get subsidized from the government anymore if they are registered as full-time workers. Thus, they are hired as part-time workers.
Nevertheless, DoHands Company is something more than a work place for homeless people. They not only earn more compared to other temporary work places, but also build close relationships with members of DoHands. For example, many homeless people call Park dongsaeng, a Korean word for younger sibling, and Park calls them hyeong, a Korean word for older brother.
Park recalled a moment when one homeless woman called him and asked to help her with her studies for getting into a university.
“The woman said that she had been a recipient of the community’s welfare system, but now she wants to study social welfare and provide such programs to others in return,” Park said.
The reason why she wanted college education moved Park’s heart. Soon, members of DoHands recruited four teachers including Park himself through DoHands’ Facebook page. Fortunately, she recieved her admission and entered a university in March this year.
For DoHands Company, the business model of creating paper hangers with homeless people is just a means to reach the end, fighting against poverty of the homeless and even the elderly. Therefore, DoHands Company is now pondering on extending its field from manufacturing to IT, which will become another means to reach the goal, to provide more opportunities for homeless people.