In 2023, Nee Soon South began exploring community mental health initiatives involving nature and animals. This is a new area of focus so we had to make fresh plans, establish new networks and assess the resources available.
The increased awareness of the importance of mental health has resulted in a surge of resources available. A “happy problem” of assessing suitable partners from a pool of many providers, particularly in those providing mental wellness activities involving animals, has emerged. Many claim to conduct “animal therapy” without any credible evidence beyond photos and anecdotes.
aaisg has been a valued partner in not only helping us run programmes but in also educating us in how sustainable animal-assisted interactions for mental wellbeing is professionally and ethically done. In 3 months they have partnered with Nee Soon South to organise 2 community events and we have more planned in future.
As a social enterprise, aaisg:
- Is proactive, thorough and detailed. Although a new start-up, aaisg demonstrates maturity in their business practices. aaisg’s service standards are high. They have delivered all the programmes Nee Soon South has engaged them for to a very high standard and all have run smoothly.
- Runs credible programmes. aaisg is committed to training and following best practices. Their programmes are evidence-based and run by trained members who must be accredited by aaisg. aaisg is also a member of the International Association of Human-Animal Interaction Organisations (IAHAIO), the main international body of animal-assisted interaction practitioners, something we note few others in the Singapore “animal therapy” space are. All their programmes are pitched with the appropriate evidence provided, and aaisg constantly seeks data to improve them.
- Has shown great openness and flexibility in working with community partners like Nee Soon South when negotiating programme fees. Like any business, social enterprises need revenue in order to sustain themselves. However, there is sometimes an inherent expectation that community programmes should be discounted or done “pro bono” because they are a social good. aaisg has always handled such discussions delicately, professionally and with a desire to create “win-win” outcomes.
In social value, aaisg:
- Is attempting to raise awareness of animal-assisted interaction, as well as standards, in Singapore. There is increasing evidence that interacting with animals can help with one’s mental wellness. Consequently, there is corresponding interest in people seeking this, and pet owners or groups wanting to offer this. Yet, such activities involve more than just putting human and animals together in a room and letting them “interact”. Some equate “animal therapy” to running a mini-circus. aaisg invests a considerable amount of effort ensuring its programmes are run with everyone’s (animal and human) welfare in mind and is always clear about what such programmes can or cannot achieve. There is a lot of attention to detail in the programmes they run.
- Uses animals to create broadly appealing opportunities for community bonding. Animal-assisted interaction is not an end in-and-of itself, but a starting point to create connection – connection with oneself, with nature and the environment or with others. Animals have a magical way of breaking ice. aaisg activities can be a springboard for other possibilities. With a lot of interest in pets from both pet and non-pet owners alike, aaisg is well-placed to create opportunities for diverse groups of people – some who may ordinarily not interact with each other – to connect and bond. We have already seen this even in the few programmes aaisg has conducted at Nee Soon South.
- Bridges gaps in how humans perceive animals by facilitating opportunities for quality interaction. Regardless of our own individual preferences, animals are now an integral part of our living spaces, especially in urban Singapore. While the status of some pets has been elevated to that of a family member (the “furkid”), many still view and interact with animals as though they are second class to humans. Through their programmes aaisg helps break down such mindsets by showing humans too can have meaningful relationships with animals, and vice-versa. aaisg logo, a hand and a paw hi-fiving, perfectly illustrates this. We have witnessed aaisg help individuals overcome their fear of particular animals, or change their mindsets about them, through guided interaction with them. aaisg’s programmes contribute to the separate but related social cause of animal welfare.
In general, aaisg’s social focus may not be as mainstream or visible as many others but it is not any less impactful. We at Nee Soon South have been impressed by aaisg’s dedication and professionalism for a lesser known cause.