A Pitch for Sustainability
The Singapore International Foundation’s 2017 Young Social Entrepreneurs programme ends on a high note, catapulting great new ideas into the world.
BY A.J. LEOW
PHOTOS CAMP HIRO, FREEDOM CUPS, AUCTOREM SOLUTIONS & SUPER WONDER
or 16 teams consisting of 38 young individuals from 10 countries participating in the final round of the 2017 Young Social Entrepreneurs (YSE) programme at Suntec City in November 2017, it was a chance to walk the talk – and pitch their social enterprise ideas to a panel of judges.
It capped an eight-month-long journey that included an overseas study trip, as well as meeting, and exchanging ideas with, a total of 138 likeminded counterparts from 18 countries. More importantly, the participants also benefited from being mentored by leading social entrepreneurs, business professionals, and captains of industry, on how to sharpen ideas, improve business models, and bring ideas to life.
The top six teams received up to S$20,000 each to help launch or scale up their social enterprises. Ambassador Ong Keng Yong, the chairman of the Singapore International Foundation who presented the prizes, described all the participants as winners. He attributed this to their efforts to make the world a better place, by enriching the lives of people in their communities and beyond. “What I found truly inspiring was the zeal and commitment that each of you showed when pitching your innovative ideas for businesses that are sustainable and socially conscious,” he told them.
We pick out four teams with interesting ideas, for a glimpse into the diversity that makes the YSE programme such an enriching experience.
Indonesian final-year agriculture engineering and management student Khoirul Anam AS Syukri, 21, who delivered the pitch for team Super Wonder, says: “We have learnt a lot since we began our YSE journey in March, like how to network, build our business model, seek partners, and even develop plans for new markets.”
Super Wonder’s project started in September 2016 with efforts to raise the living standards of families in the village of Ngabab, near Malang, in east Java, by converting cow dung and vegetable waste into a bio-slurry to cultivate earthworms. The worms are used to produce organic and chemicalfree worm powder that can be used as animal feed, pet food, and in ornamental fish breeding.
“We have since expanded our horizon to look into supplying our product to pharmaceutical and cosmetics companies. We may even export it if we can show potential partners and customers that we are a viable business – especially if we can invest in new equipment to raise production and build our inventory,” Khoirul adds.
“Besides learning from, and experiencing cross-pollination of ideas with other teams, we realised that mentorship is very important.”
Ernest Wong, founder of Camp Hiro
Singaporean Ernest Wong, 19, a final-year student in business and social enterprise management from Ngee Ann Polytechnic, founded Camp Hiro to educate youths about social issues – especially those affecting the elderly. He finds the YSE experience an eye-opener.
Wong explains: “Besides learning from, and experiencing cross-pollination of ideas with, other teams, we realised that mentorship is very important. We lack experience and competencies in the real world. Instead of limiting ourselves to secondary schools, we found that we could expand our targeted clientele to corporates who either have or are looking into corporate social responsibility programmes, as well as government agencies, as another revenue stream.
“We were also impressed, during the trip to the Dharavi slums in Mumbai, by the tenacity of one of the local social enterprises in reaching out to the governor’s office. It requested that the latter not impose restrictions that could hurt the livelihood of low income families.”
Helmed by three senior students currently pursuing master’s degrees in rural management, Auctorem has progressed from a non-governmental organisation (NGO) in India to a company, Auctorem Solutions. It is in the business of producing honey sourced from indigenous tribes in the Western Ghat region of Kolhapur in Maharashtra. Chaitanya Powar, 26, founded Auctorem in 2012 after being inspired to help lift the livelihood of four villages consisting of 190 families. He convinced them to switch to sustainable methods of harvesting wild honey from the forests; traditional methods involved the destruction of beehives. His efforts are estimated to have saved 150 million bees since 2014.
“We were able to change their mindsets of destroying the hives for honey extraction, which was an obstacle for us in our first two years. We then developed processes that are able to enhance the quality and increase the shelf life of the honey. We finally went commercial in 2016, and registered the company in July 2017,” says Chaitanya.
On the YSE programme, he says: “We initially thought it was just a contest which could help fund the business if we won an award, but it has become much more than that, thanks to our mentors from Temasek International in Singapore. The experience has taken us to the next level, which is to expand our business-to-business model through exposure to overseas markets in Singapore and Malaysia. We were able to survey the Singapore market and meet leading and organic retailers.
“Among them, Swift Health Food has expressed interest. There is definitely potential here as the Singapore market is projected to grow by 28 per cent over the next few years, and we do have a good product that is comparable to the 38 brands we saw on supermarket shelves here.”
For Freedom Cups, the YSE winner from Singapore, it is a case of second time lucky. They participated first in 2015 and then again in 2017. Freedom Cups helps women who lack access to sanitation facilities and products.
Says Vanessa Paranjothy, 28: “When we first took part, we just had an idea. This time around, we were armed with a functioning and sustainable social business. We are thrilled to receive the grant that will definitely help to scale up our business and help underprivileged women around the world.
“The YSE programme helped us meet and form friendships with other like-minded individuals who are passionate about social issues. The study mission to Mumbai in India allowed us to network with different social enterprises that are already functioning to gain real-world insight into business models.”
Paranjothy has this to say to future participants of the YSE programme: “Fail fast, and fail often. Get started and try different things, and, if it does not work, try something else. The key is to get started.”
2017'S WINNING TEAMS
Auctorem Solutions (India)
Based in the Western Ghat region of Kolhapur, Maharashtra, this sustainable venture works with tribes to facilitate the collection, extraction, purification, and sale of natural and medicinal honey.
Provides an integrated solution for small Indonesian islands, from waste management to clean energy, by training locals on proper waste classification and establishing a waste delivery system.
Freedom Cups (Singapore)
Makes reusable menstrual cups for women. Works on a buy-one, give-one model such that every purchase allows a woman from an underprivileged background to have clean periods.
Created a matchmaker app to connect low-income patients with dental interns in Indonesia, in order to make dental care affordable to the needy.
JM Nutrition Consultancy (Malaysia)
Seeks to empower children, including those from underprivileged families, with knowledge and simple recipes to prevent diet-related diseases.
Lakshya Jeevan Jagriti (India)
Strives to enhance literacy levels by teaching children, and encouraging their mothers to participate, to ensure better educational outcomes for both generations.
Since its inception in 2010, the YSE programme has groomed a total of 656 alumni of 27 nationalities, including participants from Algeria, Argentina, Australia, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Brazil, Britain, Brunei, Cambodia, Canada, China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mexico, Myanmar, Nepal, New Zealand, the Philippines, the Republic of Korea, Singapore, Sudan, Thailand, the Netherlands, the United States, Vietnam, and Yemen.
Previous YSE projects that have since evolved into viable businesses include:
SocialCops (YSE 2013), a Web and mobile platform connecting different community stakeholders in order to identify and address public issues in India.
WateROAM (YSE 2015), a Singapore- Indonesia collaboration which provides simple, portable and durable water fi ltration solutions to disaster-stricken sites in developing countries.
BeBonobo (YSE 2016), a free online network that promotes a sharing community and economy by allowing individuals and businesses to list unwanted items – which might otherwise be discarded – for others who may need them.
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