Catalysing Social Change

Students and graduates of tertiary institutions in Singapore helped YSE participants hone their social entrepreneurial skills, and shared tips on delivering impactful presentations in business clinics during the YSE 2017 Workshop.

The Young Social Entrepreneurs programme aims to connect budding social entrepreneurs to the larger social enterprise network and spark collaborations that lead to positive social impact.



ince its inception in 2010, the Singapore International Foundation’s Young Social Entrepreneurs (YSE) programme has inspired and enabled international youth to embark on dozens of social enterprises in Singapore and beyond. By connecting youth to the social enterprises sector, the programme nurtures a network of social entrepreneurs to collaborate on projects that effect positive change.

To help this year’s YSE participants think of how they can build successful social enterprises, a dialogue session and fireside chat featuring panellists from the social enterprise ecosystem were held during the YSE 2017 Workshop in March. The dialogue examined how multi-sectorial partnerships can help to achieve a set of global goals to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure peace and prosperity for all, while the chat explored ideas for nurturing young changemakers.

Jassy Lin, business director of social innovation group Non-Profit Incubator, and Martin Tan, executive director of the Institute for Societal Leadership at the Singapore Management University, were both panellists for the fireside chat, while Vincent Loka, a YSE 2015 alumnus and co-founder of social enterprise WateROAM, took part in the dialogue session. They share with SINGAPORE some important lessons for young people embarking on their social entrepreneurship journey.

“ Social entrepreneurs often join forces with civil society, private companies and the government. They appreciate the value of building collaborative partnerships and leveraging multi-sectorial networks for systemic and scalable change. ”

Mr Ong Keng Yong, SIF chairman

SINGAPORE: How can young changemakers build credibility and make up for their lack of leadership experience?

Vincent Loka (VL): The lack of experience in youth can be compensated with time and through their willingness to learn. In fact, these two factors are their greatest assets. I would suggest identifying the right mentors and tapping their experiences and expertise to take the project to greater heights. As for how leaders without experience can lead, they should take it as a challenge and learn along the way, since we were all inexperienced to begin with.


Martin Tan (MT): Credibility is built when leaders display expertise, dynamism and trustworthiness. Even if young changemakers have no prior experience, they can lead a team if they show they can be trusted, as simple as following through on promises they made, or if they display a level of competence in specifi c areas and have a dynamic personality that people fi nd attractive to follow. While experience is important, everyone starts somewhere. The key is to start.


Jassy Lin (JL): They can prepare and improve themselves by learning from some of the worldʼs most infl uential leadership masters, such as Peter Drucker, Peter Senge and Stephen Covey. I would recommend reading their books and articles, attending relevant seminars and workshops, engaging in discussions, and fi nding a mentor to help them grow their leadership skills. To develop their own style of leadership, youth need to learn classic leadership methodology and management skills, combine them with their own values and personality, and put the skills into practice in their work.

SINGAPORE: What essential skills should youth develop in order to understand and solve development problems?

VL: I find being empathetic and open-minded to be essential skills for youth to develop. This is because solving development problems requires one to put oneself in the shoes of others and see the world as how others perceive it. Other important skills include the ability to work together in a team and manage timelines to ensure progress in the project.


MT: There are three key things. Firstly, they must have a sense of curiosity in fi guring out how and why things work the way they do. When we have a chance to work with older leaders, we need to take one step back and understand how they think, what makes them successful and how they make decisions. Next, they need to have an appetite for the long game as solving development problems is a long-term journey. We should see development work as building upon the foundation that someone else has built and preparing the ground for the next person to build on. Youth should also possess the ability to bounce back. Resilience, while not a skill, is very much needed in development work because projects and innovations almost always fail before they succeed.

JL: There are three key skills that I believe young leaders should develop. Firstly, they need to learn to see the big picture and to defi ne a problem, understand the needs of the relevant stakeholders, and develop a solution without raising new problems. They also need to be able to execute and deliver results by fi nding a breakthrough point for the problem, and staying focused on one issue at a time. Finally, they need to learn to lead a team by motivating its members, steering them to reach agreement, and empowering them to take responsibilities through a sense of shared values and mission.

SINGAPORE: How can a social enterprise identify strategic partners that complement its goals?

VL: It depends on the nature of the social enterprise and its goals. Most social enterprises work with entities that have established a close relationship with their beneficiaries.

Developing a working relationship with this partner provides great insights on many things, including the acceptability and sustainability of the solution provided, and helps the social enterprise to save time and resources, so it can focus on other things.

MT: We canʼt do everything alone in such a complex environment. We need to look for complementary skill sets and resources. We should also look for an ability to work together, which will make or break any partnership. And look for common goals. While we may all work in the same sector, we may not have the same goal. Ask key questions about what success looks like to see if there is a strong alignment.


JL: Finding a strategic partner is similar to fi nding a boyfriend or girlfriend – you will know when you meet the one with shared values and interests. Through cooperation, you will come to understand each other better, and as you evaluate the value you have both created, you will know whether you want to develop the relationship further.


SINGAPORE: How can social enterprises achieve sustainable development growth in cost-competitive markets?

VL: Social enterprises may want to explore different types of innovative business models to ensure sustainable development growth. They should also consider partnering with other social enterprises to deliver integrated solutions.


MT: Itʼs important to remember that social enterprises are businesses with a social mission. The numbers must work and the business must make sense. A mentor told me something wise that I remember and practise: “In business, itʼs about where you spend a dollar and not where you save a dollar.” The investment you make as an entrepreneur must yield you X amount of returns. So in a cost competitive environment, focus on value creation instead of cost savings. I donʼt believe in being the lowest priced in the market but the highest in value for money. That allows us to create necessary margins needed for growth and for more investment into creating greater value.

JL: The solutions are innovation and cross-border cooperation. Social entrepreneurs need to be innovative in their products, services, operations and organisational structures. They also need to engage in regular discussions with stakeholders, and adopt lean business practices to optimise their business models. To continue providing better solutions, social enterprises need to focus on the social problem, stay close to their stakeholders, and connect people and resources in their networks.



The Young Social Entrepreneurs (YSE) programme has grown from strength to strength since it started in 2010 with 25 participants. To date, it has groomed 656 youth from 27 countries and territories around the world.

This year’s programme attracted 138 participants – the highest number since it started – from 18 countries and territories, including Australia, Canada, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and the United States. The youth, who formed 63 teams, took part in a four-day YSE 2017 Workshop held in Singapore in March. They participated in business clinics, training seminars, discussions and field trips conducted by partners from government as well as private, academic and social entrepreneurial sectors.

On the final day of the workshop, the teams pitched their social-business ideas to a panel of judges who selected 16 teams, comprising 37 youth from various countries, to advance to the next phase of the programme. This second phase comprises a mentorship scheme, running from April to October, led by global management consulting firm McKinsey & Company, Temasek International, and experienced entrepreneurs.

The teams will go on an overseas study visit to Mumbai, India, where they will get to exchange insights and learn from leading social entrepreneurs, businesses and industry experts from the country. These teams will then return to Singapore in November for the Pitching for Change event, where they will present in front of a panel of judges. Six winning teams will each receive seed funding of up to S$20,000 to launch or scale up their social enterprises.

The YSE 2017 Workshop attracted the most diverse group to date. A total of 138 youth from 18 countries and territories took part in the four-day event.

WOW Foundation aims to provide affordable eco-friendly and sustainable solid waste management services to third-tier cities in India. It is founded by Indians Pramod Bhurji and Om Prakash Raja.

“ The public, private and people sectors need to work together to share knowledge, expertise, technology and fi nancial resources to unlock the transformative power of partnerships and deliver sustainable solutions to global problems. ”

Mr Ong Keng Yong, SIF chairman


“The YSE 2017 Workshop has been particularly useful in helping me better articulate Lemongrass Factory’s social mission. I am now exploring potential collaborations with a Cambodian non-governmental organisation that I met during the workshop. I hope to tap into their network of local farmers so as to diversify my source of raw materials.”
Leonard Soh, co-founder of Lemongrass Factory

Lemongrass Factory offers a mosquito repellent bracelet infused with lemongrass oil to low-income families to protect them from the Aedes mosquito, which causes diseases such as dengue fever and Zika. It is founded by Singaporeans Leonard Soh Yong Jia and Priscilla Ang Wan Yee.

“Through YSE, we learnt a lot from, and interacted with, leading social entrepreneurs, business professionals and other youth who are keen on social innovation.”
Muhammad Ali Fikri, co-founder of TAPONESIA

TAPONESIA is a digital agroforestry platform that connects underemployed farmers and underutilised land to investors. It helps farmers gain sustainable incomes, while simultaneously solving deforestation challenges through its integrated agricultural management system. It is founded by Indonesians Nur Maulidiah Elfajr, Tri Lestari and Muhammad Ali Fikri.

“Sometimes, as a social entrepreneur, you do question your line of work, and the journey can be quite lonely. So it is very motivating to be part of a workshop that brought together over 60 teams of aspiring young social entrepreneurs from all over the world who are unified by a shared vision to solve social problems. Additionally, we met many social enterprises whose work is also in the sustainable tourism sector, and I foresee potential partnerships with them in the future.”
Elijah Johnston, co-founder of Trovi

Trovi empowers underprivileged artisans by connecting them digitally to individuals who seek meaningful travel and local engagement. It is founded by American Elijah Johnston and Canadian Danielle Thompson.

“The YSE programme has allowed me to clarify many doubts I had about Camp Hiro, and helped the team to have a clearer idea of our business model. I hope that at the end of this YSE journey, my team will be well equipped to ensure Camp Hiro’s sustainability, while being able to continue empowering youth to take action to address social issues.”
Ernest Wong, co-founder of Camp Hiro Camp

Hiro educates youth on a range of social issues through engaging and fun ways that help to build empathy. It is founded by Singaporeans Ernest Wong and Jacey Ong Mei Shu.

“To start out as an entrepreneur, it is very important to have friends and peers who have similar drive as us so that we can constantly encourage each other and feed ideas off one another. More than just giving us an opportunity to get seed funding, the YSE connected us to people whom we have built memorable friendships with.”
Tan Song Jie, co-founder of Signs

Signs is a no-frills soft serve and crepe business that provides employment opportunities to people with disabilities, as well as those with financial difficulties. It is founded by Singaporeans Tan Song Jie, Tan Yong Jing and Dennis Tee Yong Tat.

“The workshop in March was very helpful in terms of helping to build a sustainable business model through looking at the social and financial aspects of any business. Now, our mentors are helping us to refine our business model. They have also shared their experience of building social enterprises, which has been very motivating and helpful. I will utilise the learnings and experiences from the programme in my venture.”
Pramod Bhurji, co-founder of WOW Foundation

WOW Foundation aims to provide affordable eco-friendly and sustainable solid waste management services to third-tier cities in India. It is founded by Indians Pramod Bhurji and Om Prakash Raja.

“We were really happy with the opportunity to meet other young social entrepreneurs and explore Singapore with them. Having the opportunity to bond, exchange stories and motivate each other in the start-up journey has helped us more ways than just learning from formally structured lectures.”
Longwen Ching, co-founder of Loadrunner

Loadrunner connects shippers and carriers through an online platform and mobile app, which will help truckers earn additional revenue and allow shippers to track their freight in real time. It is founded by Taiwanese Longwen Chiang, Australian Francis Lorenzo Dagelet and Filipino Ma Johanna Bautista.

“We believe that social enterprises are campaigners of collective action. The greater the cooperation and mutual trust among multi-sectorial partners, the greater the impact that can be achieved. The YSE 2017 Workshop has further reinforced this belief through the success stories of cross-sector collaborations that were shared by various mentors and speakers.”
Syamkrishnan PA, co-founder of DHAAN

DHAAN seeks to solve the problems of food security and food inequality in Indian villages through setting up commercial grain banks, in which villagers can deposit surplus grains and earn interest or loan grains when there is a shortage. It is founded by Indians Syamkrishnan Aryan, Parvatha Varthini S and Surbhi Jain.

“The YSE programme started off with many different teams from different areas, with different ideas confronting different problems. This has helped us with our idea-generation and brainstorming process. It has also widened our perspectives on critical issues we are dealing with. We also hope to learn from other teams and get insights and new perspectives on issues like basic sanitation, women’s rights and gender equality.”
Joanne Paranjothy, co-founder of Freedom Cups

Freedom Cups provides reusable menstrual cups to women as a cheaper and more environmentally conscious alternative to sanitary products. It also operates a buy-one, give-one scheme in which for every cup it sells, it gives a menstrual cup to a woman who cannot afford sanitary products. It is founded by Singaporeans Rebecca Paranjothy, Joanne Paranjothy and Vanessa Paranjothy.

“The YSE programme gave us the chance to work with other entrepreneurs from all over the world, which resulted in a valuable sharing experience. It also opened our minds to the idea that a social business is not only about profit but it can also be a noble activity.”
Anik Haryanti, co-founder of SUPER WONDER

SUPER WONDER seeks to create a zero-waste system by utilising farm waste to produce animal feed. It is founded by Indonesians Anik Haryanti, Nada Mawarda Rilek and Khoirul Anam Asy Syukri.

“The most memorable part about the YSE programme has been the chance to network and meet different people who share our belief in social enterprises and doing things for the greater good. Through this journey, we hope to broaden our point of view, expand our networks, and grow everlasting friendships both domestically and abroad.”
Hamzah Assaduddin, co-founder of GigiCare

GigiCare seeks to improve the quality of digital healthcare and provide affordable dental care in Indonesia through a matchmaker app that connects low-income patients with dental interns in Indonesia. It is founded by Indonesians Hamzah Assaduddin and Ahmad Faris Adli Izzuddin.

“The YSE programme helped us to better understand the true meaning of social entrepreneurship, which would help us to create solutions that are more meaningful and effective. I hope to gain more exposure to various social enterprises and explore ways in which we can make our enterprise more sustainable in a shorter period of time.”
Su Seau Yeen, co-founder of JM Nutrition Consultancy

JM Nutrition Consultancy is a food and nutrition education centre that empowers children, aged 4 to 12, with the knowledge and know-how to prevent diet-related diseases. It channels part of its profits to providing nutrition education to underprivileged children. It is founded by Malaysians Su Seau Yeen and Jowynna Yeo Xia-Ni.

“What we have taken away the most from the YSE programme is the learning that we were able to acquire in such a short duration. Pitching our idea in front of a global audience has given us the confidence we need to move ahead with the project and not let any hurdle bog us down”
Harikrishnan Santhosh, co-founder of WeGha Honey

WeGha Honey is a sustainable venture based in the Western Ghat region of Khalpur, Maharashtra, India that works with tribes to facilitate the collection, extraction, purification and sale of natural and medicinal honey from the forests. It is founded by Indians Chaitanya Powar, Abhishek Sharm and Harikrishnan Santhosh.

“The most memorable experience from the YSE programme has been the chance to meet other social entrepreneurs from around the world, which really encouraged us. We realised that there are still many people who think like us, feel like us, and share our dream of wanting to make this a better world”
Chanon Punmguman, co-founder of EFFUND

EFFUND aims to help needy communities by connecting them with social and private organisations, and harnessing the power of these organisations to create sustainable social impact. It is founded by Thais Chanon Pumguman, Chitsanupong Jirapitakkul and Warisara Kianwong.

“The YSE journey has made a difference to our organisation's outlook, and we are putting what we learnt from the workshop into practice. We hope to be able to create a ripple effect in society”
Summaiya Afreen, co-founder of Lakshya Jeevan Jagriti

Lakshya Jeevan Jagriti improves the social and economical conditions of women by providing skill-based training and education. It is founded by Indians Summaiya Afreen and Rahul Goswami.

“We hope to contribute to and harness the YSE network, and collaborate on exciting projects that bring benefits to people, organisations and the planet.”
Fadhila El Discha, co-founder of BHUMIRA

BHUMIRA provides waste management solutions and clean energy to small islands in Indonesia. It is founded by Indonesians Fadhila El Discha, Febri Purborini Raharningrum and Bryan Citrasena.



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