Passion To Change The World

Young Social Entrepreneurs programme participants from the March 2014 batch are full of enthusiasm and hope to inspire others to join them to uplift the lives of communities across the globe.


 

Inspiring changemakers armed with the mind of a businessman but with the heart of a social worker set out to power their business plans for social good under the Singapore International Foundation’s Young Social Entrepreneurs Programme.

By Leela Jesudason

A

spiring youths from around the world are on a journey to realise a truly good business: From an Indian and Singaporean team using mobile phones to encourage English language learning for elementary school children in India to a Thai team promoting homestays with local villagers to give visitors an authentic experience of rural lifestyle in Thailand. Brimming with innovative ideas, these youth aspire to change the world, and the Singapore International Foundation (SIF) is giving them a hand through its Young Social Entrepreneurs (YSE) programme.

Set up in 2010, the programme aims to nurture a network of social entrepreneurs from around the world where the power of ideas, know-how and resources can be harnessed to enrich lives and effect positive change. Through the YSE programme, participants learn from and interact with leading social entrepreneurs, business professionals and other youths who are keen on social innovation, while expanding their networks for potential collaborations and partnerships for good.

The most recent YSE journey started in March 2014 with a three-day workshop in Singapore for 76 participants representing 12 nationalities. A shortlist of 11 teams of young changemakers representing Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Republic of Korea, Singapore and Thailand then embarked on an eight-month programme where they were mentored by corporate leaders to sharpen their business proposals and participated in an overseas study visit to Mumbai, India, to engage with leading social innovators on the ground. The programme finally culminated in a session titled Pitching for Change, with the different teams presenting their social enterprise ideas to a judging panel for funding.

Thailand team Local Alike comprising from left, Suratchana Pakavaleetorn, Somsak Boonkam and Patomporn Pongnin is a community-based tourism intiative that connects tourists with locals through homestays in rustic villages.
 

Four teams emerged tops: Eden Greening, a team from South Korea which promotes urban greenery while bridging South and North Korean communities through employment; Jugnuu, comprising a Singaporean and two Singapore-based Indians, which develops low-cost mobile applications to help elementary students in India improve their fluency in English; a trio from Thailand — Local Alike, which develops community-based tourism in Thailand; and a Singaporean team, Society Staples, which aims to set up Singapore’s first inclusive gym for people with disabilities.

The winning teams were each awarded funding of S$10,000 to start or grow their social enterprise.


TOURISM TO PRESERVE CULTURE

Thailand’s Local Alike is an online travel platform that organises trips for tourists wishing to visit the country’s indigenous groups such as the Akha people in Hloyo Village on the Doi Mae Salong hills. Run by Thai trio Suratchana Pakavaleetorn, Patomporn Pongnin, and Somsak Boonkam, the company arranges homestays in these villages as well as cultural experiences like handicraft classes or fishing trips.

Local Alike believes that tourism helps preserve indigenous culture and generates income for locals hosting the travellers for homestays, while tourists also gain invaluable experience by immersing themselves in a village’s culture.

The trio seeks to extend its social impact by supporting more communities domestically and regionally. They are also keen to explore other business possibilities, such as promoting the sale of local products to tourists and expanding activities-based tourism, for instance Thai massages by the blind or cooking classes with locals in various communities.

 

“I have learnt a lot from my friends through the YSE programme. Some of them are now working with us as our partners. We help one another by sharing advice or expertise.”

— Pongnin from Local Alike, Thailand

 

Says Pongnin: “The Mumbai study visit gave us inspiration and useful insights for our work. It was a fantastic example of how to serve a community.” Pongnin is also deeply appreciative of having been given the opportunity to learn how to pitch a business idea, which she considers a key skill.

She adds: “I have learnt a lot from my friends through the YSE programme. Some of them are now working with us as our partners. We help one another by sharing advice or expertise.”


ACCEPTANCE, EQUALITY AND INCLUSION

Singapore’s Society Staples’ idea of helping disadvantaged groups gain equality and inclusion in the larger community through sports and fitness found favour with the judges.

Set up in 2013, Society Staples’ founders, Ryan Ng and Debra Lam, are looking at setting up Singapore’s first all-inclusive gym, complete with exercise equipment that can be used by disabled and able-bodied people. They are in the midst of sourcing for additional funding and looking for a place to set up their gym.

The winners (from left): Team Jugnuu (India); Society Staples (Singapore) with SIF Chairman Euleen Goh, Eden Gardening (Korea), Local Alike (Thailand), and Jean Tan, SIF Executive Director.


Ryan Ng (standing in the back of boat) and Debra Lam (extreme right) co-founded Society Staples, which aims to establish an inclusive gym for the disabled. They also formed Deaf Dragons, a team of 17 hearing-impaired people and five members with normal hearing, which takes part in dragon boat races. The team is trained by Lam, an experienced dragon boat rider.


Lam is a former paddler in Singapore’s national dragon boat team, and Ng was from the national weightlifting team. Both are also certified personal and weightlifting trainers and the founders of Deaf Dragons — Singapore’s first all-deaf dragon boat team. Together, they have 18 years’ experience in competitive sports and five years of training persons with disabilities.

Society Staples hopes to eventually open four gyms in Singapore, and to expand the network in Southeast Asia. Says Lam: “We want to introduce sports programmes to schools and organisations for people with different disabilities. We also plan to create home-training kits for less mobile individuals who are unable to travel to our gym.”

The two fitness enthusiasts found the YSE programme very useful, especially their mentor’s guidance at a stressful time when they were writing their business plan and projecting their budget. “Our mentor, Siddharth Pisharody, from McKinsey Company gave us a lot of feedback and, despite having a busy schedule, made time to meet us and work on our idea. We really appreciate his dedication to help us,” says Lam.

She adds: “After we came back from our study visit in India, we understood better the complexity of social problems and the levels we have to navigate before seeing the desired change. This helped us to critique and refine our own ideas.”

For Ng and Lam, the key learning experience was understanding how collaboration works in other social enterprises. “It’s always good to grow our networks because an opportunity might just come knocking one day,” says Lam.

“Our experience in the YSE programme has been amazing. We met so many like-minded individuals with the same goal — to make our world a better place. To be in such an environment is highly contagious!”


GREENING SOUTH KOREA

Team South Korea, comprising Young Ju Oh, Sang Su Kim and Yiyeun Hong, run Eden Greening. They have a wide-reaching goal — to help greening efforts in South Korea, as well as provide employment to North Korean refugees and help them with social integration.

Ryan Ng (left), organises Strongman sessions to expose the disabled to more sports activities; Jimmy Chan (in cap) who is hearing impaired helping Valentino Tan flip a 250kg tyre during a strongman session.


The company currently sells two gardening products, Oasis is a portable ceramic plant pot that is permeable to air but restricts soil and water leakage. This allows plants to be placed anywhere such as on office desks. The other product is Lego-farm, a portable planter box that is ideal for small spaces and which acts as a small outdoor garden.

These gardening products are made by six North Koreans refugees who are now living in South Korea and hired by Eden Greening. Besides providing the refugees a sustainable income, it also makes it easier for them to integrate into South Korean society. “One of the men is now our salesman, which gives him opportunities to go out and meet South Koreans,” says Oh.

Eden Greening has also held four intensive workshops to help the North Koreans acquire business knowledge, as well as organised community gatherings to attract other North Koreans. This allows Koreans from both sides to better understand one another more.

 

“Right now, many students in India have few options to practise their English outside school. There is a strong need for a personalised solution to help students learn better.”

— Pramodh Rai from Jugnuu

 

Says Oh: “With the funding we received, we plan to develop new products and expand our product range.”

The YSE programme was a rewarding experience for her team. “It was good to meet entrepreneurs from other countries. In the social enterprise sector, there are not many opportunities for South Korea to connect with other parts of Asia. The situation in each country may be different, but I have really learnt a lot, especially the ways to solve social problems. I believe the solutions suggested by other entrepreneurs can be implemented in South Korea.”

Oh adds: “The people I met through YSE were the best thing I got out of it. Encountering people full of passion and brilliant ideas was an exceptionally unique experience.”


LEARNING ENGLISH THROUGH MOBILE TECHNOLOGY

Social enterprise Jugnuu wants to help students from middle-to low-income backgrounds in India learn English by developing a mobile app that will offer users lessons of varying difficulty levels. The team is run by Singaporean Pramodh Rai and Indians Ankita Gupta and Priya Andleigh, who are based in Singapore.

Team Jugnuu, comprising (from left) Pramodh Rai, Ankita Gupta and Priya Andleigh created a mobile app that teaches English.

Says Pramodh: “Right now, many students in India have few options to practise their English outside school. There is a strong need for a personalised solution to help students learn better.”

The YSE experience has given his team members clarity to define their vision and develop their product, he says.

“As India is our primary market, Jugnuu found the Mumbai study trip particularly beneficial. We managed to conduct a market study of our future users. We got to speak to consultants, investors and fellow entrepreneurs. This allowed us to draw a lot of insights and it helped us to fine-tune our business plan,” he says.

During their visit to Dharavi slum in Mumbai, Pramodh had an engaging conversation with a young man his age who had grown up in the slums and, despite the challenging environment, had graduated from university. Pramodh was struck by a deep sense of the locals’ grit.

That young man now conducts tours to the slum together with a group of friends to raise awareness of his community and combat stereotypes of people living in less-developed areas. “These tours also gives them a means of employment,” says Pramodh.

“Such experiences have left a lasting impression on me. It’s strengthened my desire to help people improve their lives,” he adds.

“We are very grateful that the YSE programme has given participants a supportive platform to achieve our goals.”

For more information on SIF’s Young Social Entrepreneurs (YSE) Programme, please visit our website at http://www.sif.org.sg/yse.


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