The Heart Of Business

WateROAM helped in the Nepal earthquake relief efforts in May 2015 by sending water bag fi lters to remote regions of the Gorkha district.

Budding social entrepreneurs develop ideas and their networks through Singapore International Foundation’s Young Social Entrepreneurs programme.

BY AUDRINA GAN
PHOTOS
SINGAPORE INTERNATIONAL FOUNDATION, WATEROAM

 

W

itnessing a young Cambodian boy drink dirty water from a flooded well in Phnom Penh sparked Singaporean Lim Chong Tee’s interest in water sanitation. Lim had seen this during an overseas field trip in junior college. At university in 2012, he chose to study environmental engineering so that he could help solve the world’s water problems.

In August 2014, together with fellow students from the National University of Singapore, Lim started a social enterprise, WateROAM, which focuses on water technology. Its aim is to develop simple, durable, portable and affordable water filtration systems for disaster relief operations and rural communities without access to clean water. WateROAM’s water filtration products have since supplied clean drinking water to more than 13,000 people around Asia.

Its efforts were recognised by the Singapore International Foundation (SIF), which selected it as one of six start-ups to receive a total of S$100,000 in funding in 2015 under its Young Social Entrepreneurs (YSE) programme. Since 2010, the programme has been helping youth of different nationalities to embark on social enterprises in Singapore and beyond.

Through the YSE, participants learn and interact with leading social entrepreneurs, business professionals and other youth who are keen on social innovation, while expanding their networks for potential collaborations and partnerships.

A total of 15 teams, comprising 31 young social entrepreneurs from Hong Kong, Malaysia, India, Indonesia, Vietnam and Singapore, took part in the YSE programme in 2015. They were shortlisted from a pool of 90 participants at the 2015 YSE Workshop in March.

The teams took part in an eight-month mentorship by global management consulting firm McKinsey & Company. They also went on study trips to India and Malaysia, and engaged with social enterprises in the two countries to learn how to improve their business models. At the end of the programme, they made a final pitch to a judging panel, comprising leading social entrepreneurs and corporate leaders, at the Pitching for Change 2015 event, held in Singapore on Oct 23.

The teams were evaluated based on the impact, scalability and sustainability of their social enterprise idea. Initially, the S$100,000 funding was to be split among five teams. But in the end, SIF awarded the funding to six teams with the strongest and most viable business ideas because the judging panel wanted to reward all six start-ups for their winning ideas. Aside from WateROAM, the other teams are Ecodoe, Gap Year Guide, Osiris, STARTIC and WE Cabs (see sidebar).


GREATER GAINS

Although the recognition accorded by the award is invaluable, what is more important to the teams are the friendships and knowledge gained during the YSE journey. Indeed, the programme has spurred other collaborations among participants and programme partners.

Says WateROAM’s Lim: “One of our fellow participants from India linked us with a social entrepreneur who was well-experienced in implementing low-cost water purification in India. We continue to learn from him and explore ways to work with each other.”

The YSE exposure also helped to broaden horizons for Indonesia-based Osiris, which works with a disabled community and farmers in Indonesia to make dragon fruit ice cream.

One YSE programme partner, UnLtd India – an incubator for social entrepreneurs – connected its sister organisation UnLtd Indonesia with Osiris to explore partnership opportunities. Sheila Reswari of Osiris says: “All of us agreed that we can achieve something bigger and help various people in the society through our businesses.”

Ecodoe from Indonesia, which partners local craftsmen and housewives to make environmentally friendly souvenirs, also gained insights from other well-established social enterprises on how to get the buy-in of local communities and build good governance.

Its co-founder Larasati Widyaputri says: “From the success stories shared, we learnt how we can convince the local community to build a product-based social enterprise. We don’t want people to buy our products because of how poor the community is. We want them to buy them because they are awesome products.”

The YSE programme has also been a fruitful learning experience for the teams that did not manage to win funding. Singaporean Khairuddin Anshar is the founder of The Lockr, an academy that hopes to inspire positive change in the lives of at-risk youth through Brazilian jiu-jitsu.


WINNERS OF SIF YOUNG SOCIAL ENTREPRENEURS(YSE) PROGRAMME 2015

“Participating in the 2015 YSE Programme is already a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me, and to be one of the winners is a bonus. What was more memorable were the friendships with other teams, the mentorship from McKinsey and the links to the network of organisations that are all doing good.”

Sheila Reswari, co-founder of Osiris

Osiris (Indonesia) improves the livelihoods of a community of disabled people and farmers through the production and sale of dragon fruit ice cream due to the concentration of dragon fruit farms in the area inhabited by the community.

 



“I hope Ecodoe will inspire young people to have creativity with purpose. With the YSE funding, we plan to involve more sheep breeders, craftsmen and housewives.”

Larasati Widyaputri, co-founder of Ecodoe

Ecodoe (Indonesia) engages local craftsmen and housewives in West Java to produce eco-friendly handcrafted souvenirs using disposed sheep fur and vetiver, a tropical grass that is used in aromatherapy.

 


“The award is very significant to us as the judges have affirmed our potential to become a business that can empower youth to be confident in their pursuits and generate economic contributions.”

Kelyn Tan, founder of Gap Year Guide

Gap Year Guide (Singapore) connects youth with opportunities to work and volunteer with social enterprises around the globe.

 


“Making friends was the best part of the trip. I found myself living the SIF tagline, ‘Making friends for a better world’. I loved the time that I spent with my fellow YSEs from other countries. I have made some very good friends and would love to work with them in the future.”

Rao Yogesh Kumar, founder of WE Cabs

WE Cabs (India) offers safe transport solutions for women, the elderly and children by training women from marginalised communities to work as taxi drivers.

 


“This win is an acknowledgement of STARTIC’s efforts. It is also a challenge for us to continue delivering more benefits to more beneficiaries, with sustainability as a goal.”

Vania Santoso, founder of STARTIC

STARTIC (Indonesia) trains marginalised individuals on waste management and product design to produce handmade products using recycled materials, such as cement sacks, with ethnic textiles like batik.

 


“The lessons we’ve learnt and the connections we have gained through the networking are already huge takeaways, so winning is a big bonus for us. With the YSE funding, we will be able to move a step closer to our dream of building a world where no man will face prolonged thirst.”

Lim Chong Tee, co-founder of WateROAM

WateROAM (Singapore) provides simple, portable and durable water filtration solutions to disaster-stricken sites in developing countries and rural communities without access to clean water.

He says his visit to Mumbai’s Dharavi, one of the world’s largest slums, has instilled a greater sense of mission in him and motivated him to better serve the needs of the youth under his charge.

He adds: “I strongly believe that if all businesses take on a social cause, social issues plaguing the world can be reduced significantly.”


VISIT WWW.SIF.ORG.SG/YSEAPPLY FOR MORE INFORMATION ON THE YOUNG SOCIAL ENTREPRENEURS PROGRAMME.


In Mumbai, teams visited social enterprise Barefoot Slums, which provides acupuncture treatment to low-income people


Participants at the YSE Workshop in Singapore in March 2015.

 


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