One of the major distinctions between Asia’s startup ecosystem and other parts of the world is the reality that jumping into entrepreneurship is a risk — not just financially but also socially. It is a highly unstable career choice and often is not fully supported by friends, family or community members.
Social enterprises are especially risky — they don’t receive the financial support of industries like fintech or e-commerce. By their nature, socially-driven startups are often built for people who can’t actually afford the service.
But, people all across the world still start social enterprises, and there are success stories from Singapore to Silicon Valley.
This willingness to jump in take risks despite resistance from others — disobedience was the word being used — is a necessity for success and was the topic du-jour at the Singtel Future Makers event today.
During the event, Singapore’s Minister of State for Education, Dr. Janil Puthucheary (who was recently appointed to head GovTech), gave a speech and touched on the topic.
“The process of having the next generation be part of the mild, if not moderate, disobedience to change the world is something we fundamentally need,” he said.
Later in the speech he went into further detail.
“But on a larger scale, people are worried about jobs, people are worried about vested interests, worried about established structures, and that’s where the need for a little bit of disobedience needs to meet the real world. That is not to say that disobedience and disruption should not happen, but it needs to be tempered with a little bit of respect and humility for those that have gone before, and those that who have some degree of success.”
“At the moment, you don’t want to pull the carpet from anybody’s feet, either in terms of providing social enterprise solutions with unintended consequences, or disrupting businesses,” he said.
Much of the pressure comes from within the home, and can be the hardest to resist.
Lee Zhihan, the CEO of BagoSphere (an immersive education company in the Philippines) explained that if he had listened to his parents, BagoSphere would never have happened.
Thankfully, he did not, because today BagoSphere is now pointed to as a company that has made a real difference in the Philippines — acting as a crucial intermediary to help out-of-school youths get jobs.
The event was something of a kick-off of the Singtel Future Makers 2017 batch which will be run via a partnership between Singtel, Optus and Globe. Applications will be open until May 7 and more information can be found here.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at the Singtel Future Makers who are trying to build a business that can make the world a better place.
The company is an online grocery store that has integrated social welfare heavily in their business model. Bompipi has created a rewards system that encourages people to volunteer with Voluntary Welfare Organisations (VMOs — the official term for charities in Singapore).
The rebate scheme helps Bompipi contribute 15 per cent of their profits to charities across the city.
CaptionCube wants to help deaf and hearing-impaired people by offering high-quality captioning, transcription and subtitling services — especially in the education sector. The company leverages the cloud to make the videos accessible to a wide audience.
Furthermore, the CaptionCube’s hiring ethos involves onboarding people with disabilities who work remotely on the transcript.
CTO Lai Zi Jian told the story of a woman named Agnes who proudly told CaptionCube that she was able to buy her family a meal with the money she earned from the startup. The company said it has captioned 4,000 hours of 350 videos.
Enabled is a company out to tackle discrimination against people with disabilities. The company runs events and seminars to help students become the advocates in society. Mano Karan, the CEO, is guiding his company by an ethos he learned during the Future Makers programme:
“Keep your goal in your mind, but keep listening to everyone you meet, and be ready to pivot,” he said.
GIVE.asia is a crowdfunding platform for the social good. An example of cause funded through GIVE.asia is a child who was diagnosed with cancer. The platform managed to raise SG$169,368.10 (about US$121,000) to support the family’s medical expenses.
GIVE.asia does not take a percentage of the donation and relies on ‘tips’ (AKA putting in a little bit extra to support the platform). According to CEO Aseem Thakur, the company has facilitated S$4 million (US$2.9 million) worth of donations in the last six months.
Irisada is a online marketplace that caters directly to special needs children. The company is the brainchild of CEO Tara Teo who had a hard time sourcing products for her daughter — the shops were distributed and it was a task to find the perfect items.
Irisada is curated and has intuitive search functions that help parents and caregivers find the items that fit the child’s needs.
Jaga-Me wants to ‘Uberise’ home healthcare by allowing families to hire on-demand professionals within the community.
CTO and Co-founder Aaron Tee said he remembers the time when his grandfather was suffering from cancer. Yes, he received world class medical treatment, but his demeanour would dramatically improve when he was home. However, homes are not designed for healthcare, which is where Jaga-Me comes in.
Jaga-Me allows families to temporarily hire nurses and other healthcare professionals at their homes according to the patient’s needs.
Practically everyone in Singapore air-dries their laundry and usually it is left to hang outside. For people of a certain age, or with physical limitations, the task can become painful and arduous. The Medarwin team is building a system so people can rack their laundry inside, without standing, and deploy their clothes outside to be dried.
Plus, if it rains, Medarwin has an app that people can use to bring the clothes back inside.
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