The long, hard journey of social enterprises

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Ms Chng of Bettr Barista (above) and Dr Keng with the IDeaf-Connect team both believe that the government should look to countries where the SE sector is more developed and learn from them

SOCIAL entrepreneurship seems to be catching on of late, with more Singaporean entrepreneurs setting up businesses that care about more than just profits. But it’s no cushy ride for start-ups with second or third bottom lines.

One important issue is that while awareness is increasing, the man in the street still does not know the difference between a social enterprise (SE) and a charity. According to a survey commissioned by the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports (MCYS) in 2010, 87 per cent of those polled did not know what an SE was. Of those who did know, slightly less than half thought that the objective of an SE was to raise donations, instead of applying business strategies to achieve social, cultural or environmental goals.

That is why Richardo Chua, founder of four-year-old Adrenalin Events and Education, is grateful for the President’s Challenge Social Enterprise Award that was established in March to raise awareness of SEs and encourage growth in the sector.

He believes that because the President’s Challenge is a national platform and is social-enterprise-centric, the awards will raise awareness for the industry as a whole and provide scrutiny and credibility to SEs.

This article was first published in The Business Times 

S R Nathan appointed chairman of CapitaLand charity arm

Former president S R Nathan has been appointed as the new chairman of the CapitaLand Hope Foundation, the philanthropic arm of CapitaLand Limited.He is taking over from former chairman Lim Chin Beng, who is retiring.

His first task as chairman was to visit the Jamiyah Children’s Home, a key beneficiary of the foundation.

Local news reports said Mr Nathan took part in a tree-planting ceremony in the new ‘CapitaLand Garden of Hope’ together with Mr Haji Abdul Karim Maidin, President of Jamiyah Singapore, and Mr Liew Mun Leong, President and CEO of CapitaLand Group.

Mr Nathan also presented the home with a $40,000 cheque, which goes towards the creation of the ‘CapitaLand Garden of Hope’.

The 50-metre-square garden aims to develop the childrens’ interest in nature by letting them grow their own produce for consumption.

The money will also help furnish the dormitories of the home’s new premises with new beds and cupboards.

The Straits Times reported that Jamiyah Children’s Home has moved from its old premises, a one-storey building at Chin Cheng Avenue, to its current location at Guillemard Crescent.

The childrens’ new home, which can take in 110 residents, is a four-storey building complete with facilities like a basketball court, futsal field and a fruit and vegetable garden.

This article was first published in Asiaone

Good food for a good cause


In 2002, following the business dictum, “Invest in what you know”, three young teachers set up a tuition centre called School of Thought. They focused on General Paper, English and Literature, for which there is the lucrative subjects for which there is unending demand by Singaporean students.

Then, a unit below their office on North Bridge Centre opened up for rent. Says one of the founding directors, Shiao-Yin Kuik, “We knew there would be traffic and we then joked about starting a restaurant. The more we joked, the more serious we became about setting up a restaurant.”

Kuik adds, “We always knew we were more than just a tuition centre. A restaurant would make a public statement that we were not just that. A restaurant would also serve as a neutral place to tell others about the causes we believe in.”

The three friends had always believed that book learning was not enough. They felt their students should get to know about global and local issues such as poverty, human rights and medical ethics. The trio were already channeling some of the profits from their school into a special fund to subsidise tuition for students from disadvantaged families.

After much conversation, Kuik’s two other directors agreed that a restaurant

would be the way to go. “We had no experience with the restaurant business and we knew the attrition rate. But as good teachers, we believed we could do it and we approached it in the same way we would advise our students to – research and plan,” says Kuik.

Serving up some food for thought

They seized the opportunity and opened their North Bridge Road outlet in 2007. The tiny café is directly opposite the National Library building, and has a friendly, bohemian air. It specializes in freshly-made gourmet salads and sandwiches, as well as delicious homemade cake.

This year, it was time for second helpings. The partners launched a bigger and more upmarket concept within the Singapore Art Museum on Queen Street. Their new bistro serves an all-day breakfast, as well as Asian fusion dishes like crispy curry chicken and spicy chilli fries, Szechuan pepper roast beef, and hoisin har cheong baby back ribs.

It was their tuition centre that provided inspiration for the name of their restaurants which they called Food For Thought. Kuik explains that they funded the second outlet with money from the tuition centre, as well as a bank loan. “If you play it safe, you don’t test your limits. You need to once in a while, take a leap of faith.”

The world on a plate

As diners enjoy the freshly-cooked food dished up by the resident chefs, they can read literature and displays on community issues affecting Singapore and the world. By simply enjoying a meal they are contributing to five different causes, including fair education, protecting the environment and encouraging kind acts. Staff tips and salary support nine children adopted on a World Vision plan.

Global issues become clear with a simple glass of water. The menu invites a voluntary donation to Living Water International, a US based organisation provides clean water to those in need in countries like Kenya, Angola, India and Sierra Leone; “For every $2 you donate to enjoy a free flow of water at Food For Thought, you will bless one African for one year with that same privilege.”

High-quality, socially conscious products are available for purchase from the Queen Street restaurant, and the money goes to a scholarship fund for East Timorese children. To encourage kind acts, the restaurant runs competitions such as a photography competition about the clean water crisis, and events such as a book swap where secondhand books are re-packaged in a “pre-loved” collection and sold to benefit the needy.

Once again, Kuik and her two cohorts relied on research as well as the personal touch when it came to choosing the causes to support. A good reputation was important too, as in the case of World Vision. “We go down and meet the organisation. Other organisations we choose by faith as well as track record.”

As a teacher, and as a social entrepreneur, Kuik and her partners feel it’s vital to practice what they preach. When asked about their motivation behind their giving, she said, “In our tuition centre, we teach the kids that those who have more, need to help those who have less. We have to live up to what we say in the classroom.”…

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This article was first published in SALT

Exam blues? Here’s a pick-me-up

The giving out of free drinks or snacks to boost the morale of university students during the examination period is a familiar sight here. But there were some new twists during the exam crunch time that ended last week.Take, for instance, the While You Were Sleeping project started last month by freelance video producer and film-maker Josiah Ng, 24.

Mr Ng, a former undergraduate of Singapore Management University, told my paper last week that he noticed how university students would get stressed and tired while preparing for their exams.

University exams here typically take place between April and May, and again from November to December.

To help other young adults cope with the stress during the recent exam period, he decided to embark on the project.

It involved simply placing a handwritten card, along with a snack or drink, next to students who had fallen asleep while studying, to let them know that someone cared.

After a video on the project was posted online, its Facebook page received 1,000 likes in just one day. As of 6pm yesterday, it had garnered over 2,600 likes.

In addition to netizens here, some overseas users – such as those from Australia, Canada and Britain – have also pledged to take part in the project.

“I have absolutely no idea how it spread so quickly. I’m still quite overwhelmed, to be honest,” said Mr Ng, who paid for the snacks and drinks out of his own pocket and visited students at three universities here.

Student groups have also upped their game to help students through the exam period.

The National University of Singapore Students’ Union held free yoga classes for two weeks to help students cope with stress during the exam period this year.

Ms Mabel Koh, 21, the union’s deputy welfare secretary, said the four classes attracted over 90 sign-ups and “feedback from the students was positive”.

This was on top of leaving cans of energy drinks tagged with encouraging messages on benches around the campus at night, for students who would pass by the next day.

Students at the Nanyang Technological University’s Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information also received free food and drinks during the exam period, thanks to a student group’s informal Wee Mug event.

Ms Sophial Foo, 21, president of the Communication and Information Club, said it was “very rewarding” to “keep the tired students going”.

This article was first published in myPaper