Guest Contributor: DBS-NUS
Social enterprises are emerging as the promising “middle” sector between the traditional worlds of government, non-profits and business. As social needs become increasingly complex in light of shrinking government budgets and rapidly evolving communities, social enterprises are emerging as self-sustaining businesses with effective methods of meeting social needs. With commercially sustainable solutions, they provide income, goods and services where they are needed and build up inclusive communities. The Development Bank of Singapore (DBS) and the National University of Singapore (NUS) have partnered since 2014 on the DBS-NUS Social Venture Challenge Asia to identify and support new social ventures that have the potential to generate positive, scalable and sustainable social impact. Out of over 1000 entries from all across Asia, 12 social enterprises have stood out for their innovative and promising approaches.
1) AESIR – serious games for social inclusion
To meet the rising demand for support for children with special needs in Hong Kong, a team of therapists and game professionals develop Augmented Reality books and games on mobile applications. AESIR co-designs this solution for caretakers – parents, teachers, counsellors, and clinical practitioners – and sells it on a business-to- business platform to parents and special needs schools. To date, AESIR has reached 8 schools in Hong Kong. It aims to expand its business to Singapore by the end of 2016.
2) Ants Workshop Consulting – training migrant women to be consultants
工蚁坊咨询 (Ants Workshop Consulting) provides professional consultancy to NGOs and startups in areas of finance, legal and taxation. They train young migrant women from rural China to provide these services, and ultimately place them in the client company. The team is comprised of competent managers and lawyers. In the past 7 years, it has successfully trained and provided work for 40 women.
3) Arus Education – affordable maker education for all
Four passionate Teach For Malaysia fellows set up Arus Education to solve Malaysia’s education inequity. Arus Education grooms innovators who “learn by making. Currently, Arus runs low-cost after school programmes, with the ultimate aim of launching low-cost private schools. Arus’ holistic solution partners students’ parents and community-based social services to ensure sustainable change. Arus’ pilot after-school programme began in 2014 in Malaysia. Its 40 students have successfully developed their own digital animation and are able to program microcontrollers.
4) BLITAB® – Eye-Pad for the Blind
An industrial engineer, expert product developer, and a hardware developer combine their talents to produce BLITAB®, the world’s first braille tablet. Co-created with blind users, the durable BLITAB® uses patented liquid technology to enable blind users to read pictures, graphics and maps on a tactile surface. It sells the device and digital services to customers, businesses and government. Since August 2014, BLITAB has been directly approached by more than 40 universities worldwide, and has completed beta testing with 3000 beta testers (including 300 children from 34 countries).
5) engageSPARK – voice and SMS programs for non-techie non-profits
engageSPARK, a social enterprise based in the Philippines – product of a serial entrepreneur, human rights lawyer, and telecommunications startup employee – enables non-tech- savvy non-profit workers to quickly build voice and SMS programs to engage the poor in developing countries. Simple, holistic, cost-effective and telco-integrated, engageSPARK has served organisations such as the International Rescue Committee and Asian Development Bank since its launch in May 2015.
6) I’m Soul Inc.– creating social inclusion through music
Fronted by a brain research pioneer and highly skilled managers, I’m Soul Inc. enables people of all abilities to unlock the therapeutic power of music. It harnesses technology to enable music making, stores therapeutic music on an online portal, provides music and movement training programmes for varied audiences, on-site and on-line, with platforms for those of varying abilities to showcase their talents and build their confidence. In a little over two years of developing and piloting, I’m Soul ran programmes for 14 organisations and corporates, serving more than 200 beneficiaries, staff and volunteers.
7) Jeevtronics – hand-cranked defibrillator to serve rural areas
To reduce cardiac arrest death rates in developing countries, Jeevtronics develops the world’s first hand-cranked defibrillator. It can function independently of a power source, and is an asset to remote, rural areas. Targeting healthcare providers and disaster relief agencies, it is the brainchild of two Indian serial entrepreneurs, and a medical device industry veteran. Since its launch in 2014, Jeevtronics has proven its credibility by running pilots with prestigious hospitals such as the All India Institute of Medical Science (AIIMS) New Dehli and the University of Michigan, Ann Arbour.
8) Kruosar Solar – a last-mile distribution network for solar home systems
Kruosar Solar is a last-mile distribution network for sales, installation and after-sales care of solar home systems in Cambodia. Kruosar Solar generates revenue from the sale of solar home systems and other clean-energy efficient products. The team is comprised of ten Cambodian staff and four internationals, with joint expertise in engineering, business, and market knowledge. They have managed to reach about 1800 customers so far since their operations began in 2013.
9) Nazava Water Filter – affordable water filters sold through resale
Nazava Water Filter envisions a world where safe, affordable drinking water is available to everyone, everywhere. It assembles and distributes affordable filters which are sold through NGOs, Nazava shops, and a network of 122 resellers (56% women). Resellers, spread across 12 islands in Indonesia, educate clients on the importance of clean water, and receive an attractive margin, training, sales collateral and interest-free KIVA loans. It is helmed by a team with extensive experience in international development and management. Officially operational since 2014, Nazava has sold 50, 000 filters all over Indonesia. The company also exports to Nepal, the Philippines, Bangladesh, and Mozambique, among others.
10) OurCityLove Social Enterprise – data for city-wide accessibility solutions
OurCityLove Social Enterprise Co. Ltd. from Taiwan is the product of technology and hospitality experts, provides accessibility solutions for cities worldwide. It maps data of accessible venues, facilities, and services on a cloud-based platform. It also offers training courses to restaurants for disability-friendly certifications, and employment training for persons with disabilities. Revenue streams come from businesses, government, and B2B2C projects. From its official launch in 2014, OurCityLove has earned the trust of key organisations, maintaining long-term IT service contracts with Chung-Hua Telecom, the Taiwan High-Speed Rail, as well as the Taipei, Taichung, and Taoyuan City government.
11) Siam Organic – innovative, nutritional rice products to alleviate farmer poverty
Siam Organic alleviates farmer poverty in Thailand through innovative, globally-appealing rice products. “Jasberry rice”, a non-GMO rice that emerged from 12 years’ research, combines the delicious taste of Jasmine rice with berries’ nutritional, antioxidant benefits. Siam Organic’s U.S.-based partnerships has facilitated international distribution. The team is made up of professionals with experience in business, entrepreneurship, marketing, and agriculture. In its 5 years of operation, Siam Organic has reached 70, 000 customers in the U.S. through its partnership with American company “Try the World”. U.S. celebrity iron chef Jet Tila also endorses the brand, creating several menus from Jasberry rice.
12) SocialGiver – Fundraising through giftcards and vouchers
SocialGiver fundraises for causes through giftcard and voucher sales from Thailand’s most prominent brands, solving social projects’ chief problem – lack of funding. This platform promotes a range of great deals for consumers –in particular urban, tech-savvy working professionals passionate for social causes, and effective CSR solutions for businesses. The team has deep knowledge of social entrepreneurship and project management. Officially launched in 2015, SocialGiver has raised over $100, 000 for 20 social projects, giving them a platform to attract press attention, recruit fans, and additional human resource support, impacting over 10,000 lives.
Meet these 12 social ventures
On 15 September 2016, the DBS-NUS Social Venture Challenge will culminate in a finale event where the winner will be revealed. The event will also feature a showcase where the 12 semi-finalists will pitch their ventures to potential funders, corporates and partners at an invite-only showcase in the morning. To participate as an attendee of the showcase, please write to Khloie at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The DBS-NUS Social Venture Challenge Asia finale will take place at the National University of Singapore’s University Cultural Centre. Please visit socialventurechallenge.asia for more information.