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What to consider when setting up a social enterprise in Singapore

NUS Enterprise
Joytingle is a social enterprise that aims to make healthcare information accessible to children. (Photo by Joytingle).

A social enterprise focuses on championing a good cause, such as helping the poor or promoting animal welfare. It also aims to be a profitable business, where surplus revenues are ploughed back into growing the company and expanding its activities.

There has been a growing interest surrounding social enterprises – not only in Singapore, but around the world. One reason is because more entrepreneurs wish to pursue a larger meaning in life, beyond just material wealth. Another is due to the need to solve pressing social problems.

If you are looking to make social impact, here are some ways to get started:

Spend time with the target beneficiary






Once you have identified which social problem you want to address, spend as much time possible with the beneficiaries involved. This will provide insights to the problems they face, which will get you thinking of possible solutions. For example, if your social cause is helping autistic children in Singapore, get in touch with relevant schools and associations. Likewise, if your cause is providing electricity to rural villagers in India, you need to travel there and meet the people.

Leverage on available resources


Agencies such as the Ministry of Social and Family Development, National Youth Council, National Volunteer Philanthropy Centre and Social Enterprise Association offer you support such as seed grants, capacity-building programmes and incubation. Another excellent resource are business plan competitions. One example is the DBS-NUS Social Venture Challenge Asia, a start-up competition that supports new social ventures in Asia with the potential to generate scalable and sustainable social impact. In addition to a total prize money of $60,000 (for the winners), you can benefit from access to boot-camps, networking with mentors and judges – many of whom are impact investors and linkages to overseas partners in regions such as Indonesia, India and the Philippines.

Look for impact investors


Traditional investors may not be right for a social enterprise, as they typically want to maximise the return on their investment – not the social impact. Instead, look for an impact investor, someone who understands that their investment will be used primarily to address specific social problems. More than providing necessary funds, the right impact investor can offer tremendous value, through their networks, experience and knowledge of industries or geographic territories.

Measure social impact


Impact investors want to know if their investment is resulting in social impact, so it is important to measure the achievements of your social enterprise and communicate this with stakeholders. One way is to look at volume of impact. For example, in the case of providing electricity to rural Indian villagers, count the number of households fitted with electricity and individuals benefiting. Another way is to look at depth of impact. In the situation of helping autistic children, you need to demonstrate how much your solution helps the child or his/ her caregiver. In both cases, the right processes must be put in place at the start, to collect the necessary information. 

Setting up a social enterprise is a challenge. It is a long and tedious journey, with many hurdles. However, the rewards you achieve from following your passion and helping others can be well worth it.

This article is contributed by NUS Enterprise (www.nus.edu.sg/enterprise), which offers start-up companies, including social businesses, a holistic range of incubation services, in support of its vision to become Asia’s leading university-based entrepreneurial ecosystem.