Written by Cassie Lim, Namita Shirish Kinjawadekar & Kamini Devadass, Be Movement issue 4 – INDIA, published August 2014

How often can we claim that we have changed the future of children in our country, or even that we are reinventing the way people look at education, charging people in units of time instead of money, or aspiring to keep our culture alive?

The finalists of the DBS-NUS Social Venture Challenge Asia have done just that and are not just making lofty claims and building castles in the air. These are people who have the blueprints of the fortresses, the raw materials and are well on their way to making them a reality. The DBS-NUS Social Venture Challenge Asia is the first of its kind and has opened doors for some of Asia’s brightest, most innovative ideas to take root.


Final Judging Round, NUS Kent Ridge Guild House. From left to right – Professor Wong Poh Kam, Director, NUS Entrepreneurship Centre, Law Gin Kye, Board Member, Family Business Network Asia

“We saw a need for a more inclusive pan-Asia competition, as there is none at the moment. The ones that we have come across are generally country-specific, or only open to a particular group,” says Professor Wong Poh Kam, Director of National University of Singapore Entrepreneurship Centre (a division of NUS Enterprise). With a strong focus on social entrepreneurship, NUS partnered with one of the leading financial institutions in Asia, DBS, to launch this Asia-wide competition.

“Over the past two decades, Asia’s rapid economic growth and development have led to an improvement of living standards across the region. However, a sizeable proportion of Asia’s population has yet to benefit from the region’s rise to prosperity,” said DBS CEO Piyush Gupta. “At DBS, we are of the view that we share a symbiotic relationship with the societies and communities which we operate in. We believe in being a force for good. Apart from creating long-term economic value, we also seek to positively benefit the communities we are present in and deliver social value.”



Closing remarks by Ms. Karen Ngui, Managing Director and Head, Group Strategic Marketing & Communications, DBS Bank

During the competition, finalists are put through three rounds of judging and are required to submit business plans and pitches, with the help of mentors and facilitators. While the prize money was a big draw for the finalists, the greatest attraction was access to and interaction with mentors, speakers and coaches. The challenge was a rare opportunity for the finalists to come face to face and learn from renowned social entrepreneurs such as Mr Sebastien Marot, founder of Friends-International and a judge in the competition. Sebastien shared with them his personal journey, how much he had to learn along the way and the steps he has taken to make this a holistic programme that benefits not just children, but the entire family system. Friends International helps children from Cambodia, who are forced to work, and sends them to school, allowing them to “become kids again” while ensuring that their parents can earn a viable income through farming activities.

Sebastien has been working to change Cambodia from a place where “Everybody had guns and used them” by giving the children a chance they deserve. He doesn’t work alone. He creates partnerships and works together with various organisations to create quicker changes to adapt to the needs of the community and really listen to their voices. The invaluable connections and advice from mentors like Sebastien, who has walked the path, went a long way to help the finalists’ ideas take shape and burgeon.

“The biggest hurdle to social entrepreneurs in Asia is to develop financially sustainable business models to achieve the desired impact and to attract the right form of financing to scale this impact. To achieve this, we need a more vibrant impact investment community to be based in Asia. We also need the development of more financing sources that support blended models besides the pure charity or pure profit-making model.

Be Movement DBS-NUS SVCA

The second biggest hurdle faced by social entrepreneurs in many Asian countries is that they don’t know about how social entrepreneurs in other places may have overcome similar challenges that they are facing in their own local social entrepreneurial efforts. There is a lack of awareness and knowledge sharing platform. A platform for sharing and exchanging successful social entrepreneurship practices and models is thus very much needed. We hope the challenge will help catalyse both these developments.” – Professor Wong Poh Kam.

In addition to the mentorship programme there were a diverse series of events happening locally and throughout Asia to drum up interest and participation, including workshops, forums, talks and documentary screening. The majority of the participants came from India, Indonesia, Singapore, Taiwan and China, testifying to the successful reach of the campaign through on-the-ground events and partner organisations.


Awards Ceremony, Shaw Foundation Alumni House – Aimee Chiuten from Interclo, Singapore showcases the disaster survival jacket to His Excellency President Dr. Tony Tan

What is most refreshing is the way finalists approach the concept of social entrepreneurship. Distancing themselves from the usual route of tugging heartstrings to further a social cause, these finalists were more concerned with the practical implementation of their ideas to enable people to be self-sufficient with incremental improvements in their daily life. It is not about making a statement. It is about veritable progress and change. As Ms Karen Ngui, Managing Director and Head, Group Strategic Marketing & Communications, DBS Bank, rightly points out, “Not just shareholders’ value, but creating shared value at large.” The tackling of a social problem is no longer a linear process, but a cycle of value adding to one’s life through sustainable and scalable means.

The finalists are striving to make their existence matter and have selflessly dedicated their lives to living in a way that is not just about themselves and the money that they earn, but about others. People who make their lives matter will create lives that matter. Perhaps within all these misplaced steps we finally tread the right ones by answering our social challenges with concrete ventures. •






Human Check*