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The Importance of Social Entrepreneurship

Kelvin Sim
MTC Writer

Make The Change is a social enterprise, which means we support social causes through our work. Through the years, we have advocated and taken action for inclusive employment, empowering vulnerable communities, and climate conservation. In 2021 alone, we planted over 2,000 trees in Indonesia and Philippines, and increased job readiness for over 100 persons with disabilities and refugees - read more about that here!

We have experienced first-hand how businesses can be forces for good - and we want to encourage more of that! That is why we incorporate social entrepreneurship in many of our training programmes, including the recent Apple New Media Programme conducted with over 27 schools.

We speak to instructors from this programme, Mr Titus Ang and Mx Mieke Song to get a deeper understanding of the importance of nurturing a sense of social entrepreneurship in our younger generations. Titus (T) has worked with Make The Change for over 3 years in various training programmes, while Mieke (M) joined more recently in 2022 to conduct the Apple New Media Programme.

1. What is social entrepreneurship?

T: Social entrepreneurship is the intersection of entrepreneurship and social impact. While entrepreneurship is usually focused on profit, that alone isn’t meaningful or helpful to the world. Social impact does a lot of good for people but isn’t always sustainable for people to make a living from. Social entrepreneurs tread that line of making an impact while making profit for themselves and their company.

M: It requires people to get innovative with developing and starting businesses specifically to benefit a cause - usually to benefit the most marginalised groups in society. It is quite different from running a non-profit or charity organisation as it maintains a delicate balance between making a profit and using it to benefit a specific group.

2. Why is social entrepreneurship important?

M: Social entrepreneurship draws on a different market from social service or charity organisations. The basic concept of it is easy to grasp and provides a great starting point for people who want to start a business that is truly aligned with their own personal values. It can be less daunting for individuals as starting a charity requires, comparatively, a lot more networking and personal relations.

T: From a larger perspective, our world has developed into a complex social environment in the past decades, where we are all in contact with social issues one way or the other. Whether it’s mental health challenges, gender inequality, or other issues - there is no avoiding them. With social entrepreneurship, we may have the resources and ability to do something about them, if we try.

3. How do you teach social entrepreneurship to the younger generations?

T: Some of my students can be very young, from as young as Secondary 1. Many of the concepts can be hard for them to understand. For these students, I focus on contextualisation and discovery.

Contextualisation means bringing faraway topics closer to them, such as explaining that statistics suggest that in their class of 20 students, 5 may be affected by a diagnosable mental health condition in their lifetimes. It could also mean showing them more parts of the world, such as letting them know that while in Singapore, the expected age of graduating with a degree may be around 22 to 24 years old, that age could be 35 to 40 years old in Africa. This often becomes the seed for them to understand such topics better later on in life, and helps them to empathise with a larger group of people.

For discovery, it is great to give students the space to explore different areas and topics according to their diverse interests. It is a powerful way for them to discover something meaningful they are motivated to act on.

M: I try to define social entrepreneurship in easy-to-understand terms, and show them different social enterprises they may have already encountered in person, like Eighteen Chefs. We then look at the business models being employed, and the personal stories behind some of these social entrepreneurs. This helps to build a personal connection for students to the concept of social entrepreneurship and makes the concept more concrete and real for them.

My most memorable moments teaching this topic is when students share their own creative ideas for social entrepreneurship. Often, they have wonderful ideas and keen insight into what groups in society really need our help the most. These classes are a constant learning experience even for me, and it is refreshing to learn from their perspectives.

4. Please share any personal stories or anecdotes of those who have put their social entrepreneurial knowledge to good use.

T: In the specific context of these classes, I am happy to see changes in my students’ behaviour as they understand more about social issues. For example, I was once conducting the class for a rather loud and rowdy bunch of students. In the first few days of the programme, they made insensitive jokes about mental health. At their age, it can be hard for them to see how hurtful what they had said could be. As they started to understand the severity and depth of the topic, their tone started to change. Some of them even started to keep each other in check, and call each other out when someone goes out of line. These actions show a change in mindset, which is the foundation for them to become more caring people.

M: Beyond the classroom, I noticed a growing presence of social entrepreneurship and the desire to help others during the Covid-19 pandemic. People got really creative in the ways they tried to help others. Some of them organised sales of pre-loved goods to raise funds for mutual aid, and I even saw persons offering tarot reading services to raise money for others. I loved that people identified what they were good at, what they could offer, and were essentially practicing social entrepreneurship in their own way. In the end, social entrepreneurship starts with a desire to help your community, and I think these actions show how important this is and what it can potentially achieve to help under-served communities.

5. Do you have any words of encouragement or advice for persons looking to become social entrepreneurs in Singapore?

T: Ultimately, social entrepreneurship is a vehicle to make an impact. You don’t have to become a social entrepreneur to create an impact in a sustainable way. It can come in many forms, whether it is being really successful in a corporate job and donating a lot of money, or studying and making change on an academic or policy-making level. What is most important is the process of identifying and striving towards a goal that is meaningful to you.

M: I find that it is empowering to know that you CAN make a difference. Leverage on your best skills and knowledge and use it to help others. It is so important to have empathy and ethics in general, and social entrepreneurship has the power and ability to show that businesses can be used for that purpose. Remember that failure is part of the process! You don’t have to make a big splash right away. Think it through, refine your ideas, start small, and keep trying. All the best!


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