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NUS Enterprise Presents: Small Change Gets Real 2016



On 24 October 2016, the National University of Singapore’s (NUS) very own Social Venture Lab of NUS Enterprise conducted a successful event featuring two young social entrepreneurs on their journey in the start-up industry. The event, titled as ‘Small Change Gets Real’, attracted a huge turnout of undergraduates from differing faculties and interests. Its objective was to allow students to better understand the joys and pains of growing a social enterprise and expose them to the realities of being a social entrepreneur.

In the evening’s line up of exciting activities, undergraduates got to experience what it was like to be in the shoes of a young social entrepreneur by helping to solve problems that two social enterprises were facing. The two social enterprises that were present were Society Staples and WateROAM, with co-founders Debra Lam and Lim Chong Tee sharing with the crowd the problems they faced respectively.


Credit: Society Staples

Debra Lam voiced her concerns with the participants about the need to have a clearer and more consistent vision and mission in her social enterprise. When she first established Society Staples (SS), the public’s perception of SS was that it was a dragon boat enterprise because SS’s inaugural event was getting Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) to form a dragon boat team consisting of hearing-impaired members to compete in 2012. Together with co-founder of SS, Ryan Ng, they knew deep inside their hearts that they were more than just a dragon boating team. After all, one of the main aims of SS is to use sports and fitness to connect the disabled with the wider community at large. In light of this misconception the public had of SS in general, they boldly decided to rebrand SS entirely and even changed its logo. SS also saw a need to find and maintain a sustainable business model because they initially took on more customers than they could manage and at the end of the day, realised that they did not have a clear purpose to work towards while scaling up their enterprise in its infancy stages. These few challenges and issues taught Debra and Ryan the importance of filtering their customers, selectively choosing only companies that aligned with the causes they advocated or stood for. They, too, decided to direct companies who did not share the same goals as them to other causes these companies could also help out with. The idea of building a disability-friendly gym was also discarded after conducting interviews with the public as they discovered that people were not comfortable sharing spaces with PWDs and vice versa, with this data being further clarified with numerous focus discussion groups conducted with different participants.

Eventually, SS decided to simply start with educating people and raising their awareness about PWDs. Currently, they host team building programmes, community outreach programmes and school programmes that hold PWDs simulation events to allow people to better understand this group and the challenges they face. On top of that, these programmes also teach participants basic sign language that would come in handy when the participants interact with PWDs and, provide practical tips on how to assist PWDs on the streets.

It is Debra’s hopes and bigger dream that these programmes will better equip the younger generation to be more inclusive and as a sister who has two brothers with autism, she looks forward to the day where she can safely “retire” and shut down SS because that will be the time when people no longer have to use the word ‘inclusive’ to describe Singapore because then Singapore will truly be a place for all; fulfilling the mission of SS – to build an inclusive society, where every PWD can maximise their potential and be embraced as an integral member of society. In the meantime, SS will continue working on being a capacity builder in the disability sector (which is still mainly dominated by large corporations and organisations) and continue to make changes in society through the means of creating hands and legs so as to leverage on each other’s communities to progress quicker and further.


Credit: The Pride - Singapore Kindness Movement

In the case of WateROAM, co-founder Chong Tee shared that he was in a dilemma over prioritising profit or social impact for the growth and development of his social enterprise in India.

Chong Tee, together with two other co-founders Vincent Loka and David Pong, had to brainstorm on how to negotiate with distributors from different backgrounds and persuade them on the best way possible to market and carry their product, the ROAMFilterTM Plus water filtration bag. This complements the vision of WateROAM, which is to build a world where no one shall face prolonged thirst. WateROAM also strives to fulfil its mission, which is to improve the life, living, and livelihood of every individual globally by providing clean drinking water through simple, portable, durable, and affordable water filtration solutions, keeping in mind that more than 900 million people do not have access to clean water (UNICEF).

They are launching the product in India but are unsure whether to partner a commercial distributor or a rural retailer as both has requested for sole distributorship in the same region. The commercial distributor will be able to give WateROAM the profit in a shorter amount of time and will be able to serve WateROAM’s paying customers. On the other hand, the rural retailer will be able to give WateROAM the same amount of profit in a longer time, but will deliver greater social impact more quickly. Chong Tee added that this challenge is an ongoing process but his team had taken various factors into consideration and had came out with a data analysis of the province itself. Through dividing the province into districts and understanding the average projected income of the people living there, they hope that the information and data will help persuade their distributors to focus on a few areas, thus enabling these distributors to tap into the commercial market better instead of just spreading the network loosely.

The founders concluded that they are working very hard to keep the distributors’ interest intact, noting that while both their company and the different distributors have their purposes to fulfil and interests to keep at the same time, they keep these distributors in the conversation consistently in order to do business with them. This is crucial as WateROAM prepares to launch the ROAMFilerTM Plus in India’s market.

The ROAMFilterTM Plus is designed to be very portable yet able to produce copious amounts of clean water for the community. Also, the water filtration bag consists of very durable membranes that can endure very harsh conditions, which make it very suitable to be used in either disaster relief sites or rural areas. With the ROAMFilterTM Plus, they are also able to balance between the flow rate (the amount of water it can produce) as well as the portability and simplicity of the system. Chong Tee discusses further how WateROAM hopes to evolve and better innovate to produce newer technologies that can improve the living conditions of those in developing countries as well as ensuring better quality of hygiene so that women and children do not have to walk for long hours just to collect water from their (mostly brown and murky) local pipelines.

Besides that, he sees a huge benefit of WateROAM in aiding people to find work. As people become healthier with better access to clean water, time will not be wasted on illness and they can use the hours efficiently to generate income. They are also on board a micro entrepreneurship programme where some of their partners develop micro franchising opportunities so as to empower individuals to take on the role of business owners, giving them a livelihood of their own on top of providing clean water for the community.

As the event slowly drew to a close, Miss Mu Ying from the Singapore International Foundation (SIF) shared more about how youths can capitalise on the various platforms offered by SIF to make their social enterprise ideas a reality. Both SS and WateROAM have also gained tremendously from the support of SIF’s grants. The next phase of recruitment for the Young Social Entrepreneurs (YSE) programme will begin last quarter of 2017. It seeks to inspire, equip and enable young changemakers to embark on social enterprises in Singapore and beyond. The programme nurtures a global network of social entrepreneurs, where the power of ideas, know-how and resources can be harnessed to enrich lives and effect positive change for a better world. Youths must be between 18 to 30 years old and must possess a viable business proposition that addresses a social need. They must also be committed to develop their social enterprise idea. They can have a committed team of up to three members or apply as an individual. All are welcomed to apply at www.sif.org.sg/yseapply. You can visit www.sif.org.sg/yse and www.betterworld.org for more information on the activities by SIF.

Last but not least, we are also delighted to share some key takeaways students had after participating in the fun-filled session.


Lim Shi Wei, year two business accountancy student expressed,

“This is a really fantastic event where we get to meet the founders of the two social enterprises, and get to know more about what they are doing. It’s a good start for people who are interested in social entrepreneurship and those who are inspired to become one next time as well.”


Tan Kia Hieng, year two sociology undergraduate stated that,

“The event adds a personal touch because you are given the chance to be involved in the running of the social enterprises in their turbulent period and you get to understand from their point of view how it works. Unlike other events which showcase more of the successes of the programmes, we gain wider exposure and face a steeper learning curve from this one where we really witness firsthand the failures and challenges faced by SS and WateROAM. This will help us to develop more realistic perceptions on starting a social enterprise and prevent us from having too idealistic thoughts.”


Sheryl Tay, year two business undergraduate, thought,

“Tonight’s programme was really awesome and it was really nice to have the two social enterprises come down and share their views, and I think they really inspired all of us from what they had to share, and it encouraged us to think of what we are passionate for and work towards it. Thank you.”

For more information on upcoming sessions and talks on social entrepreneurship, please visit www.enterprise.nus.edu.sg and https://www.facebook.com/nusentresoc/?fref=ts

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