In the words of wisdom and apt example given by Professor Wong Poh Kam, the initiator of the Social Venture Lab@NUS, he defines social entrepreneurship as such:
“A social programme to get volunteers to teach people how to fish and a charity programme to dole out fish both have social goals. The former is certainly better than the latter. But even better would be an entrepreneur that invents a better way to fish that dramatically reduces the cost of the fishing equipment compared to existing technologies, then gives his or her invention away to the people to not only encourage them to use it (at the much lower cost compared to existing technology), but also to make their own improvement, and to have such improvements freely diffused as well.”
Partnerships for a Social Cause
Geared with a vision to promote and nurture innovation-based social ventures in Singapore, the Social Venture Lab was initiated. It started with a partnership between NUS Enterprise and the Grameen Creative Lab (GCL) in 2011 (March 2011 – March 2013). The social entrepreneurship scene in Singapore was boosted by this strategic partnership that leveraged on GCL’s global resources and networks as well as NUS’ innovations and strong incubation ecosystem. Talks, forums, competitions and boot camps are held regularly to inspire, connect and engage with budding social entrepreneurs. In addition, various incubation services were provided by the Social Venture Lab - seed funding, incubation space and mentoring services.
New partnerships continued to be formed through the Social Venture Lab@NUS when NUS Enterprise partnered with DBS Bank in September 2013 to launch the DBS-NUS Social Venture Challenge (September 2013 – June 2014). This Asia-wide competition for social enterprises aims to identify and support new social ventures that have the potential to generate scalable and sustainable social impact.
Social Ventures Ignited
Saught, co-founded by Pamela Yeo, Ng Sook Zhen and Adeline Heng, is one of the social businesses that have benefited from the Social Venture Lab@NUS. Saught creates jewellery from scrap metal obtained from landmines and unexploded ordnances in Cambodia. In addition, they hire artisans in Cambodia to hand-make the jewellery, offering gainful employment and upgrading of skills.
In January 2011, Saught received a $9,000 Innovation and Practicum grant from NUS Enterprise through the Social Venture Lab to develop their idea into a sustainable business.
Yet another beneficiary from the Social Venture Lab is Milaap, the first and only online microlending and fundraising platform that allows anyone around the world to make loans to the working poor in India. Through Milaap’s online platform, the public can make micro-loans (as low as $25) to support projects in a range of areas, such as education, clean water, or sustainable farming.
Milaap is co-founded by Sourabh Sharma and Anoj Viswanathan, who received the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Practicum grant to start the business in 2010. By February 2012, the company has grown its loan portfolio to USD250,000 by February 2012, making a positive impact on over 4,000 lives to date.