Growing social enterprise sector important for Singapore, says President Tony Tan Keng Yam

SINGAPORE - The social enterprise sector, which is growing in number and diversity, allows people to make a positive impact on society while doing business, and is important to Singapore, said President Tony Tan Keng Yam on Saturday (Aug 19).

He added that he was glad to see the sector thriving and urged more Singaporeans with good ideas to start businesses that also help the community.

Dr Tan was speaking to reporters at the launch of the one-day FestivalForGood for social enterprises.

The number of businesses registered with the Singapore Centre for Social Enterprise (raiSE) has risen by a third from about 300 last year (2016) to about 400 this year.

Products and services offered by social enterprises have also expanded beyond retail to include arts, health and wellness.

Dr Tan who launched the President's Challenge Social Enterprise Award in 2012 to recognise such businesses and give them more visibility, said he was glad to see that some young people now base their purchasing decisions not only on products themselves but also on whether there is an impact on society.

There are also those social enterprises set up by young people who have come up with creative ways of helping people in need, such as Jaga-Me, a tech company that helps link up nurses with those who need healthcare services at home.

"I wish to encourage more young people to do this and also other people who have good ideas to do a business and contribute. All of this helps to build a cohesive, caring society in Singapore where we all look out for one another in our own ways," he said, at the event at lyf@SMU in Stamford Road.

RaiSE chairman Gautam Banerjee said a challenge going forward is to equip social enterprises with the skills to handle technological disruption while continuing to make a difference.

"Social enterprises not only have to do well financially but also have their social objectives to meet, so it's doubly difficult," he said.

At the same time, more such enterprises are using technology, said raiSE chief executive Alfie Othman.

Terra, an upcycling initiative started 1 1/2 years ago plans to start an online marketplace to sell it's products and programmes. It employs people in need and trains them to make items like wine bottle lamps, tyre seats and coconut husk planters and also runs workshops for companies and schools.

Co-founder Kelvin Wong said it would also be good to have a common marketplace for social enterprises, so they can leverage on each other's contacts.

FestivalForGood is in its second year. Organised by raiSE, the event runs until 10pm on Saturday and features stalls and workshops by over 70 social enterprises in fashion, skills development and food, for example.

Some 25 social enterprises and their partners are also hosting activities islandwide throughout August such as coffee-brewing, concerts for seniors and cardiopulmonary resuscitation training.

RaiSE - which provides funding and training - will be running a structured accelerator programme next year to support social enterprises dealing with the issue of long-term unemployment.