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Friday, Jul 11, 2014

Singapore

More people are setting up social enterprises in Singapore

tabla! | Friday, Jul 11, 2014

Sourabh Sharma, chief executive officer of Milaap, in his office at 113 Somerset Road, National Youth Council Building on 1 December 2013.

SINGAPORE - Vellappan Devaraajan, 37, has been living in Singapore for 25 years. Committed to changing people's attitudes on intellectual disabilities, he works full-time with Special Olympics, an organisation working towards providing year-round Olympic-type sports training and athletic competitions for children and adults with intellectual disabilities.

People like Mr Devaraajan form part of a growing awareness towards social enterprises in Singapore and the world over. Many, tired of being bystanders, are seeking to find moremeaning in their lives by doing something impactful, while others have recognised the pressing social problems that need to be immediately addressed. By providing innovative solutions to these problems, entrepreneurs are not leaving change to the government alone.

Mr Alfie Othman is the executive director of Social Enterprise Association, an umbrella organisation aimed at promoting social entrepreneurship and social enterprise in Singapore. He says they have noticed an increased interest in social enterprises over the last four years. "More young, passionate and dynamic individuals are setting up social enterprises to give back to the community. These social entrepreneurs demonstrate entrepreneurship flair and innovativeness to address social gaps."

But being committed to a cause doesn't have to mean no money. In fact, while addressing problems, these social enterprises aim to be profitable businesses by returning surplus revenue to the business and expanding activities.

Capitalist principles, not profiteering

While this might seem utopian, entrepreneur Sourabh Sharma says it is possible to be a for-profit organisation that still changes people's lives. Milaap, the social enterprise that he co-founded, is trying to change the way people perceive "giving", making it personal and very sustainable. It is an online fund-raising platform that enables individuals around the world to fund and impact communities in need of basic facilities in India.

Their business model, Mr Sharma says, is to provide a transparent and engaging platform to lenders. "Our on-ground partners in India identify borrowers and publish their funding requests on the website. Individuals all over the world can contribute any amount to any borrower or cause they like.

"We ensure that 100 per cent of the money that is raised goes to the end beneficiary, and we even absorb the online payment gateway fees. The borrowers repay the capital to the lenders at an affordable interest rate, which helps to cover the cost of the on-ground partner, as well as pay for the 5 per cent platform fees which Milaap charges for raising the funds."

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