Alipay-NUS Enterprise Social Innovation Challenge, Singapore: recap

Social entrepreneurs are creating local solutions for local problems.

Source: AliPay-NUS.

In Singapore, there is plenty of top-down support for social enterprises. Former Singaporean president Tony Tan spoke to The Straits Times about the sector’s importance in the city-state in 2017; the following year, president Halimah Yacob emphasized the need for social ventures to remain adaptable and weather disruptions in the economy.

Echoing these sentiments, Alipay and the NUS Enterprise launched the Social Innovation Challenge at the end of 2018, with a cash prize from Alipay guaranteed for the winner to pursue social change using technology. The competition kicked off at the International Financial Corporation’s (IFC) Singapore office this week, with two more stops in Malaysia and Jakarta.

The contestants in Singapore aimed to tackle a multitude of issues. Here are a few plans that they want to turn into reality.

Assisting low-income single mothers

The problem is obvious here: it’s tough to make ends meet when a single parent needs to juggle stable employment with raising young children and possibly caring for elderly parents.

A study conducted by Singapore’s Association of Women for Action and Research concluded that women who need to single-handedly support an entire family is better off remaining unemployed—because of the welfare they are eligible for.

In these cases, few would suggest that financial assistance is anything but necessary, but it isn’t a sustainable solution. A tenable solution needs to offer these women a trade that provides a reasonable wage but allows them to maintain a flexible schedule for family-related obligations.

One contestant in the Social Innovation Challenge proposed to develop a platform that trains women in flower arrangement so that they are able to start and run their own business. The plan includes integrated software that can help users keep track of revenue, costs, and more.

Provide care and purpose for an ageing population

Like those in many countries, Singapore is greying, because its citizens live longer and give birth to fewer babies compared to the past decade. To be exact, birth rates have been declining since 1988, according to Singapore’s Department of Statistics. And the portion of the population that is aged 65 or older was 8.7% in 2008 but reached 13.7% in 2018.

National University of Singapore associate professor Tan Ern Ser has suggested to The Straits Times that the digital economy may hold some solutions for addressing the needs of an aging population, with healthcare being one of the chief concerns.

Two contestants offered pitches in this arena. One suggested that we could tap artificial intelligence to monitor caregivers who assist the elderly; the other came up with new methods to track the weight changes of an individual.

Another entrant offered to develop an online platform that links the elderly with blue-collar jobs suited for their physicality.

Foreign Workers in Singapore

Singapore’s robust economy is the result of hard work that many have put in throughout the past decades. In particular, there are throngs of migrant workers—1.4 million as of June 2018—who are in the city-state, many of whom take blue-collar jobs.

Because these foreign workers hail from many locations, daily communications are at times hindered because of language discrepancies. One contestant in the Social Innovation Challenge sought to remedy this by offering online and classroom English language instruction for these workers, so that they may be able to integrate into Singaporean society more smoothly, and maybe even avoid accidents at work that could occur because of communication glitches.

More to Come

The participants covered an assortment of social issues in Singapore. No matter who wins the prize, their ideas are all rooted in helping people and striving for social betterment.

NUS Enterprise executive director Jonathan Chang, a judge for the event, told KrASIA that even though each startup’s business model is different and there might be no easy way to determine which is the most effective, embracing technology will help social entrepreneurs to scale, connect with partners, and also adopt a data-driven approach while making business decisions.

Like Chang, Greg Blackwood-Lee—chairman of Genuine Interest Ltd, a social impact fund powered by quantitative trading algorithms—who was also a judge at the event in Singapore, said, “Technology can form the basis of new inventions, can increase the geographic reach of a business, and can help to drive down business expenses, among other benefits—although none of these factors are specific to impact-focused businesses.”

Close to 360 existing and would-be entrepreneurs joined the competition in three countries. Jakarta’s entrants laid out their proposals yesterday. On Friday, participants in Malaysia will be making their pitches. A final round will take place in April 2019 in Singapore, where the winner will take home S$50,000 (US$36,800).

KrASIA is the media partner for the Alipay-NUS Enterprise’s Social Innovation Challenge.

Editor: Brady Ng