Photo: President Tony Tan Keng Yam speaking with Ong Jun Jie, who is working as a service crew at BliSSE, with Christine Low, founder of BliSSE looking on.
These days, Singaporean president Tony Tan Keng Yam can be found making public appearances at social enterprises or speaking about his government’s latest initiatives to support these businesses.
He not only considers social enterprises as a tool to improve society, but actively encourages their development. As a result, Singapore has blossomed into a country full of resources to start a social enterprise.
In 2003, the government set up the Social Enterprise Fund which was repositioned in 2005 as the ComCare Enterprise Fund. This Fund provides seed funding to social enterprises that train and employ disadvantaged individuals, such as persons with disabilities, ex-offenders, or at-risk youth, so that they can integrate into society and move towards self-reliance. Up to 80 percent of project costs capped at $300,000 are available for each business under this program.
One beneficiary of the ComCare Enterprise Fund is BliSSE, a café created by the People’s Association that provides training and employment to single mothers, persons with disabilities, and at-risk youth.
“If a social enterprise is viable, if it serves a social purpose, if it contributes to helping people who need help in a way which is meaningful and sustainable, then the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) will be prepared to provide the assistance that is necessary,” said President Tan when he visited the café this week.
Other beneficiaries include the Institute of Mental Health, Mountbatten Vocational School, and the Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore.
And the government doesn’t stop at funding. For new social entrepreneurs wishing to gain guidance or advice, they are invited to contact the MSF, who will in turn connect them to peers within the sector.
To make it easier for one to start a social enterprise, the Social Enterprise Association also developed a toolkit on starting a social enterprise in Singapore, which can be accessed on the MSF website.
The toolkit covers various topics including an explanation of the different models of social enterprises in Singapore, legal entities, managing intellectual property, funding options, government grants, and managing finance and human resources.
In terms of the overall startup environment, Singapore ranks 17th in the 2012 Startup Genome report, which ranks the world’s top 20 startup ecosystems. Its strength is the strong funding environment which is also true for social enterprise startups. But its weakness is the lack of risk tolerance of founders and this is reflected in its ranking.
The MSF estimates that Singapore has approximately 170 social enterprises across several industries at the moment. There are roughly an equal number of people in their 50s and 60s setting up social enterprises as there are people in their 20s and 30s.
Photo from President Tony Tan Keng Yam’s Facebook page.
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