Authored By Zoe Yan.
Bettr Barista, Samsui Supplies & Services and Edible Garden City have thrived for more than 5 years each. Speaking at the Festival for Good Conversations programme, they explained to moderator Richardo Chua of Adrenaline Group, how they surmounted challenges to deliver products and services, and build a track record good enough to contend with commercial businesses. The 3 entrepreneurs told a packed room what their social enterprises need to keep making positive social impact.
- Cash Flow. Good cash flow is needed to pay the training and salaries of employees and daily operational expenses. No one wants poor quality coffee, vegetables or delivered meals, not even the beneficiaries. It is important to earn enough to keep the operations going and meet the social mission of the business.
- Take the risk to ‘turn disabilities into abilities’. Dare to hire, train and supervise the physically and mentally challenged persons to brew coffee and grow the produce. Give the less advantaged, like prison inmates, a chance to learn cooking in market conditions. Upon their release, offer them jobs they qualify for. For Ang Kian Peng of Samsui, such arrangement with the prisons made business and social sense. As for the fastidious investors and bankers, promise them good results like any other legitimate business, and be upfront about who are hired to do the job. If the delivery of product or services was inefficient or was not up to expectations, make up the lack to fulfill the contract sincerely.
- Collaborate, complement and leverage. Each social enterprise could only do so much given their inherent challenges of managing persons with special needs and lack of consumer awareness. They can leverage by collaborating and complementing one another.
- Sheer persistence and patience. “Social Enterprises not only have to do well financially but also have to meet their social objectives, so it’s doubly difficult,” RaiSE chairman Gautam Banerjee said to The Straits Times in a separate interview. Investing in human development may not balance the books for a time. But with consistent effort and persistence, a track record is built.
- Expect the unexpected. Expect initial plans to change in less than 2 years. Expect hiccups, disruptions, changing customer preferences. Expect non-delivery, disappointments, broken promises. Expect opportunities, such as 8,000 sq ft land for gardening in Yishun, was granted to Edible Garden City. “It was not in my initial plans,” Bjorn Low revealed. What a pleasant surprise.