Universitas Ciputra Visit to ACSEP and NUS Business School

On 18 July 2018, Ciputra University visited the Asia Centre for Social Entrepreneurship and Philanthropy to trade ideas and build friendships across borders.

About 30 students from the university’s psychology department – which takes a special interest in entrepreneurship – were in Singapore for about a week to explore its cultural sites and gain insights on solving social issues through business.


Our Research Associate Ms. Joanna Hioe presented hers and Associate Professor Lam Swee Sum’s research on Grassroots Philanthropy in the New Millennium. This gave the students a brief introduction into Singapore’s social history that givers today. Among the students were two who would qualify as grassroots philanthropists (with definitions limited to founders of informal organisations), in how they respectively started a movement to redress sexual abuse and an organisation to combat illiteracy in Indonesia.

Later, Theda Renanita, a lecturer at Ciputra University, gave a brief introduction to Ciputra University’s unique programme that emphasises entrepreneurship and innovation, together with psychology. Two of the students shared more about their entrepreneurship-centric curriculum and experiential activities – including a festival that promotes the development of businesses to solve social problems.

We look forward to more opportunities for cross-university exchanges in the future!



ARNOVA-Asia Conference 2018: New Opportunities in Asia

On the 27 – 28 of July 2018, the Association for Research on Non-profit Organisations and Voluntary Action (ARNOVA)-Asia Conference 2018 took place in Hong Kong University. Themed “Evolving Government-Third Sector Relations in Asia”, the conference aimed to address changing roles of the third sector in public affairs, and implications for non-profit management, philanthropic practice, and volunteering.

This is the second edition of the conference’s Asian instalment, signalling an increased interest in the sector in this region. The 2017 conference took place in Beijing, China, and the upcoming edition of the conference in 2019 is due to take place in Tai Chung, Taiwan.

Hong Kong is moving in the direction of social innovation to meet social needs, shared Mrs.  Carrie Lam, GBS, GBM, Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, who was the officiating guest of the conference. Conference attendees – made up of academics, non-profit executives, philanthropy practitioners, social entrepreneurs, and policymakers – presented on a broad range of themes, from trajectories of government-third sector relations, to processes of collaboration, to the use of ICT and social media.


ACSEP in Action

Two research staff from the Asia Centre for Social Entrepreneurship and Philanthropy presented their research. Dr. Frank Hubers shared results from his experimental study on “Does showing poverty affect donations?” while Ms. Hioe Zhi Hui Joanna shared preliminary findings from her and ACSEP Director Associate Professor Lam Swee Sum’s exploratory study on “Grassroots Philanthropy in the New Millennium in Singapore”.


Dr. Frank Hubers (top) and Ms. Hioe Zhi Hui Joanna (bottom) sharing ACSEP research.

“The conference was a good way to understand the social sector in Hong Kong,” said Dr. Hubers. Ms. Hioe concurred, “It was a pleasure to meet scholars and practitioners whose work centres in East Asia, and to hear of opportunities for the sector’s growth at this time.”

Zhenro Foundation visit to NUS Asia Centre for Social Entrepreneurship and Philanthropy


On 16 October 2017, the NUS Asia Centre for Social Entrepreneurship and Philanthropy was privileged to host a delegation from mainland China, led by Zhenro Foundation (http://www.zhenro.cn/). The delegation, comprised of individuals from four organisations (Zhenro Foundation, Harmony Community Foundation, IYouShe Community Cultural Development Centre, and Fengrong Community Service Centre) was eager to glean insights from ACSEP’s experience in research and education in the related social sector that they could implement in their local context. In turn, three of the organisations shared about their work on this platform of mutual exchange.


Dr. Zhang Weina, Research Director, ACSEP, introducing ACSEP to the Zhenro delegates.

Zhenro Foundation

Lu Lichun, Senior Project Officer from Zhenro Foundation, introduced its aims to build a professional, transparent and efficient cross-border public welfare platform focused on building the urban community, promoting public service sector, and fostering social innovation in an urban setting.

Lu Lichun, Senior Project Officer, Zhenro Foundation, introducing the foundation

Zhenro aims to curate vision and innovation in the social sector. It has evolved from pure donations to strategic philanthropy nowadays. Its key value consists of “professionalism, efficiency and transparency”.

Zhenro aims to work in partnership with the urban community to build capacity, foster community culture, encourage ownership, and grow sustainably. It acts as an advocate for social welfare, promoting the use of innovative methods (such as crowdfunding) to support projects addressing environmental, children, employment, health, and elderly issues.

To date, Zhenro has completed 4 community projects, funded more than 20 national projects, and worked with over 50 communities to conduct themed dialogue sessions. It has also created the first China Community Development Forum.

Website: http://www.zhenro.cn/

IYouShe Community Cultural Development Centre

Zhang Dalong of IYouShe Community Cultural Development Centre shed light on their country-wide effort in promoting mutual assistance in communities.

IYouShe aims to solve a few key problems in the social sector ecosystem and civil society. These problems included the lack of a platform for participation in social issues, the increasing income inequalities, lack of social capital, inefficient social organisations, and declining moral value in human relations.

To address these challenges, IYouShe offers a diverse range of practical solutions to meet physical, social and emotional needs of people in the community. They launched modern community granary to serve as the charity portal to collect and give non-cash donations. They also ran regular charity bazaars, supplied nutritious soup and organized cultural performances for the elderly. The use of technology is also encouraged – such as the mobile app to facilitate the timely, efficient, and transparent management of granaries.

Going forward, IYouShe wish that some of these sustainable, profitable, socially impactful projects can be replicated and adopted in other urban communities.

More information on IYouShe Community Cultural Development Centre can be found here: http://chinadevelopmentbrief.cn/directory/iyoushe-community-cultural-development-center/

You Will See  

Wang Shuwen of You Will See (SEE) shared his venture that aimed to serve the triple bottom line of people, planet and profit.

With a desire to create systemic change that does not merely teach others to fish, but revolutionises the fishing industry, SEE works to serve multiple stakeholders: environmental non-profit organisations, farmer cooperatives, and green business partners. It provides end-to-end guidance for farmers, equipping them to manage their fields, collect data on their harvest, and market and distribute their products more effectively.

A platform for mutual learning and reflection.

Overall, it was a fruitful exchange of ideas and best practices by Chinese social organisations. ACSEP looks forward to future opportunities for mutual exchange and learning with Zhenro, IYouShe, You Will See, and other social purpose organisations.

Zhenro Foundation delegation with the ACSEP team at the NUS Business School.


Crossing the Chasm Challenge 2017

Conceived in 2016, the Crossing the Chasm Challenge (CCC) aims to provide student-driven consulting solutions to enable pioneering social enterprises. These enterprises stand at 2 to 3 years old, and find themselves teetering in the middle of the funding spectrum – being too large for seed-funding, and too small for accelerator grants or impact investors. The Challenge combines students’ youthful energy and the wisdom of marketing experts in multi-national companies to solve significant problems encountered by local and regional social enterprises. Singapore-based enterprises seek to empower and award dignity to marginalised communities, while impactful social enterprises from the ASEAN region seek to alleviate poverty in their local communities (in Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, the Philippines and Thailand).

For the 45 student teams of 147 students, who came from a range of disciplines – global affairs, to engineering, to business – across 5 tertiary institutions, the Challenge gave them an opportunity to work closely with social entrepreneurs, understand the challenges they face, and to offer useful solutions. It also provided a platform for their personal growth. “We want to develop a new generation of business leaders who are not only sensitised to social and environmental concerns but are also trained to engender systemic change where there are market or government failures,” said Professor Lam Swee Sum, Director of the Asia Centre for Social Entrepreneurship and Philanthropy (ACSEP).

The Challenge concluded with a final showcase on 17 August 2017, featuring 3 teams from the Regional Category, and 3 teams from the Local Category. Team Delta Squad took home the prize in the Regional Category, demonstrating the best strategy for Colour Silk to expand their footprint in Southeast Asia. Prizes for top teams, sponsored by Tanoto Foundation, were awarded to both social enterprises and students for their co-created solutions.

Rising to the Challenge


Opening Address delivered by ACSEP Advisory Board Chairman, Keith Chua

These young changemakers were encouraged to rise to the challenge of combatting social problems with a fresh pair of eyes. “You come with no baggage,” remarked ACSEP Advisory Board Chairman Keith Chua in his Opening Address. This freedom from pre-conceived notions of how things ought to be done would allow students to generate relevant solutions in partnership with beneficiary communities. At the same time, exposure to real-world problems through the Challenge aimed to provide an eye-opening reality check for student participants: they are “not going to save the world, but to serve the world,” remarked Ms. Laina Greene, ACSEP Associate Director (Community Development). Armed with the right attitude and adequate contributions, students could help social enterprises become effective to carry out their purpose, said Director of the Chua Thian Poh Community Leadership Programme (CTPCLP), Professor Albert Teo – to help “marginalised communities seek agency, empowerment, and the restoration of human dignity”. The spirit of empathy and intrapreneurship instilled in these students through the Challenge, especially the high value placed on collaboration, would point them in the right direction to achieve social impact through partnership.

Collaborate for Impact

Co-creation is the name of the game: social enterprises alongside beneficiaries; students consulting with social enterprises; and two university departments working in partnership with each other. A wide range of local and regional social ventures were featured in this edition of the Challenge – from ethical fashion, fair trade, creative arts as a training platform, to products and services for persons with disabilities. With the help of 29 mentors from the corporate sector, whom student teams were “match-made” with, students came up with relevant solutions to support these social enterprises with their skills. Students were equipped to do this through five workshops on corporate shared values, empathy and social entrepreneurship, the process of consulting, effective presentation structures, topped off with a pitching rehearsal session. This greater pool of resources could be tapped into, thanks to ACSEP’s partnership with CTPCLP in co-organising the Challenge. Through this platform, corporates, social enterprises, and student teams were able to productively support and complement one another.

The Challenge leveraged the strengths of these various change agents to spark active dialogue and conversation. Social enterprises commended the students for their active listening skills, dedication, and creative solutions. Ventures from the Regional category who sought to expand into the Singapore market, such as Cambodia’s The Colour Silk and Laos’ Ma Te Sai, benefited from the data on customer demographics the students were able to compile. This gave them key insights into their priorities for market expansion. Local social enterprises such as Society Staples also benefited from the student teams’ efforts and were able to gain more leads. Mentors were especially encouraging, investing in the teams’ solutions as if it was their own, and being a helpful sounding board for their ideas. Students, on the other hand, benefited deeply in terms of their own growth, learning, and discovering a sense of purpose through serving social enterprises with their gifts.

Crossing Personal Chasms

The “chasms” crossed were certainly not limited to the social enterprises alone. In their own learning and personal development, students crossed personal “chasms” too. For some, such as Victor Zhu (NUS, Quantitative Finance) of Team Hatch, his participation in the Challenge confirmed assumptions of social ventures: he saw that “while social enterprises often operate amongst uncertain and unintuitive landscapes, their successes are nevertheless realistic possibilities”. In addition, students had their paradigms challenged as a result of their encounters with the social entrepreneurs. Business students Cheong Joo Yee (NUS, Marketing and Finance) and Kellin Er (NUS, Marketing and Finance) of Team Spera found themselves confronted with new situations that they had yet to deal with in the business school: evaluating smaller-sized companies with multiple bottom lines. “You have to think about the welfare of the people, as well as the value proposition,” they noted. Significantly, the students gained confidence in themselves. “I learnt a lot – how to research, how to collaborate. After going through the process, I realised I could do it, by having a heart for the social enterprise and contributing my utmost best” said Lucas Tan (NUS, BBA) of team SLZW. Participants had the rich opportunity to learn from their own projects, from other finalists, and other people they met from the social enterprise ecosystem.

Regional Category winners Colour Silk and Team Delta Squad

Local Category winners E & I Concepts and Team Hatch

The journey continues…

For many of the participants, the journey of the Challenge did not end with its completion. Jasmine Tan (NUS, BBA), who participated in the 2016 and 2017 edition of the Challenge, saw the Challenge as an opportunity for her to meaningfully invest in skills-based volunteering. “Usually when we do voluntary work, we are on the frontline, but this time we get to adopt a more top-down approach, in talking to the management team,” she reflected. A number of student teams, such as Team Emerald, who supported Bliss, a local social enterprise restaurant to enable persons with special needs, were keen to continue to be involved in the venture because of the ownership the students developed over the project, and relationships formed with the rest of the team. How far did the Crossing the Chasm Challenge help move social enterprises from one milestone to the next? Only time will tell. However, one thing is certain: the Challenge helped to build bridges for a community of change-agents to move towards long-term sustainable development in this region.

Crossing the Chasm Challenge – a collaborative, creative community

International Symposium on Social Entrepreneurship 2017

This year marks the 3rd of the International Symposium on Social Entrepreneurship (ISSE) since its inaugural in 2015, organised by Asia Centre for Social Entrepreneurship and Philanthropy (ACSEP), NUS Business School. On 21th April, ISSE 2017 provided a platform for academic researchers, social entrepreneurs and various stakeholders to share their knowledge and expertise in the development of social enterprises.

The theme this year, Impact Assessment for Social Enterprises: Contextualisation or Generalisation, is a push towards understanding frameworks to facilitate social investment flows so as to rightly allocate resources to where the expected social impact is the highest.

Before social enterprises can scale up, they need to provide convincing evidence that their activities have a social impact. There exists a wide array of options for social impact assessments, ranging from simple logical frameworks to complex reporting tools and metrics, and from participatory evaluations to randomized control trials. What is the difference among all these approaches – and is there a right approach? Moreover, impact assessment is costly. While some may consider it as a legitimate cost for aiding the enterprises in strategic decision-making, others may feel that it is extra cost and bureaucracy that comes at the expense of the effectiveness of the enterprise.

Our keynote speaker, Professor Fergus Lyon, from the Centre for Enterprise and Economic Development Research, Middlesex University, took the stage with his speech discussing the opportunities and dilemmas of impact assessment for social enterprises.

Professor Fergus Lyon, from the Centre for Enterprise and Economic Development Research, Middlesex University

Following which, a plenary session featuring 5 thought leaders in the social space here in Singapore shared about the usage of impact assessment within their organisations and in their line of business. The general sentiment was that forming networks, sharing knowledge and engaging stakeholders could ultimately prove impact assessment to improve outcomes for beneficiaries.

Plenary Session with Ms Ramandeep Sidhu, Assistant Director of Philanthropy and Partnerships, National Volunteer & Centre (NVPC), Singapore, Mr Alfie Othman, CEO of the Singapore Centre for Social Enterprise (raiSE), Ranchika Ranchan, Head of Funding & Partnerships (Social) of Tote Board Singapore, Ms Tina Huang, Deputy CEO, National Council of Social Service, Singapore and Ms Martina Mettgenberg Lemière, Head of Insights and Capacity Building, Asian Venture Philanthropy Network (AVPN) (left to right)


With an end to the insightful sharing session, academic researchers from various institutions were invited to present their respective papers. A total of 4 papers were presented, with titles including:

  • A Landscape of Social Impact Assessment Practices among Impact Investors in Asia – Frank Hubers, ACSEP NUS Business School, Singapore
  • Measuring the Social Value Added by social enterprises – A Case Study applying the SIMPLE Methodology – Jim McLoughlin, University of Brighton, UK
  • Reporting in Social Entrepreneurship – Barbara Scheck, Ann-Kristin Achleitner, Alexander Bassen, Wolfgang Spiess-Knafl, Munich Business School, Germany
  • Distinguishing Game Changes from Boastful Charlatans: Which Social Enterprises Measure their Impact? – Karen Maas, Erasmus University Rotterdam, The Netherlands

As the sessions came to a close, the key takeaway from the day was that there is a need for greater understanding of how organisations can demonstrate their impact and a need for a common language on impact assessment. Indeed, funders tend to have more say in driving this common language and the allocation of the right resources to the right place would maximize the social impact brought about by social enterprises.

The ISSE 2017 Proceedings can be downloaded here.