Finding THAT Business Model that is Scalable and Sustainable: A Journey of Discovery

The inaugural seminar in the ACSEP Social Entrepreneurship Series held on 7 March 2014, Finding THAT Business Model that is Scalable and Sustainable: A Journey of Discovery, found over 170 participants spellbound by Mr Sasa Vucinic, founder of the Media Development Loan Fund (MDLF) and other social ventures.

MDLF was the first organisation in the world set up to give loans to media companies in developing countries. As Mr Vucinic shared his experiences and lessons learned through his years leading MDLF, he took them on a reflective journey during which he transformed MDLF from an enterprise that relied primarily on donations and grants into a viable enterprise that was financially sustainable. In the early years, MDLF struggled to find the grants and donations that would allow it to make loans to fledgling media companies. It considered several alternative approaches, including securing funds from the market through products such as a bond-like structured product listed in Zurich Stock Exchange. However none of these were sustainable. But an innocuous line of gratitude in a Christmas card received from one of its early clients changed all that, and led to MDLF not only providing loans but also equity investments. One of its best investments resulted in an annualized capital gain of 33%. The capital gains allowed MDLF to subsidize other clients, and ultimately led to its self-sustainability.

The icing on the cake came when Mr Vucinic summarised his learnings points over his 15 – 16 years in MDLF. He said: there is never one business model that is waiting for entrepreneurs to discover, entrepreneurs have to go through the process of exploring and searching, while always being nimble enough to change course as circumstances evolved. He likened this process to sailing where the sailor, despite having a general direction for the route, has to navigate the boat according to changing wind direction in order to reach his final destination. He concluded that no matter how many failures an entrepreneur had, he/she would never get smarter about identifying the right business model, just faster in recognising failures. Entrepreneurs just have to keep trying. Mr Vucunic closed the session encouraging all entrepreneurs to start working as soon as they have an idea. It’s never too early to start, he said.


ACSEP wrote the introductory chapter to LegaleSE, A Legal Handbook for Social Enterprise, which was launched by the Law Society of Singapore Pro Bono Services Office on 7 December 2013. The chapter was entitled “What is a Social Enterprise? Do you have a social enterprise? Historical and Current Standards” and provided a brief overview of the social enterprise landscape in Singapore and around the world. The book aims to provide legal guidance to socially-driven individuals to help them start, grow and even terminate a social enterprise successfully. Professor Lam Swee Sum presented some highlights from the chapter during the “Good Business Done Right” panel discussion at the launch event.

Download the handbook at:

SSI Seminar: Change through Good Governance

Stimulate, Sustain, Inspire Change through Good Governance
ACSEP in partnership with Social Service Institute, organize a seminar on “Change through Good Governance” on 27 Nov 2013 at the SSI Auditorium at Somerset. The 3 speakers shared the importance of governance in charities, lessons of good governance practices, and how good governance can be practised and implemented in real life. The audience enjoyed the sharing and actively participated in the Q&A session which was moderated by Prof Lam Swee Sum.


Seminar Highlights:

This seminar will outline principles, policies and practices essential to good governance, by examining governance of charities in Singapore and internationally. Asst Professor Aimee Shih will share global empirical evidence concerning the importance of governance in charities, particularly in the context of a non-profit organisation’s ability to obtain capital, operate efficiently and, ultimately, achieve its mission. Assoc Professor Ruth Tan will share lessons of good governance practices from her involvement in the Charity Governance Award (CGA) 2012 and 2013. This event will be capped by a sharing by a past CGA winner on its learning journey in the pursuit of better governance that led to its emergence as a winner of the CGA award.




  • Associate Professor Lam Swee Sum, Director, Asia Centre for Social Entrepreneurship and Philanthropy (ACSEP), Department of Finance, NUS Business School



  • Assistant Professor Aimee Shih, Department of Accounting, NUS Business School, National University of Singapore.
  • Associate Professor Ruth Tan, Department of Finance, NUS Business School, National University of Singapore.
  • Associate Professor Daniel Fung, President of Singapore Association for the Mental Health (SAMH). SAMH is the 2012 winner for the small and medium category of the Charity Governance Award

Philanthropy to Social Entrepreneurship

On 25 Nov 2013, as part of the visit by the Indiana University (IU) Philanthropy, Public Affairs, and Business Delegation, Founding Dean, Prof Gene Tempel gave a presentation on the topic “Philanthropy to Social Entrepreneurship to ASCEP Board Members, researchers and invited guests, Prof Tempel discussed the origins of philanthropy and philanthropic trends, including the development of philanthropy to more formal systems, such as social entrepreneurship. The presentation was followed by a lively and engaging Q&A.

Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong visits ACSEP

Emeritus Senior Minister Mr Goh Chok Tong visited NUS Business School on November 22, 2013 for a delegate meeting with the Dean, Professor Bernard Yeung; Paul Cheung, Professor of Social Policy and Analytics at NUS; Ivan Png, Lim Kim San Professor of Strategy & Policy; and Mr Tay Kuan Ming, the Associate Dean. Also present at the meeting were various team members of the Asian Centre for Social Enterprise and Philanthropy (ACSEP): Mr Keith Chua, Chairman of Advisory Board, ACSEP; Lam Swee Sum, Associate Professor and Director of ACSEP; Ms Chua Beng Yan, Associate Director and research associates Ms Pauline Tan and Ms Roshini Prakash.

The ACSEP team members made a presentation to Mr Goh about the landscape of social enterprises in Singapore, including the challenges to identify and define social enterprises and differing stakeholder priorities.

Mr Goh and the Dean discussed the role of education in changing mindsets about philanthropy and the need for a more comprehensive and integrated approach at the grass-roots level to bring social and philanthropic activities to those who need them the most. Business efficiency is critical to the success of social enterprises and a business school can help make a difference, according to Mr Goh.

PRI-NUS Asia-Pacific Forum: Investing for sustainable and long-term returns in the Asia-Pacific Region

ACSEP in Partnership with Principles of Responsible Investment, Institute of Real Estate (IRES), and CFA jointly organised the forum at the NUSS Guild house on 20 November 2013. The event was a success with an engaged and enthusiastic audience of more than 60 participants. The presenters and participants also enjoyed the sharing and networking over dinner hosted by ACSEP and IRES.

Charity Governance Awards 2013

An initiative of the Charity Council, the Charity Governance Awards (CGA) 2013 was organised in
partnership with the National University of Singapore’s Asia Centre for Social Entrepreneurship and
Philanthropy (ACSEP).

The CGA honours charities that have adopted the highest standards of governance. The Singapore Red Cross and the Young Men’s Christian Association of Singapore (YMCA) were conferred the top honours at this year’s Awards held on 18 Oct 2013 at the Novotel Clarke Quay.

Special Commendation Awards were also given out to charities for excellence in particular areas of
governance. This is the first year that the Charity Council gave out such awards. The Association of
Muslim Professionals (AMP) emerged as the Special Commendation Award winner for Board
Recruitment and Renewal, while the Singapore Indian Development Association (SINDA) won the Special Commendation Award for Corporate Governance Policies and Strong Management.

The event, which brought together approximately 140 guests from 70 organizations, was graced by
Acting Minister for Culture, Community and Youth, Mr. Lawrence Wong.

ACSEP is a partner of the Charity Governance Award since the inaugural year in 2012. The assessment process and criteria was developed by ACSEP. ACSEP also facilitated the judging process and produced a feedback report for the charities. More information is available at

Funders Roundtable Series

ACSEP together with NVPC jointly organized the 3rd Funders Roundtable (FRT) on “Impact Assessment: Building Informed and Collaborative Partnerships” on 3 September 2013. The session focused on the role of information in grant-making. It explored the use of information to create sustainable and effective giving partnerships, and how the process of gathering and sharing information can create a common language that brings greater collaboration and impact.

We were privileged to have Professor Paul Brest, a leading scholar and teacher of constitutional law to lead the session. Professor Brest shared, with a group of 36 comprising senior management from foundations and government agencies, on the theory of change and performance metrics for the organisation using two case studies. Participants also shared their practices and experiences with grantees.

Launch of Results of Corporate Perception Survey on Social Enteprises 2013 (Partner’s Event)

Organised by Social Enterprise Association. The survey was commissioned by the Association to investigate the awareness and engagement of large corporations and small-medium enterprise with social enterprises in Singapore. The survey was conducted by final year NUS Business School, guided by Asia Centre for Social Entrepreneurship and Philanthropy (ACSEP). For a summary of the event, please click here.  To view presentation slides please click here.

ACSEP: Student Presentations

On 17th May 2013, students from the NUS Business School and Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy presented the highlights of their consulting assignments with socially-driven organizations (SDOs) in Singapore; as part of their field service projects (FSP). The FSPs were guided by ACSEP Faculty and research team. Participating Organisations: Singapore Association or Mental Health, Society for the Physically Disabled, Singapore Red Cross, Tsao Foundation, World Toilet Organisation. Presentation summary available here.

Feedback received post event:

“I have enjoyed my time with the students.  They are so  enthusiastic and I have learnt so much from them.  Looking forward to developing a long term partnership.”

– Ms Cecilia Tan, Deputy Secretary General, Operations, Singapore Red Cross Society

“SPD is privileged to have a group of NUS’ best students work on a solution to a branding concern.  We are certainly impressed by the excellence and quality of work they have produced.  In tackling the issue, the students worked independently and aptly dissected the problem, throwing light on and giving insight to areas that we, in focusing on daily operations, do not have much chance to study deeper into.  The recommended solutions are sound, demonstrating maturity of thought in the students.  We highly recommend that organisations engage the students under the ACSEP Field Service Project.  It is an initiative that both helps to solve actual concerns, while giving the students an opportunity to try and solve a real and present issue.”

– Mr Abhimanyau Pal, Executive Director, Society for the Physically Disabled

AVPN Annual Conference 2013

The inaugural Asian Venture Philanthropy Network (AVPN) Annual Conference 2013 (9 May 2013 – 10 May 201) will be the first and largest gathering of venture philanthropists and social investors in the region. Participation in the conference will be limited and priority will be given to active providers of financial and non-financial resources to high performing social purpose organisations in Asia. The conference will seek to share learning and both broaden and deepen the venture philanthropy and social investment community across Asia. Click here for more details.

Registration Closed