Myth vs Facts, Misconceptions
AWARENESS
Misconceptions fly fast when it comes to the topic of social entrepreneurship. Social entrepreneurship can hardly be considered be a spanking new phenomenon, what with it being around for the past 20 years. Yet society acts as if it is, with many of them still having erroneous notions of what social entrepreneurship stands for in the grand scheme of things. This can probably be attributed to the fact that social entrepreneurship is usually thrown into the lazy assumption that it is a new-fangled business model that is neither a charity nor a business. Because it cannot be filed neatly under prescribed categories, it is simply left as that, dismissed and forgotten. When articles on social entrepreneurship do come up, they are typically met with apathy or treated as conversational fodder without putting real thought into what it entails, especially to general members of the public. Here are some common myths of social entrepreneurship to to be debunked once and for all: 1. Social entrepreneurship = glorified charity? It is a common belief that social entrepreneurs Just need to touch hearts to open wallets, but that cannot be further from the truth. Yes - like charity, there is a social element to running a social enterprise whereby consumers need to feel connected to their story. Unlike charity, however, social enterprises run as a business and therefore need to drive demand by providing quality goods and services instead of simply getting away with a good sob story. Consumers are becoming increasingly educated and informed, having quick access to any information on the Internet. As such, they are not as easily convinced to buy a product by a ‘sob story’ as compared to if a charity is concerned. Positive word-of-mouth recommendations, which encompass both the company mission and product perception, are what social enterprises depend on to drive their work. 2. Social entrepreneurship is an unsustainable business model Some skeptics might comment on the unsustainability of the business model which social entrepreneurship prides itself on - with a focus on social impact alongside with profit-driven initiatives. In fact, Eyal Halamish, a social entrepreneur herself, was quoted as saying “[a] social enterprise is actually a failed business [and] once it becomes profitable it’s just a good enterprise”. It certainly is not an equal world out there, so something’s surely gotta give - right? In fact, not necessarily so. The sustainability factor of social enterprises can be managed - by working hard on the business side of social enterprise that the social mission can be achieved. Admittedly, even among social entrepreneurs themselves, there is a lack of understanding with regard to the balance on emphasis of the social mission and the bottomline of the company. Perhaps fuelled by public opinion that social enterprises focus only on the social element (see point 1), there appears to be an over-emphasis on pushing the social agenda and neglecting the enterprising mindset – an oxymoronic mindset which might endanger their goal of achieving their social objectives of starting a social enterprise in the first place. This debunking is as much for the general public as it is for budding social entrepreneurs - never neglect the enterprise element while chasing the social, because you just might end up losing both. 3. Social entrepreneurship only exist in traditionally do-good sectors such as healthcare or education. The reach of social enterprises stretches far and wide, even within the small social enterprise scene in Singapore. For example, Society Staples, a social enterprise within the sports sector that organizes team building projects for corporates and schools to increase awareness of PWDs, are not the typical cookie cutter social enterprise one would imagine to be. Other social enterprises in Singapore that exist in unconventional sectors include Billion Bricks from the construction sector, Pulse Sync from the IT services sector and even Art Concierge from the transport sector. While social enterprises may come from different sectors, have different social missions and serve different beneficiaries, their objective is and will always stay the same: making a positive impact on society. Misconceptions fly fast when it comes to the topic of social entrepreneurship. Social entrepreneurship can hardly be considered be a spanking new phenomenon, what with it being around for the past 20 years. Yet society acts as if it is, with many of them still having erroneous notions of what social entrepreneurship stands for in the grand scheme of things. This can probably be attributed to the fact that social entrepreneurship is usually thrown into the lazy assumption that it is a new-fangled business model that is neither a charity nor a business. Because it cannot be filed neatly under prescribed categories, it is simply left as that, dismissed and forgotten. When articles on social entrepreneurship do come up, they are typically met with apathy or treated as conversational fodder without putting real thought into what it entails, especially to general members of the public. Here are some common myths of social entrepreneurship to to be debunked once and for all: 1. Social entrepreneurship = glorified charity? It is a common belief that social entrepreneurs Just need to touch hearts to open wallets, but that cannot be further from the truth. Yes - like charity, there is a social element to running a social enterprise whereby consumers need to feel connected to their story. Unlike charity, however, social enterprises run as a business and therefore need to drive demand by providing quality goods and services instead of simply getting away with a good sob story. Consumers are becoming increasingly educated and informed, having quick access to any information on the Internet. As such, they are not as easily convinced to buy a product by a ‘sob story’ as compared to if a charity is concerned. Positive word-of-mouth recommendations, which encompass both the company mission and product perception, are what social enterprises depend on to drive their work. 2. Social entrepreneurship is an unsustainable business model Some skeptics might comment on the unsustainability of the business model which social entrepreneurship prides itself on - with a focus on social impact alongside with profit-driven initiatives. In fact, Eyal Halamish, a social entrepreneur herself, was quoted as saying “[a] social enterprise is actually a failed business [and] once it becomes profitable it’s just a good enterprise”. It certainly is not an equal world out there, so something’s surely gotta give - right? In fact, not necessarily so. The sustainability factor of social enterprises can be managed - by working hard on the business side of social enterprise that the social mission can be achieved. Admittedly, even among social entrepreneurs themselves, there is a lack of understanding with regard to the balance on emphasis of the social mission and the bottomline of the company. Perhaps fuelled by public opinion that social enterprises focus only on the social element (see point 1), there appears to be an over-emphasis on pushing the social agenda and neglecting the enterprising mindset – an oxymoronic mindset which might endanger their goal of achieving their social objectives of starting a social enterprise in the first place. This debunking is as much for the general public as it is for budding social entrepreneurs - never neglect the enterprise element while chasing the social, because you just might end up losing both. 3. Social entrepreneurship only exist in traditionally do-good sectors such as healthcare or education. The reach of social enterprises stretches far and wide, even within the small social enterprise scene in Singapore. For example, Society Staples, a social enterprise within the sports sector that organizes team building projects for corporates and schools to increase awareness of PWDs, are not the typical cookie cutter social enterprise one would imagine to be. Other social enterprises in Singapore that exist in unconventional sectors include Billion Bricks from the construction sector, Pulse Sync from the IT services sector and even Art Concierge from the transport sector. While social enterprises may come from different sectors, have different social missions and serve different beneficiaries, their objective is and will always stay the same: making a positive impact on society.
AWARENESS
“You never truly understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” Harper Lee, To Kill A Mockingbird Engaging in the disability sector is never easy, especially since you can (almost) never understand completely how they feel and think. Fortunately or unfortunately for me, I had a taste of this when I broke my leg a few months back. With 4 torn ligaments and 2 ruptured tendons, my temporary disability brought me on a journey of self-discovery and slightly better understanding of what it is like to be in the skin of PWDs. 1. A caregiver’s burden After injuring myself, what I thought was just another sprain turned out to be something much more serious - I had to be undergo an emergency operation the next day after I was admitted. I felt like a burden as every time I stood up, someone would fuss over me to make sure that I am safe, which did not help with my sense of worth and self-esteem. It was also then when I really started to understand a caregiver’s fatigue, stress and burnout when caring for PWDs. Debra was there at my every step, assisting in every single task and making sure that I was alright and pain-free. An example of this will be pushing me around the whole food court so that I can choose what I would like to have for dinner. Although she kept a smile on her face and reassured that it was alright, I couldn’t shake the nagging feeling that me being injured was putting more burden on her. This extended to my family members as well, who had to follow me to make sure that I was safe, even around the house. 2. Getting back to work When I decided to quit bumming around and return to office, Debra had to wake up earlier to take a bus to my house just to fetch me to work. Getting back on the grind proved more difficult than I thought - when I was in a meeting and we were having a discussion, I realized that I was conveniently left out of the circle of discussion despite my best efforts. Perhaps it was the wheelchair, perhaps others thought I needed to ‘take a break’ because of my injury. Nevertheless, I felt like I did not belong with the rest, which affected my level of contribution towards the meeting as well. I could not help but notice how similar my situation was to PWDs when they are conveniently left out of conversations or planning. 3. Gaining independence The day I gained back my independence was the day my caregiver was predisposed and could not care for me. Defying her instructions to have others assist with my daily activities, I wanted to find out if it was possible to move around by myself. While it was certainly difficult, it proved possible and by the second day, I got the hang of it and was able to be somewhat more independent. This regained autonomy naturally made me more confident of myself. 4. Lessons learnt Due to our protective nature as caregivers, we tend to underestimate the ability of the care receiver and ‘over care’ despite our best intentions, which can do more damage than good. It was also clearer to me about how society treats PWDs, which was of convenient disregard. This extends to not only conversation, but even the lack of availability of inclusive spaces for PWDs. While we cannot begin to address all the problems PWDs face at once, we can certainly try tackling them one at a time. To address the issue of limiting spaces for PWDs, Society Staples’ new portal Inclusive Local Guide aims to share about accessible and inclusive spaces, events and activities so that families with PWDs and even the elderly and injured are still able to carry on with their lives with fun and engaging activities. “You never truly understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” Harper Lee, To Kill A Mockingbird Engaging in the disability sector is never easy, especially since you can (almost) never understand completely how they feel and think. Fortunately or unfortunately for me, I had a taste of this when I broke my leg a few months back. With 4 torn ligaments and 2 ruptured tendons, my temporary disability brought me on a journey of self-discovery and slightly better understanding of what it is like to be in the skin of PWDs. 1. A caregiver’s burden After injuring myself, what I thought was just another sprain turned out to be something much more serious - I had to be undergo an emergency operation the next day after I was admitted. I felt like a burden as every time I stood up, someone would fuss over me to make sure that I am safe, which did not help with my sense of worth and self-esteem. It was also then when I really started to understand a caregiver’s fatigue, stress and burnout when caring for PWDs. Debra was there at my every step, assisting in every single task and making sure that I was alright and pain-free. An example of this will be pushing me around the whole food court so that I can choose what I would like to have for dinner. Although she kept a smile on her face and reassured that it was alright, I couldn’t shake the nagging feeling that me being injured was putting more burden on her. This extended to my family members as well, who had to follow me to make sure that I was safe, even around the house. 2. Getting back to work When I decided to quit bumming around and return to office, Debra had to wake up earlier to take a bus to my house just to fetch me to work. Getting back on the grind proved more difficult than I thought - when I was in a meeting and we were having a discussion, I realized that I was conveniently left out of the circle of discussion despite my best efforts. Perhaps it was the wheelchair, perhaps others thought I needed to ‘take a break’ because of my injury. Nevertheless, I felt like I did not belong with the rest, which affected my level of contribution towards the meeting as well. I could not help but notice how similar my situation was to PWDs when they are conveniently left out of conversations or planning. 3. Gaining independence The day I gained back my independence was the day my caregiver was predisposed and could not care for me. Defying her instructions to have others assist with my daily activities, I wanted to find out if it was possible to move around by myself. While it was certainly difficult, it proved possible and by the second day, I got the hang of it and was able to be somewhat more independent. This regained autonomy naturally made me more confident of myself. 4. Lessons learnt Due to our protective nature as caregivers, we tend to underestimate the ability of the care receiver and ‘over care’ despite our best intentions, which can do more damage than good. It was also clearer to me about how society treats PWDs, which was of convenient disregard. This extends to not only conversation, but even the lack of availability of inclusive spaces for PWDs. While we cannot begin to address all the problems PWDs face at once, we can certainly try tackling them one at a time. To address the issue of limiting spaces for PWDs, Society Staples’ new portal Inclusive Local Guide aims to share about accessible and inclusive spaces, events and activities so that families with PWDs and even the elderly and injured are still able to carry on with their lives with fun and engaging activities.