Singapore has potential to be regional hub for social enterprise

At the round table yesterday are (from left) Water and Healthcare Foundation founder Christopher Wilson; NUS Entrepreneurship Centre director Wong Poh Kam; DBS strategic marketing and communications head Karen Ngui; Jungle Ventures' Mr Parekh; and LG
At the round table yesterday are (from left) Water and Healthcare Foundation founder Christopher Wilson; NUS Entrepreneurship Centre director Wong Poh Kam; DBS strategic marketing and communications head Karen Ngui; Jungle Ventures' Mr Parekh; and LGT Impact Ventures' Mr Lee.PHOTO: DBS

Social entrepreneurship is still in its early stages here but Singapore has potential to become a regional hub for enterprises and investors operating in the sector.

That was the consensus of industry watchers who noted at a panel discussion yesterday that Singapore's advantage as a stable and open economy can foster social enterprises as sustainable and investible businesses.

LGT Impact Ventures partner En Lee said told the panel: "Quite simply, as investors we want to make sure our money can go in and come out.

"A lot of Asian countries have foreign restrictions and capital control. For instance, China's repatriation rules can be a challenge."

LGT Impact Ventures is a family office initiated by the Princely royal family in Liechtenstein as a global impact investor.

"Singapore ticks the boxes when investors do our due diligence on political and economic risks.

"The investment on social enterprises may be risky, but some of the risk can be mitigated if you have the vehicle set up in Singapore," Mr Lee added.

There are few investible social enterprises in Singapore. LGT Impact Ventures is in talks with only two local entities for potential deals - a fraction of the 224 social enterprise members of the Singapore Centre for Social Enterprise (Raise).

Mr Jayesh Parekh, who sits on the board and investment committee of India's impact investor fund Aavishkaar, expects to see more social entrepreneurs and investors emerging here.

He is also the managing partner of tech fund Jungle Ventures.

"People haven't paid attention to make Singapore a hub, but slowly we're seeing that awareness and more angel investors or impact investor funds coming here," he noted.

Aside from its India-focused fund, Aavishkaar has an international Frontier Fund and Mr Parekh expects Singapore to be an destination for it as growth begins.

"Just like the growth of the technology industry here over the past 10 years, Singapore has the same opportunity to create a social enterprise hub," Mr Parekh said.

The government can play a part by giving more tax concessions to social enterprises, or providing grants and co-funding to the community, akin to what the National Research Foundation does for the research and development, Mr Lee added.

Mr Lee and Mr Parekh were among the panellists at a round-table discussion organised by DBS and the National University of Singapore, ahead of the DBS-NUS Social Venture Challenge Asia (SVCA).

The annual event provides mentorship to social enterprises and selects winners for funding awards.

More than 1,000 participants from more than 30 countries applied for the SVCA this year.

Among the 12 semi-finalists selected is Singapore's I'm Soul Inc, which aims to create social inclusion through music.

DBS is the leading Singapore bank in financing social enterprises, a bank spokesman told The Straits Times.

Its SE Banking Package has served some 400 social enterprises regionally.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 15, 2016, with the headline 'S'pore has potential to be regional hub for social enterprise'. Print Edition | Subscribe