The social enterprise sector, which is growing in number and diversity, allows people to make a positive impact on society while doing business, and is important to Singapore, said President Tony Tan Keng Yam yesterday.
He said that he was glad to see the sector thriving and urged more Singaporeans with good ideas to start businesses that also help the community.
Dr Tan was speaking to reporters at the launch of the one-day FestivalForGood for social enterprises.
The number of businesses registered with the Singapore Centre for Social Enterprise (raiSE) has risen by a third to about 400 this year, from about 300 last year. Products and services offered have also expanded beyond retail to include arts, health and wellness.
Dr Tan, who launched the President's Challenge Social Enterprise Award in 2012 to give such businesses more visibility, said he was glad to see more young people take into account a product's impact on society when making purchasing decisions.
There are also those social enterprises set up by young people who have come up with creative ways of helping people in need, such as Jaga-Me, a tech company that helps link up nurses with those who need healthcare services at home.
"I wish to encourage more young people to do this and also other people who have good ideas to do a business and contribute. All of this helps to build a cohesive, caring society in Singapore, where we all look out for one another in our own ways," he said at the event at lyf@SMU in Stamford Road.
Mr Gautam Banerjee, raiSE chairman, said social enterprises are facing challenges from technological disruption. "Social enterprises not only have to do well financially but also have their social objectives to meet. So it's doubly difficult."
At the same time, more of such enterprises are using technology, said raiSE chief executive officer Alfie Othman.
A common online marketplace for social enterprises' products and services would be ideal, said Mr Kelvin Wong, who co-founded Terra, an upcycling initiative that employs people in need and trains them to make items like wine-bottle lamps and tyre seats. He said it would allow them to leverage on each other's contacts.
As part of FestivalForGood, some 25 social enterprises and their partners are also hosting activities islandwide throughout this month, such as coffee-brewing, concerts for seniors and cardiopulmonary resuscitation training.