Business leaders help top social enterprises under mentoring scheme

Bliss Restaurant and Catering founder Christine Low (left) will be mentored by Mr Suhaimi Rafdi, who is chief executive of Cathay Organisation.
Bliss Restaurant and Catering founder Christine Low (left) will be mentored by Mr Suhaimi Rafdi, who is chief executive of Cathay Organisation. ST PHOTO: NEO XIAOBIN

EVEN award-winning social enterprises face challenges.

Ms Christine Low, 40, founded Bliss Restaurant and Catering, which won last year's President's Challenge Social Enterprise Award - given to outstanding businesses with a social mission.

But she admits its newest outlet, set up in Jalan Besar last April and employing people with physical and intellectual disabilities, is "bleeding money".

Ms Low hopes to identify and deal with "blind spots" later this month when she gets help with business operations and entrepreneurial skills as part of the Social Enterprise Mentoring Programme.

The initiative is being piloted by the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) and run by social enterprise Empact. It is expected to run until August.

As well as Bliss, the other four social enterprises taking part are Bettr Barista Coffee Academy, Eighteen Chefs, events agency Adrenalin Group - all President's Challenge Social Enterprise Award winners - and Laksania.

According to MSF, it wanted to select "established social enterprises" which are "ready to scale up, (and) accept external support and resources".

Ms Low, whose organisation runs four outlets here, told The Straits Times: "Our first two outlets made money but as the company grows and with rising costs, we need a more structured business model to survive in this competitive environment."

Ms Low will be mentored by Mr Suhaimi Rafdi, 46, who won Malay newspaper Berita Harian's Achiever of the Year award in 2012. He progressed from a trainee manager at fast-food chain KFC, to being appointed chief executive of Cathay Organisation in a span of 20 years.

"Many social enterprises have clear objectives and passion," he said. "But they may lack business acumen. I hope to listen and learn about the issues they face, and help to lead them - not just make 'clinical changes'."

Mr Lim Soon Hock, 62, managing director of corporate advisory firm Plan-B ICAG, will mentor Laksania, which is now facing financial problems.

He was previously vice-president and managing director at Compaq Computer Asia Pacific, taking it from under $60 million in sales to $2 billion in seven years. Mr Lim is also the chairman of the Centre for Fathering, and youth leadership organisation Halogen Foundation.

Empact's executive director Peter Yang, 32, told The Straits Times that it "scouted for individuals who... possess the relevant experiences and have the passion to contribute to the community".

Mr Andrew Khoo, director at ABR Holdings which manages companies such as Swensen's, will mentor Adrenalin and Mr James Harris, managing partner at law firm Hogan Lovells, will mentor Bettr Barista. Mr Jamie Endaya, associate director at consumer goods giant Procter & Gamble, will mentor Eighteen Chefs.

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