Social innovation can thrive in Singapore, says Ice Bucket Challenge creator

Mr Jon Duschinsky, chief executive of social enterprise The Conversation Farm, said Singapore's dense population, low levels of financial inequality and strong governance are conducive to creating space for social innovation.
Mr Jon Duschinsky, chief executive of social enterprise The Conversation Farm, said Singapore's dense population, low levels of financial inequality and strong governance are conducive to creating space for social innovation.PHOTO: TWITTER/JONDUSCHINSKY

SINGAPORE - Singapore is in a good position to become a leader in social innovation, said one of the men behind the popular amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) Ice Bucket Challenge.

"There is a thirst for what comes next, and a thirst to do things differently," said Mr Jon Duschinsky, a social entrepreneur who is chief executive of social enterprise The Conversation Farm, about Singaporeans.

He cited factors such as Singapore's dense population, low levels of financial inequality and strong governance as being "important for creating space for real innovation".

Mr Duschinsky was speaking in an interview on the sidelines of the inaugural Tote Board-SSI Global Leader Series for Non-Profits (GLS) on Monday morning (June 5) at the Singapore Institute of Management Performing Arts Theatre.

He is credited with helping to catalyse public interest that led to the popular Ice Bucket Challenge when he facilitated the creation of a short film featuring former professional American football player Steve Gleason. Gleason suffers from ALS, a terminal disease that causes one to gradually lose physical control of their body.

The film was aired at the Super Bowl in 2013 and gained widespread attention on social media. A year later, a video showing the act of a woman in Boston pouring a bucket of cold water over her head in frustration over her husband with ALS was shared and replicated, becoming the basis for the current ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.

Asked about whether the social message of such movements could be diluted, he said: "I don't worry about it being superficial." This is because individuals can find causes they truly care about after being exposed to many different causes through social media movements, he explained.

Mr Duschinsky also said that for government institutions and non-profit organisations (NPOs) to achieve their goals, they have to stand for change and engage people directly rather than focusing mainly on advertisements and fund-raising campaigns.

"I don't subscribe to the idea of the traditional NPO any more," he added. "If you're traditional... you're going to become obsolete."

For Singapore to become a leader in social innovation, he said local firms have to be prepared change their mindset and invest in the talent and resources needed to bring about change.

"You need incubators to help charities understand and bring to market the skills that they have," he added. "That will help them generate sustainable revenue streams for the future."

To create sustainable revenue streams, charities should enter partnerships with other organisations that can offer services such as consulting.

"Charities aren't thinking that way (building partnerships), and because of that they aren't thinking of all the opportunities out there," Mr Duschinsky said.

Another speaker at the GLS, Mr Patrick Teng, chief executive of fintech company SIXCAP, said that new block-chain technologies currently used by technology firms like Microsoft and Asus can help non-governmental organisations (NGOs) achieve greater transparency when they pursue revenue-generating activities.

"The activities of the NGOs and the funds they receive will be visible anywhere in a digital ecosystem," he explained in an interview on the sidelines of the event. "People can see where the money is going to and whether the results are going to be there."

The GLS is organised by the grant making organisation Singapore Totalisator Board (Tote Board) and the Social Service Institute (SSI). Its inaugural session on Monday was attended by 250 participants from about 80 organisations.

The event's talks aim to help non-profit organisations build capacity and improve their effectiveness.