Unique Challenges, New Opportunities

What more can we say about how the pandemic has altered the way we live, work, and play? We faced unique challenges, but inevitably it also offered us new opportunities. Like most businesses, the SE ecosystem too was severely affected by the pandemic. But when we saw the potential challenges surfacing in early April 2020, we moved swiftly to engage our SE members to understand the situation on the ground and correspondingly offered assistance schemes and capability development programs to support them in areas of maintaining the employment of their beneficiaries and pivoting their business model to ride the pandemic wave.

Once the initial shock of the pandemic slowly faded away and the acceptance of the need to adapt had set in, we were amazed by the manoeuvre taken by our SEs in their effort to continue their social impact. Needless to say, some of them, unfortunately, had to cease their operations, but most survived and a few even thrived. They showed remarkable resilience as they charted their next chapters in pursuit of being sustainable and impactful to the society. SEs have awakened to a new playbook that they need to follow in order to thrive as we move into the post-pandemic norm. To name a few essentials, they must have a digital presence, have adaptable human capital, and most importantly, they need to remain relevant to their customers and area of impact.

The challenges that we witnessed were not limited to just the business side of the house. SEs also stepped up with solutions for the social needs and gaps that the pandemic has amplified. There was, and maybe still is, the need to provide employment opportunities beyond the traditional beneficiary groups but also to emerging groups like those that are chronically unemployed or have been displaced from employment due to the pandemic. SEs are coming up with solutions that require extensive operations such as call centres and logistics. Others are also moving into the training industry to offer customer experience training to their respective beneficiary groups.

Another area of impact is that of improving mental and emotional well-being, a need that has taken prominence in recent times. We are seeing more SEs develop solutions in this space. As an ecosystem developer, raiSE acts as a conductor and curator to support our SEs in this space to come up with impactful initiatives in the areas of mental and emotional wellness. One notable initiative is the ‘Social Impact Bond Pilot using a Pay for Success model’ where private investors put up the upfront capital, enabling the SE to carry out the solution and upon meeting the impact objectives, the outcome funder will return the principal amount to the private investors. raiSE will be sharing more details in the upcoming months, so follow us closely to find out more.

I mentioned earlier about new opportunities. From a business perspective, we are seeing more SEs embracing digital platforms and solutions as part of their products and service deliveries. Their business model is more scalable than purely brick-and-mortar businesses with high capital expenses. With such a high potential to scale, they will be in a good position to attract impact investors too. At the same time, there is also an opportunity to explore new areas and dimensions of impact creation. Exploring new dimensions of impact pushes the SE to not only enhance but also consider the delivery of impact to the beneficiaries, including the need to ensure affordability for the beneficiaries. Will there be more of a ‘robin hood’ pricing model that SEs will be adopting? Whatever it may be, SEs will need to adapt and be light-footed in order to capitalise on such opportunities.

As always, I will end my note to register my appreciation to those that have supported us. To our funding agencies, we appreciate your willingness to hear the sector out in times of need and for offering your generous support and understanding during the pandemic. To our Board, I have run out of adjectives to adequately quantify your commitments to our cause. Beyond providing us with a strategic direction, each and every one of you have been involved in the operational aspects of our work as well. Last and most importantly, to my colleagues, we held ourselves well in the midst of the pandemic storm. Working remotely was a challenge and will continue to be as we adapt to a new norm, but I am confident that we will stand out and achieve more beyond our expectations. It is not easy but we shall keep going. Our dedication and drive to help our SEs thrive shall be our ‘booster shot’ that will make us stronger and fuel us for the journey ahead. I thank all of you, my dedicated colleagues at raiSE.

Alfie Othman
Chief Executive Officer
Singapore Centre for Social Enterprise, raiSE