Do what moves you
The WIEF initiative AKEPT-WIEF Social Enterprise Forum took place on 22 – 23 October 2018, at ISTAC in Kuala Lumpur. 279 participants attended its 11 sessions manned by 35 speakers. Here is a summary of its Masterclass 6 on ‘Crowdfunding and Other Financial Tools for Social Enterprise’ that featured Edmond Yap and Vishnu Swaminathan.
The AKEPT-WIEF Social Enterprise Forum’s Masterclass 6 session was manned by Edmond Yap and Vishnu Swaminathan. The session explored the various ways for social entrepreneurs to fund their ventures. The two of them shared latest trends and best practices for seeking social enterprise funding.
A lucky encounter and lessons learned
Edmond was an energetic speaker during the session and enthusiastic about what he does. ‘You know, there was no support network for social enterprise some time ago,’ began the co-founder of EduNation, a free tuition service for students facing SPM and standard one. EduNation, to date, makes about 5,000 videos per year.
Edmond was a civil engineer and that was when he saw so much corruption. He resigned and became a sales person then decided he wanted to start a training company for youth, public speaking and the like. ‘But I was clueless about raising funds,’ he admitted. But lady luck was on his side, a chance encounter in an elevator acquired him the fund. ‘I think he (the investor), saw my passion for the project,’ said Edmond.
However, it wasn’t as easy as all that, Edmond did quite a few things to kickstart his idea and included appearing in a reality TV show. It was when he asked a college to advertise in their videos rather than on billboards, that secured their funding annually. An idea Edmond shared when it came to funding was that besides investors, schools for instance, could collect deposits which could be 75 per cent of the fund you needed to start.
Edmond shared the lessons he learned along the way when it came to seeking funds to start your enterprise, ‘You never know when someone’s going to come and support you. Also, it’s because you don’t know when you’ll get your break, you need to be mentally resilient. Self-help books were my best friends. We really must go out there and make connections. If you’re not outgoing, get a partner who is.’
Lastly, Edmond advised, to gain credibility. ‘No one’s going to believe that you’ll make a change because, when you first start, you haven’t done anything. But you still have to start, just do. Determination and persistence pay off and can gain your sincerity, thus birthing credibility,’ he said.
Start something that moves you
Vishnu of Global Leader for Partnerships, Planning and Management, Ashoka United States, has been in the social development space for 13 years and the first 12 years he had worked for-profit companies. He started foundations for low cost housing and malnutrition.
‘What’s important is not the term social enterprise but what spectrum you are in,’ Vishnu said. ‘Also, a business model is not the be all, end all. Sometimes, it’s not necessary to have a business model.’
As an example, Vishnu brought up Dialogue in the Dark that gave you the experience of blindness. Today, after 30 years, thousands of people pay money to experience it. ‘It has now become a franchise. This is an example of starting something that moves you that becomes a business today,’ he said.
Vishnu gave another example, of Afforest and how the founder realised how lawns were the worst for ecology and decided to grow a forest. ‘Because a forest would be self-sufficient and he started charging companies for growing a forest for them. He also published on what species to grow, how to make your own forest, all for free to everyone while still charging people to grow a forest for them. Now, the Afforest founder had grown hundreds of forests and people in 80 countries have learned to grow a forest according to his instructions,’ he explained.
‘Social enterprise means make money, re-deploy, open source and help others copy,’ Said Vishnu. ‘Intellectual property is the past. When it comes to finding funds, avoid complex and small money.’ Getting flexible money might be the most difficult but Vishnu encouraged this and he reminded how healthcare and education got the most funding. ‘Focus on individuals for funding. Also, what matters is how you transform your own industry, it’s no longer about how big your organisation is,’ he concluded.
Question and answer session
What should a country like Indonesia do to better their education standard?
Edmond: For comparison, I present Malaysia and its biggest issue when it came to education is its leadership culture that’s based on fear but no trust. But there are systems you can put into place to change this into leadership based on trust which is far more effective.
Vishnu: India, for instance, has the issue that a lot of money is spent on infrastructure. For example, rural schools may have computers but there’s no electricity.
What are the criteria that ‘crowdfunders’ look for?
Vishnu: Known crowdfunding platforms look for a product or service that solve a problem, a startup that offers a solution and if you will deliver the product. For social change, it’s tricky. For multiple investors, your idea must be more solid.
Edmond: Credibility. Individual investor, they need to know you’re serious.
What is the funding trend in Asia?
Edmond: Things are getting better, here in Asia, in terms of the acceptance of crowdfunding.
Vishnu: The number of players in crowdfunding is small. Crowdfunding hasn’t taken off in a huge way but it’s a matter of time till it kicks off in a bigger way.