Asia’s embrace of social enterprises: governments lean in

Philanthropy Impact Magazine, Autumn 2017

Asia is awash with enthusiasm for social entrepreneurship, and Asian governments are demonstrating their faith in it not only with ancillary services but with cold, hard cash.

This article looks at government support for social entrepreneurship, particularly in India, South Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore and Thailand.

This article was first published in Philanthropy Impact Magazine.

Evolution and Revolution

Telapak: Seeking Natural Resource Justice for Communities

From investigative journalism to sustainable logging — and now advising the world’s largest companies on community engagement — Telapak has been unwavering in its mission for an environmentally conscious Indonesia.

Telapak began life as a group of young activists, conducting investigations on illegal
logging activities and raising awareness of the detrimental effects on the environment and local communities. Over the years, Telapak has shifted from investigating environmental and social injustice toward finding solutions. “History has shown us that investigation and criticizing the government alone is not enough,” said Zaini. “So we now have to become part of the solution.” This pivot has paid off for Telapak, which has since assisted the development of dozens of sustainable logging cooperatives, and it has implemented numerous development projects to help communities protect and benefit from their environmental resources.

Landwasher: Guardian of the Blue Earth

Leveraging business solutions for environmental impact in China

Recognizing the severity of the environmental challenges facing China, investor-turned-entrepreneur Hao Wu set up an environmental enterprise for waterless toilet solutions to directly address issues of water scarcity, sanitation and hygiene.

Under Wu’s leadership, Landwasher has become China’s top waterless toilet-solution provider, growing from a team of three to a RMB 60 million (around US$10 million) company employing some 160 people by 2013. Landwasher has so far installed more than 10,000 of its toilets across the country, posting average annual revenues of RMB 40 million (around US$7 million), making it China’s market leader in environmental toilets. The environmental value of its waterless toilets has been at the heart of Landwasher’s mission from its inception, which according to Wu, has helped to differentiate the product from the competition.

Frugal Innovation

BAIF Development Research Foundation: Transforming Lives in Rural India

Through 50 years of innovation in agricultural technology, BAIF Development Research Foundation (BAIF) has helped millions of Indian farmers to upgrade their animal husbandry practices, cultivate productive homestead orchards, and better manage natural resources.

From its early days, BAIF has focused on driving rural prosperity. Initially, it empowered farming communities to improve productivity of animal husbandry through technology and training — it had supported 5,892,045 families in this way by 2014. The organization went on to help 201,144 rural families roll out innovative homestead agri-horti-forestry, or “Wadi,”orchards, that combine techniques and resources to allow farmers to rear fruit trees, flowers and vegetables. BAIF has also applied its technical expertise to help farmers find better ways of managing their land, soil, and water resources. Over the years, it has expanded its focus to undertake health, women’s empowerment, and resilience programs in conjunction with its agrarian interventions to drive holistic development in rural communities.

Driving Value

Taiwan Taxi Academy Association: Flipping Perceptions of the Taxi Industry

Under the aegis of a public-private partnership model, a non-profit taxi association was formed to improve the livelihoods of low-income taxi drivers, while bolstering the local economy.

The Taiwan Taxi Academy Association (TTAA) was formally established as a non-profit organization(NPO) by a team of university professors in 2014, keen to apply what they have learned from years of academic research to improve the lives of taxi drivers. They developed a platform for drivers to be able to undergo professional training and gain access to collective learning opportunities. The goal was to “rebrand” taxi drivers to appeal to international and domestic tourists as friendly, reliable professionals who can provide high-value services.

There are more than 150 members today, all of whom rely on chartered taxi tourism for their main source of income. To help them in this, TTAA combines resources from government authorities, universities, and the taxi industry to develop the capabilities of drivers. This unique organization, which works with government, industry, and academic stakeholders to create opportunities for drivers to work and thrive exemplifies how multi-stakeholder efforts can help to address a social problem — in this case, the dearth of opportunities for marginalized taxi drivers to improve their incomes.

Turning New Leaves

TreePlanet: Changing attitudes toward forestation in South Korea

Tech-savvy social enterprise TreePlanet leverages growing environmental awareness, current cultural obsessions, and high internet productivity to develop profitable products and services that are designed to get consumers engaged with environmental causes.

“We are a tree-planting company,” said Kim Hyungsoo, co-founder and chief executive officer of TreePlanet. Since 2011, the small enterprise has used revenue from various sources — mobile game advertising, product licensing, and crowdfunding — to pay for forestry initiatives that have resulted in the planting of more than half-a-million trees across working orchards, anti-desertifi cation projects, and urban parks. But Kim’s literal description of his company belies its true purpose — TreePlanet is in fact a project in raising awareness. As important, if not more so, to funding forestation projects is the goal of changing the attitudes of its customers, which TreePlanet does by facilitating a personal
affiliation with forestry projects.

Building Collective Impact

New Homeland Foundation: Empowering a DisasterStruck Community in Rural Taiwan

With the help of the New Homeland Foundation (NHF), the poor mountain village of Taomi emerged from the tatters of a catastrophic earthquake as a premium eco-village and tourism hotspot.

In 1999, a disastrous earthquake struck Taomi, and the destruction brought further suffering to local residents. In response, a non-profit organization (NPO) called the New Homeland Foundation (NHF) stepped up to the plate, helping the community to channel resources for the emergency response and the eventual regeneration of Taomi’s economy.

NHF worked with experts from different fields to sketch out a roadmap for Taomi to re-invent itself as an eco-village. Over the course of a decade, external professionals and NHF empowered local residents to see the value of the environment and rural lifestyles for their economic prospects: a pre-quake bamboo grower would became an ecological guide and B&B operator. NHF also transformed itself along the way. Initially acting as a champion for Taomi to restructure its aid-reliant economy, NHF became an eco-tourism entrepreneur itself when it established a learning park that became a major tourist attraction. In doing so, it became a critical player in Taomi’s eco-village economy and continues to play an important role in its ongoing success.

Sustainability Through Innovation

Eden Social Welfare Foundation: Developing an Eden on Earth

Eden supports disabled persons in Taiwan by providing services and advocating for their rights. Through skills training and the development of its social enterprise arm, it is now enabling them to realize their potential in the workplace.

Over the past three decades, Eden has responded to the ebb and fl ow of social and political
change in Taiwan, diversifying to meet the needs of disadvantaged groups. It has expanded beyond its original focus on persons with disabilities to help the elderly, children, dysfunctional families, underprivileged communities, and even delivering overseas aid. In that period, it has grown from an organization of just two persons serving Taipei City to one that employs 2,800 full-time staff across 85 offices in 21 counties and cities.

As one of the largest nonprofit organizations in Taiwan, Eden plays a unique role in its society. It is a major government contractor, providing social welfare services to the disabled and disadvantaged of Taiwan. At the same time, it remains an effective social advocate for persons with disabilities, driving public initiatives, legislative change, and promoting holistic careers for disabled people as a means of creating both social and economic value.

Social Enterprise in the Countryside

CARD MRI: Empowering the Poor in the Philippines

The case of the Center for Agriculture and Rural Development Mutually Reinforcing Institutions (CARD MRI) tells how a non-government organization providing microfinance services grew over three decades to develop a social enterprise model that enables landless rural poor women to become managers, owners, investors and guardians of their families’ futures.

The history of the Center for Agriculture and Rural Development (CARD) is a powerful story of innovation and growth. It began in 1986 and over three decades has developed a network of “Mutually Reinforcing Institutions” (MRIs) to expand services to poor women in the countryside. It is a story of service delivery and social entrepreneurship on a very large scale on behalf of its main client base – the “nanays”, or mothers, of the countryside.

The efforts of the network known today as CARD MRI reach far across and deep into the life of several provinces in the Philippines, a nation of about 100 million people, of whom about 25% are poor.

Dr Ruth Shapiro at the Growth Net 3.0 Annual Meet 2015

Dr Shapiro of CAPS shares her views with Govindraj Ethiraj of Boom Live at the Ananta Centre's Growth Net 3.0 Annual Meet 2015

 

Govindraj Ethiraj, Boom Live, in conversation with Dr. Ruth Shapiro, Chief Executive Officer, Centre for Asian Philanthropy and Society, Hong Kong, talking about social entrepreneurs and the need for implementation of business strategies. Watch this full video to see Dr. Shapiro talk about the need for systemic change for scaling of non-profit organisations.