Social Enterprises in Singapore |

by Ho Wei Jian

What does a person need to not only survive, but also thrive living in a first world country like Singapore? He or she will need a stable paying job, a shelter over his or her head, in addition to the basics of nourishing food and clean water.

Even if Singapore is a first world nation, there are small pockets of society that live in conditions that are far from ‘first-world’. Enter social enterprises – business organisations, which can be both profit or non-profit, that set out to promote, encourage or make social change and help those in need. 

Help from the F&B Industry

Restaurants mostly have one primary goal: to stimulate your taste buds and make you feel sated so that they make a profit. A social enterprise focused on food, however, has an objective of solving social problems.

One example is EighteenChefs, a well-known restaurant that hires ex-prisoners – people who often find it difficult to secure jobs.

My NoNNa’s is another: this Italian cafe-style restaurant employs people with special needs, including those with autism, as well as intellectual and physical disabilities. According to a Straits Times article, only an estimated five out of every one hundred people with disabilities in Singapore are employed, which is the lowest in developed countries.

Coffee academy and cafe Bettr Barista has a programme that trains disadvantaged women and the youth in order to integrate them into the coffee-making world. They don’t just teach professional skills, but coffee education, life and emotional management skills, as well as physical training.

Enterprise and the Environment

In 2018, KFC became the first fast-food chain in Singapore to stop providing single use plastic straws. Soon, more than 270 other F&B outlets followed suit. One social enterprise that tries to solve the straw problem is Seastainable, which sells metal straws while contributing a large part of its profits to conserving marine wildlife.

Meanwhile, TreeDots seeks to feed the hungry in Singapore while simultaneously preventing unexpired food from being thrown into the garbage through its food distribution network.

via TreeDots

Another environmentally-based social enterprise is Secondsguru, which aims to educate people – through talks and workshops aimed at both corporates and the community – about environmental awareness, from eco-friendly lifestyles to sustainable brands.

Socially Aware Gifts

There are a number of retail-oriented social enterprises which aim to introduce handmade crafts made by disadvantaged folk. 

Sonder Social is a monthly subscription service where you can get gifts from small social enterprises from the Asia Pacific region. These goodies range from food, homeware, fashion, art, and more; the purchases help to provide employment among marginalised communities.

Tinkle Arts specialises in clay craft, creating intricate, hand-made models from their studio in the SIA-MINDS Employment Development Centre where its beneficiaries are hired to help with the crafting. 

The Animal Project retails lifestyle products centered around the theme of animals (printed onto fashion pieces, art, gift items, homeware and stationery), and the resident artists earn royalties from the sale. The company was in the limelight after Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s wife arrived at the White House clutching a dinosaur-motif purse by Animal Project in 2016.

via Animal Project