Bridging social divide

11 October 2016 | Education
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Team iChange members Jared (front row, second from left), Yan Ni (front row, third from right) and Terence (front row, far right) with SDI Academy's co-founder Mr Sazzad Hossain (front row, second from right) and migrant workers at a dormitory

Eight NUS students recently had a taste of what it takes to run a successful social enterprise. The eye-opening experience was part of the inaugural Crossing the Chasm Challenge, which encouraged students to develop innovative solutions to help advance the cause of a chosen social enterprise in the region.  

Team iChange — comprising Year 4 students Vincent Ng (NUS Business), Jared Ho (NUS Business), Terence Teoh (NUS Law) and Tan Yan Ni (NUS Arts and Social Sciences) — worked with Social Development Initiative (SDI) Academy to build a strong business-to-business marketing plan. Founded in 2013, the local social enterprise aims to empower migrant workers in the construction, manufacturing and shipping industries with English language skills in order to create safer and more productive workplaces, as well as bridge the gap between migrant workers and Singaporeans.

To improve SDI Academy’s isolated marketing efforts, the dedicated students worked closely and tirelessly with the social enterprise’s founders and stakeholders, as well as industry mentors, despite holding down vacation jobs. They came up with an integrated and consistent outreach approach for maximum impact, which included partnering dormitories so that English classes could be conveniently brought to the workers in their quarters, instead of holding them on campus grounds. They also suggested greater publicity efforts by engaging alumni and tapping on digital marketing channels.

The team already has Jurong Penjuru Dormitory on board, with more dormitories in the pipeline. “We thoroughly enjoyed developing and executing our ideas and are overjoyed that they ultimately helped SDI Academy to grow. This was an unforgettable learning experience that no amount of books could have given us,” said Terence. As overall winners of the Challenge, Team iChange walked away with $12,000 in prize money.

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From left: Team Krakakoa members Angela, Anjali, Jermaine and Regina at the Challenge finals in September

Runners-up Team Krakakoa — made up of Year 3 Yale-NUS College students Angela Ferguson, (Urban Studies), Anjali Hazra (Global Affairs), Jermaine Pan (Global Affairs) and Regina Ng (Politics, Philosophy and Economics) — partnered Krakakoa, an Indonesian chocolate producer that aspires to improve the livelihood of small-scale Indonesian cocoa farmers while profiling Indonesian chocolate in the international market.

Working closely with Krakakoa’s founders in Indonesia via text messaging, video calls and emails, the students organised a soft launch to help the social enterprise enter the competitive Singapore market. With 17 social media influencers among the guests, the event served to spread awareness of Krakakoa’s cause, while generating buzz online and securing a potential customer base ahead of its official entry into Singapore. To create a strong and unique brand message, the students also proposed changing the product packaging to reflect the farmers’ stories and exceptional quality of the chocolate, and creating localised flavours such as salted egg yolk chocolate.

Krakakoa’s chocolate has since been incorporated into the menu of local café The Selfish Gene — being served with coffee as well as drizzled over chicken wings — with further tie-ups expected to materialise within the year.

On top of the $8,000 prize money, Team Krakakoa’s creativity also won them the People’s Choice Award and an additional $2,500 each for their team and Krakakoa. “Beyond learning about marketing strategies and the decision making processes behind a social enterprise, witnessing the founders’ passion for their cause has inspired me to similarly venture into social entrepreneurship to champion a worthy cause in the future,” shared Jermaine.

The Crossing the Chasm Challenge was organised by the Asia Centre for Social Entrepreneurship and Philanthropy at NUS Business and supported by the Tanoto Foundation. It brought together a total of 13 NUS student teams and 11 social enterprises, as well as industry mentors, in a bid to strengthen the regional social sector.