Photo above: Arus Academy
Making impact inward, outward and upward
By KAREN NEOH
We had a chance to connect with Ehon Chan, executive director of MaGIC Social Entrepreneurship (MaGIC SE) for his take on the state of affairs of social entrepreneurship in Malaysia.
Ehon Chan, executive director of MaGIC SE
Understanding that there might be some confusion on what exactly a social enterprise is, we first asked Chan a question that many young people may have about choosing a career in a social enterprise.
“There are a lot of misconceptions about social enterprises and not-for-profit organisations, so it’s worth giving a brief explanation on that. A social enterprise technically is no different from any startup enterprise or small to medium businesses, except that their bigger mission and purpose of existence is to generate social or environmental impact.
“This means that social and environmental impact lies at the core of everything that they do.
“Social enterprises are also meant to be self-sustainable – they must generate revenue to support overhead costs, much like any other business. Admittedly, it is not easy balancing the impact as well as the business.”
Q: Should fresh graduates and new entrants in the workforce be concerned that they might not have access to personal development opportunities while working for a social enterprise?
Chan: No, you shouldn’t be. Social enterprise is not a highly specialised field, which means that many personal and professional development opportunities in other industries and sectors are relevant to people who work in social enterprises as well.
In fact, social enterprises often work across all sectors and multiple disciplines; hence the opportunities are actually wider.
Part of our role here at MaGIC SE is to provide education and personal development for the general public through a series of bootcamps, workshops and impact dialogue that’s more focused on social entrepreneurship.
Q: Could you share examples of innovative solutions to social issues that yielded a sustained positive impact?
- TONIBUNG is a social enterprise that trains rural villagers to build, install and maintain micro-hydros to power and generate electricity for entire villages.Through a hire-purchase scheme, the villagers then pay back the cost over a certain period of time. For villages in the remote areas of Sabah and Sarawak who have no access to electricity, the micro-hydro project is truly a blessing.
- Arus Academy is an after school programme that gives students meaningful learning experiences by allowing them to apply their knowledge and to create products.Through a cross-subsidisation business model, payments from Arus Camps fund the scholarships for students from underserved communities to attend the after-school programme.
Q: With regard to their leaders and teams, what would you say are the skills and traits they have in common?
Chan: Obviously running a social enterprise is tough – not only are you working on building a successful business like every other business, you also want to ensure that all decisions you make are ethical and sustainable.
So, it’s not surprising that generally speaking, most of these social entrepreneurs are optimistic, resourceful and impatient individuals.
They are people who see problems as opportunities to drive change and will find ways to try to solve the problem whether in the short-term or long-term.
Q: Why was the Blueprint necessary, and how do you see it playing a role in developing social enterprises in Malaysia?
Chan: The social enterprise sector is still nascent and there are a lot of players wanting to get involved, which is very encouraging. However, many of these players do not understand the current landscape, challenges and needs.
Hence, we wanted to provide an opportunity for the social entrepreneurship community to be involved in shaping the ecosystem. We started to earnestly engage the community and organised a series of roundtables throughout the country.
These roundtables proved to be really informative, where we had very honest and real discussions about what is needed to truly grow the SE movement in Malaysia.
The input from all these roundtables are collated into the blueprint which provides a framework as well as a guide for those wanting to get involved in supporting the development of this sector – in a strategic and smart way. It serves as an action plan for all sectors to get involved.
We asked Cheryl Yeoh, CEO of MaGIC, just one question
Cheryl Yeoh, CEO of MaGIC
How do you define success?
“Success is a very personal thing and depends on your life principles. For me, one of my life’s guiding principles is to write my eulogy every two years; what I want people to be saying about me when I pass away, whenever that may be.
If I’ve lived a life where I have no regrets and constant personal growth, then I would be happy with my success.
“I also love this quote from Maya Angelou:
‘Success is also about liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.’
You have to have peace of mind, which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best, to become the best you’re capable of becoming.”