Our Program Director, Fiona Hazell, often shares her experience and knowledge to inspire and empower entrepreneurs that want to use their business to do good. This time, it was Malaysia’s turn, as she joined MaGIC. Here she shares her thoughts on the growth of a sector and the importance of staying true to your purpose.

Earlier this month, I attended the MaGIC Academy Symposium in Malaysia, a 3-day conference hosted by the Malaysian Global Innovation and Creativity Centre (MaGIC). MaGIC is an initiative created by the Malaysian Ministry of Finance to stimulate economic growth through entrepreneurship. 

Aspiring to be known as the Silicon Valley of Malaysia, the campus in Cyberjaya boasts state of the art auditoriums, brightly coloured breakaway rooms and a fully-kitted out maker’s lab.

This year’s Symposium theme was ‘Disruptive Entrepreneurship’. With Ideo, Pinterest and Tinder represented amongst the speakers you may think SE Forum was an unlikely organisation to appear in the line up. 

I did too, until I realised that social entrepreneurship is a government priority and somewhat of a national status symbol. Two years ago, seeing the value entrepreneurs can contribute to social and economic growth, the Prime Minister launched the Malaysian Social Enterprise Blueprint 2015-2018, a three-year strategy to exponentially grow the sector from 100 social enterprises in 2015 to 1,000 in 2018. MaGIC was mandated to support the sector through a dedicated social entrepreneurship unit and fund of RM20 million (USD$5.6 million).

As a recent graduate of the SE Forum SE Outreach Accelerator, and member of the MaGIC community, Nina Othman of Grow the Goose, invited SE Forum to share insights from 13 years in the sector.

Embedding impact throughout the value chain

My presentation, “A World of Impact: Successful Social Business Models from around the Globe” drew on examples of business models from our past participants, not only as inspiration for the audience but as a springboard for action. Moving beyond debating the definition, to encouraging focus on the two things that really matter;

  1. Maximising the impact of the enterprise,
  2. Building a business model that ensures the impact is financially sustainable.

Showcasing examples from our alumni network, the presentation illustrated that product or service, consumer facing, B2B, B2Give or B2NGO, there are always ways to embed impact throughout the value chain.

With the support of SE Forum mentor, Emelie Ekblad, the next day we workshopped the “embedded impact” business model with a group of social entrepreneurs and practitioners at the Social Enterprise Academy. During the session, we encouraged the participants to consider how to generate revenue from by-products during the manufacturing process, how to include under-served communities in their workforce, and how to create a distribution system that generates income for the community.

Seeing impact in action

After a lot of stimulating conversations, presentations and workshops it was time to see impact in action. We spent the day with 2016 SE Outreach Accelerator alumna Anja Abu Bakar of Athena. Athena is a social enterprise that produces reusable eco-friendly sanitary pads. On that day Anja was running a workshop on menstrual hygiene to young girls in Tapeh, a village two hours north of Kuala Lumpur. 

We parked the car and trekked across a river and up a hill to a beautiful community nestled in the rain forest. The girls of the community gathered in a bamboo hut that by night is a sleeping place for one of the village leaders, and by day is a community hall for the members to gather.

The hut itself is a symbol of sustainability, made completely of leaves and branches from the rain forest weaved together by the community. Anja ran the workshop with the girls, explaining the financial and environmental cost of disposable pads and gave them each a pack of washable sanitary pads.

As I sat on the bamboo floor, with chickens running beneath me, penned in by the torrential rain, I reflected on the important role compassion and human connection play in social entrepreneurship. And my thought at that moment was, whilst it is encouraging to see social entrepreneurship gaining popularity, we must remember that impact often happens far away from Silicon Valley. Finding your purpose, and staying true to it, matters as much as finding the right business model.