Impacting lives with social entrepreneurship

Two local entrepreneurs recently shared their outlook and ethos on how their social enterprise can have a sustainable impact towards the country’s social and environmental issues during the On The Edge Talks “Enterprise for People and Planet: Malaysian Perspective”.

Held at Monash University Malaysia, the event was organised by the Entrepreneurship and Innovation Hub (eiHub), a recently established unit within the School of Business.

In his opening remarks, Professor John Benson, Head of School of Business, Monash University Malaysia highlighted that business have to change the way they operate within the next five to fifteen years, in line with the disruptive world that we live in.

“The world is changing and we have to catch up,” he said, adding that many jobs today did not exist five or ten years ago, while some of these jobs risk being automated in the near future.

In light of this, Prof Benson explained that the school is continuously innovating itself, adding that they aim to get entrepreneurs who have successfully set up their business to nurture and help their students.

He added that academics do not have all the answers and thus, it was important to engage with the industry and public, among others, to facilitate student learning. He also highlighted that the business school aims to produce socially responsible individuals.

The first speaker, Jerryson Abraham Doss, Co-Founder, Viva Starfish Sdn Bhd, delivered a passionate talk explaining how he successfully merged his business along with his passion for helping underprivileged individuals through his social enterprise, which he founded with his wife.

Through their company, they sell bottled water, with part of the profits channelled towards educating underprivileged children. Doss, who was from the oil and gas industry, explained that he and his wife also help the less fortunate by hiring former drug addicts and homeless individuals in their business operations.

The former footballer shared how he used to play elite football with teammates with varied backgrounds, including former drug addicts and homeless individuals, adding that “they were no different from you and me”.

Speaking passionately about the plight and difficulties faced by ex-addicts, Doss explained how one’s environment plays a crucial role for them, adding that many of them have relapses as they have difficulty integrating back into society, and are not given jobs that would help them restore their dignity. He also encouraged attendees to have a social agenda at heart when pursuing their career path in the future and to be patient in their pursuit.

Rashvin Pal Singh, Co-Founder, Biji-biji Initiative, spoke about the various ways Biji-biji has championed sustainable living, along with the setbacks faced.

Leaving his comfortable corporate job to branch into a business that makes a positive impact in society, Rashvin explained that the social enterprise comprised of like-minded individuals who “felt the need to do something different” in life.

The Biji-biji team have a diverse background and skillset, and does work in five areas, from sustainability (i.e. reusing waste creatively) to technology and ethical fashion.

The accounting and finance graduate highlighted that when the team first started, their goal was to develop an eco-resort, which flopped.

“We wrote proposals, went for meetings, pitched ideas, showed occupancy rates and cafe concepts, among others, but it didn’t go well at all,” he shared.

“Everybody we met looked at us and said, “‘What do you know about running a hotel? What do you know about the tourism industry?”’ We were shot down multiple times.”

Undeterred, they shelved the plan and came up with the idea of upcycling instead.

“With Kuala Lumpur being an urban jungle filled with waste, finding waste materials was part of our plan to build with waste materials and start with that. Hence, we first started Biji-biji by making furniture,” said Rashvin.

“None of us has a background in making furniture, but there are enough avenues for us to learn,” he explained, adding that they are self-funded, but were happy to later secure a British Council grant worth RM30,000.

Besides furniture making, they are also known for making bags from discarded seatbelts, among other ventures, including producing an art installation for Genting by using waste.

Apart from discussing sustainability from the environmental perspective, Rashvin also touched on the topic of income inequality, highlighting the importance for leaders to bring staff from the grassroots level up with them whenever they want to increase their salary to ensure everyone within an organisation grows along with their superiors.

In speaking about generating ideas for a business, Rashvin opined that “nothing in today’s world is truly ingenious or brand new” and that it was a matter of “who does it better, more efficiently, with the right amount of passion and the right people”.

He concluded by sharing that social entrepreneurship should be the norm in today’s world.

The inspiring session came to a close after a question and answer session following a discussion between both speakers with Professor Pervaiz Ahmed, Director, eiHUB, School of Business; and Assoc Prof Motoki Watabe, from the School of Business.