At the final Cappuccino Connections of 2012 on 30th November, over 30 women listened to the passionate, informative and inspirational story of Grace Sai as she took us on her social entrepreneurship journey.
During what Grace describes as a ‘quarter life crisis’ at just 24 years old, she knew there must be more to life than working just to make money. She was unfilled, unhappy and unmotivated. In a dream one night, Grace describes how she had a vision which would become the driving force behind everything she does to this day. In her dream, Grace knew she was to create a building with 342 rooms for children in underprivileged areas to gain access to books. Today, this business is called Books for Hope which runs several libraries across remote Indonesia.
Grace established Books for Hope as a business model, not a charity. The children have access to books to learn and in return they make things which can be sold to the local community. She works with business partners such as Microsoft, PWC and Google to fund the libraries. She believes this model works better and social entrepreneurship is close to Grace’s heart.
An MBA at Oxford drove Grace to explore social entrepreneurship where she studied how all businesses are more than capable of solving social and environmental issues while still making a profit. This is also a belief which is garnering more support globally. At the 2002 World Economic Forum in Davos, not one business turned up to the ‘meet the social entrepreneurs’ session. 10 years later over 2500 business leaders, international leaders and intellectuals gathered to discuss some of the world’s most pressing social and environmental issues.
Social Entrepreneur Traits:
- They do not succumb to the traditional business models
- They create hybrid business to move the world forward
- Persistent, driven, passionate people dedicated to make a difference
Grace shared several examples of social entrepreneurs around the world and some of their amazing work:
Victoria Hale founded the first not-for-profit pharma companies in the USA who develop cures and treatments for people with neglected infectious diseases in developing countries.
Muhammed Yunus. 2006 winner of the Nobel Peace Prize who established the concept of micro financing to enable those who would not normally be able to borrow money from traditional banks to receive finance for businesses.
Dr Devi Shetty. A leading Indian paediatric cardio surgeon whose belief that a lack of money should never mean that a child goes without heart surgery drove him to establish ‘production line surgery’. Partially financed by JP Morgan, the hospital runs on fees which can be paid for by the affluent to fund basic healthcare and heart surgery for those who would otherwise have no access to such treatment.
Social entrepreneurs start a venture around a mission. Their impact lasts longer and creates good in the world. Grace left us with her belief that ‘social entrepreneurship should be in the DNA of every company until all the world’s social problems have been resolved.’
She is regarded as the node of the social entrepreneurship ecosystem in Southeast Asia and speaks widely on that topic. She has delivered courses on Social Entrepreneurship in universities, MBA classes and is a speaker at international conferences (e.g. EMERGE in Oxford and RMIT in Melbourne). She is also a TEDx Singapore speaker.
She is interested in policy development for social enterprises and has been invited by the Prime Minister’s Office in Singapore to share her inputs. She sits on the Advisory Boards of Ben & Jerry’s Singapore, Skoll Scholars at the Skoll Center for Social Entrepreneurship in Oxford and Crowdsourcing Week.
Grace was also the host and judge for the recent Singapore Women Startup Weekend.
Connect with Grace via LinkedIn.