Destination: Good’s second panel discussion focused on how to grow ASEAN’s social enterprise ecosystem for maximum impact and ultimately, structural transformation.

Panel Discussion 2: Social Enterprise Ecosystem in ASEAN focused on the pace and types of measures taken to accommodate growth of social entrepreneurship in varied economic and social systems across Southeast Asia. On the panel were five capacity builders in Southeast Asia’s social entrepreneurship ecosystem: Ehon Chan, Executive Director of Social Entrepreneurship, Malaysian Global Innovation and Creativity Centre (MaGIC), Dr. Marie Lisa Dacanay (President, Institute for Social Entrepreneurship in Asia), Pham Kieu Oanh, Executive Director, Centre for Social Initiatives Promotion, Sunit Shreshtha, Founder and Managing Director, ChangeFusion, and Yap Mun Ching, Executive Director, AirAsia Foundation. The discussion was moderated by Freda Liu, producer and presenter at top Malaysian business radio station BFM 89.9.

Local Context as the Seedbed for Social Entrepreneurship

From the outset, it was established that context is key in discerning what measures can be taken to grow the social enterprise ecosystem, and how players can best position themselves to create change.

The political context of each country is a key influencing factor in determining the hunger for social change. Vietnam does not have “a strong civil society like the Philippines,” Pham said. Similarly, Shrestha was motivated to start ChangeFusion because of the lack of democracy he perceived in Thailand.

The context of a country’s economic development is also key in examining the growth trajectory of a social enterprise ecosystem. On several occasions, the panellists referenced the United Kingdom as a benchmark. However, Chan stated the importance of understanding distinctive features of the local context. In the case of Malaysia, Japan and Korea’s development models influenced the growth of its public and private sector. Chan looks to South Korea as an example of how to contextualise principles from the United Kingdom’s social enterprise ecosystem to Asian societies.

Despite social entrepreneurship’s nascent beginnings across the region, its presence in the region has accelerated at a rapid rate, even becoming a fashionable trend. “Everyone wants to talk about social entrepreneurship,” said Chan. “To be a part of it…to be it”. Funders are also jumping onto the bandwagon. In Thailand, the BKIND Fund raises awareness of social enterprises to the capital market sector and provides mutual business funds for investments.

In generating a movement for social change, the panel also stressed the importance of each sector doing their part. On the level of individual businesses, listed companies can also take measures to become “more socially responsible”, Shrestha suggested. In addition, civil society can turn to entrepreneurship to address their problems. “It’s a time where entrepreneurship is coming up,” Pham said.

However, more marketing is necessary to allow other stakeholders to “understand a social innovation organisation,” Shrestha said. Chan concurred: despite MaGIC’s rapid progress in providing funding, training and awareness of social entrepreneurship in Malaysia in the past year, the narrative of social entrepreneurship “is still very new”.

Structural Changes Needed for Ecosystem Success

Yap’s background as a journalist reporting on events around the region facilitated her involvement in ASEAN civil society. She observed how her visit to each country, as a representative of Air Asia Foundation, revealed different policies, registration, and rules for social enterprises.

In considering cross-country collaboration, she shared a vision to “(change) the giving landscape”, challenging traditional definitions of charity across Southeast Asia. In a similar vein, Chan proposed a different alternative to giving a person a fish: “we want to revolutionize the fishing industry”.

The Philippines models how such a “revolution” can take place through their poverty eradication bill, which is being established to alleviate poverty through social entrepreneurship. Their idea is “to work with social enterprises” to accomplish the Millennium Development Goals.

Dr. Dacanay stressed the importance of putting social entrepreneurship in the mainstream consciousness, as it is currently “understood differently by different people”. It must enter the minds of non-governmental organisations, non-profits, policy makers, and businesses.

Collaboration Needed for Effective Social Change   

Social entrepreneurs cannot endeavour to create impact alone. They lack political influence, capital, and the knowledge of how to conduct business, says Chan. To bridge that gap, MaGIC hosts dinner and networking events for social entrepreneurs to learn from corporates. Shrestha’s view was that social entrepreneurs ought to go one step further, to seek to become leaders in the corporate world where they will be strategically positioned to develop ideas for collaboration.

Corporates, on the other hand, also need to redesign their contributions to social causes. “We need to move away from CSR (corporate social responsibility) to ‘corporate social entrepreneurship’” said Chan. Sustainability has to be in the agenda. His words resonated with the audience as he communicated the urgency to consider the impact “on the generations after us”.

“Where are we moving forward in the next 20 years?” Chan asked. “What do we want to see?”

Cross-sector, Cross-country Collaboration

Questions fielded from the audience were focused on practical ways to facilitate collaboration across different sectors. To engage corporates, social enterprises must learn to “speak the language of business”, said Dr. Dacanay. Likewise, the panel agreed that the government’s appetite for risks must also be taken into account when communicating the value a social enterprise creates.

On a regional level, Pham suggested brainstorming a platform for Asia to collectively discuss issues of civil society and the role social enterprises can play. Shrestha agreed. “Whatever you’re working on is bigger than yourself; but there is a way to bring systems together,” he said. Bringing the right people together to create a “platform, system, or process” could be instrumental in developing a sustainable social enterprise ecosystem, he said.

In growing the social entrepreneurship ecosystem, the ultimate goal is structural transformation. “We don’t only want to engage the poor as transactional partners – as buyers or suppliers,” Dr. Dacanay emphasised. It is “not only about scale, but also about depth of impact”, measured in the number of lives that are changed, and empowered to make choices through the work of social enterprises.