Mr Gautam Banerjee

Chairman of Singapore Centre for Social Enterprise (raiSE)

Mr Noel Hon

President’s Challenge Social Enterprise Award Committee Chairman

Distinguished guests

Ladies and gentlemen

Good afternoon.  Two years ago, when I visited Blisse café at the People’s Association Headquarters, I noticed a young man working in the background at the café, going about his job quietly and efficiently. I spoke to him later and realised that he had intellectual disabilities. I know that parents with intellectually disabled children always worry about how their children will take care of themselves and fit in society. Christine, the owner of Blisse café, believed in the young man and took him in as one of her staff. With proper training, he was earning his keep and contributing as a useful member of our society.

Blisse café offers training, employment and support for marginalised individuals. Blisse, which incidentally is running the logistics and catering for today’s event, was the Winner of the President’s Challenge Social Enterprise of the Year in 2013.  Likewise, Eighteen Chefs, another F&B outlet, which was the President’s Challenge Social Enterprise of the Year in 2012, provides employment to ex-offenders, giving them a second chance to re-integrate into society.  Without a meaningful job, ex-offenders often find themselves drawn back to a life of crime. 

I commend both of these social enterprises because it is not easy to run a business, much less a business with a social objective.  The owner and Executive Chef of Eighteen Chefs Benny Se Teo told me that a social enterprise is first and foremost a business and a business must make money before it can do good in a sustainable way. It requires a good business plan, hard work and a belief that people are able despite their disabilities, and they deserve second chances.  It is with this philosophy that Eighteen Chefs has grown from three outlets in 2012 to five outlets today, and is now looking to expand out of Singapore.  Eighteen Chefs now employs over 200 staff, about a third of whom are ex-offenders.

There are not many successful social enterprises like Blisse Cafe and Eighteen Chefs in Singapore.  Though the number of social enterprise start-ups has increased in recent years, the sector is still young.  Many social enterprises continue to face challenges such as talent, business know-how and funding.  A strong, concerted effort involving multiple stakeholders in the community is needed to nurture and grow the sector.

The Singapore Centre for Social Enterprise (raiSE) aims to bring together multiple stakeholders of the social enterprise sector and coordinate efforts to provide support to these enterprises to create a social impact.  I commend the Ministry of Social and Family Development, the National Council of Social Service, the Social Enterprise Association and Tote Board for coming together to set up raiSE.  I encourage all corporations and individuals, social enterprises or social enterprise intermediaries, to support raiSE and the work of this centre.

The President’s Challenge will complement the work of raiSE by recognising successful social enterprises that have created social impact in Singapore.  I launched the President’s Challenge Social Enterprise Award in 2012 to recognise social enterprises that made an impact in the social sector.  This year,in recognition that social enterprises can make a positive difference in various aspects of our society, the Award will be opened to social enterprises with impact in the arts, culture and environment sectors.  I am also pleased to announce that prize monies for the Award will be increased this year. But more important, I hope that the Award will help open doors for more social enterprises to receive support from other stakeholders such as through mentorship, training and advisory services.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Singapore celebrates its Golden Jubilee this year.  We have made significant progress as a country.  How advanced a society is should not be measured by just its GDP but by how it helps the less fortunate among us. Social enterprises take the proverbial approach of “teaching people how to fish” as opposed to “handing over the fish”.  In this way, we help the less fortunate develop dignity, self-respect and pride.

Just as we are helping those who are marginalised in society, I would also encourage us to think about how we can better support the elderly among us.  As our population ages, how can we help our elderly live long, full and independent lives? Besides healthy diet and exercise, what is most important for our elderly is to have a sense of self-worth, a feeling of usefulness in society. 

This is what President’s Challenge is all about.  It is not about giving handouts – but about creating social inclusion.  Social inclusion will become more important as our country develops and matures. An inclusive society will bring along the less able among us as we progress.   That is why for this year’s President’s Challenge, I hope to see more initiatives, which contribute to building a more inclusive society.

I would like to applaud the social entrepreneurs in our midst today. Many of you took the courage and leap of faith to set up enterprises that seek to build better lives for all in Singapore.  I am confident that with the setting up of raiSE, the social enterprise sector will play a bigger role in building a more caring and inclusive Singapore.

Thank you.