Grameen Creative Lab @NUS

March 21, 2011 | By More

The concept of a Social Business is very simple, and yet in its simplicity the most difficult part is in making the mental adjustment away from the traditional way of thinking about a business.

Hans Reitz making the keynote at the opening of GCL @NUS

We have all been tuned to the concept of business as a way of making money. If you want to be socially responsible, then you have to take your spare money from your other pocket and give it to a deserving person – that is what we are all accustomed to do in the form of charity of some sort.

This charitable ‘dollar’, once used is gone, and needs another dollar for the charitable cause to continue. In short, the charitable ‘dollar’ has only one life. By being sustainable, a Social Business extends the ‘life’ of the same ‘dollar’ again and again, and makes this ‘dollar’ have many lives, touching and helping more people than just one.

I had the good fortune to be invited meet Hans Reitz, the co-founder and creative director of Grameen Creative Lab who explained the concept at the launch of the Lab at NUS (National University of Singapore) last week.

The author with Hans Reitz (2nd R) and Prof Wong who organised the event (3rd L)

Over the following day and a half, he coached the Social Business concept to over 60 participants which included students, social entrepreneurs, angel investors and other enthusiasts. Social Business, he explained, is a business first and foremost – with a business objective to address a pressing social problem such as poverty, education, health, or even simply access to technology – and not to maximise profit.

Participants at bootcamp discussing how to create their Social Business

The business has to be financially and economically viable and sustainable at the same time, address environmental issues and pay its workforce a reasonable market wage. Just because it is a Social Business does not mean the workforce have to be volunteers or sacrifice their own living standards!

The mental adjustment is in thinking this is possible. For a Social Business to succeed (and be sustainable), you first need to know how to build a business. The difference is the reason for the business: instead of maximising profit for the investors and shareholders, the purpose of a Social Business is to help others – the more the better!

(This website has focused on the simple lessons about building your own business – read more about Tips for Entrepreneurs and our new section on Social Business).

Hans gave several examples of how this has already been implemented in several of Grameen’s joint-venture social businesses – and how they were designed with a view to solve social problems. They were so inspiringly simple and helped so many people to bring dignity back into their lives – instead of depending on donations and charity with no prospect of getting out of their situation! Social Businesses changed all that and gave them a future. This gave the participants of the bootcamp even more encouragement to move forward. (read more about What is a Social Business)

Through games and exercises, Hans navigated the group through the whole process – from the identification of a social issue to the conceptualisation and development of a economically sustainable social business model – always staying on track, of course, with the social business principle of ‘do it with joy!’ We had a lot of fun too.

Teams presenting their Social Business proposals

The group worked on social issues ranging from deforestation in Malaysia, malnutrition in Indonesia (read more about SapiMOO later), waste disposal in Vietnam and the issue of finding work for stay-at-home mothers in Singapore.

Read more about the event: Grameen Creative Lab @ NUS
Join: GCL@NUS at Facebook
Come back here for more articles about how to start your own Social Business

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Category: Ideas, Social Responsibility

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About the Author ()

EngTong, pioneer and innovator. Graduated from Imperial College London with an MBA from Cranfield School of Management. Lived in Scotland, England, California, Beijing and led teams in Italy, France, Japan, Taiwan and Malaysia to do the impossible. Now based in Singapore and believes the future is to blend the sophistication of western management practices with the strength of Asian Values. Trained as a Chartered Engineer. Member of IET, Associate of City and Guilds and a certified SixSigma Champion.

Comments (3)

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  1. Emylia says:

    “Feed the children and Moove them up the food chain!”

  2. Dom says:

    Good post Eng Tong. Nice to have met you at the workshop. From Dom

    • Error: Unable to create directory uploads/2017/08. Is its parent directory writable by the server? ET says:

      Thanks.