Digital technology that truly makes a difference

S$140,000 reward for top innovation tech startups delivering social impact in Southeast Asia

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Social Innovation Challenge

Alipay’s “Audibility” provides accessibility for visually impaired users, allowing them to shop, pay, invest, and book tickets easily.

A rising number of emerging startups are placing social impact at the heart of their entrepreneurial pursuits, finding ways not only to balance financial sustainability between tech investments and providing, say, tangible humanitarian aid—but actually utilising tech in order to amplify the impact and reach of that aid.

In more traditional enterprises like agriculture, returns can be amplified through establishing efficient and easy access between goods and consumers through farm-to-market roads. The same line of logic applies to other pre-existing industries.

Tech can be used not only to enrich products and services in creating impact, but also to streamline systems and deliver results faster to the right people.

Trends among social impact startups in Southeast Asia

Tech startups premised largely on social impact are cropping up in different places all over Southeast Asia.

A recent example is Singapore-headquartered startup, Positive Energy, which is a blockchain-based renewable energy finance platform, seeking to revolutionise the energy-funding process by streamlining the deployment of renewable energy assets around the world.

With Positive Energy’s initiative, green investments are made faster, more liquid, and more economically viable for all relevant stakeholders.

Another one is Warung Pintar, an Indonesia based social venture that provides micro and small businesses easy access to digital tools powered by IoT and data analytics.

Warung Pintar is built around the vision of eradicating massive income gaps through providing equal entrepreneurship opportunities to those who belong in the fringes of society. In the span of less than a year, Warung Pintar has digitised 1,000 kiosks across the greater parts of Jakarta.

Also read: Disobedience as a necessity for success, especially for social innovation

These are mere examples of how tech startups across Southeast Asia with social impact at the center of their businesses have been performing in recent history, overcoming obstacles like sustainability issues that often surround social impact startups.

More than providing grants and other forms of financial support, what budding social impact startups can gain in order to really drive their mission across is a spectrum of help ranging from mentorship, financial aid, key insights on business sustainability, and other similarly important components.

Initiatives that nourish tech startups to create social impact

All support when combined, will not only allow startups to execute their ideas, but also to rigorously polish and streamline those ideas.

This is what ultimately led to the creation of the Alipay-NUS Enterprise Social Innovation Challenge, a partnership between Alipay, the world’s largest mobile and online payment platform operated by Ant Financial Services Group (Ant Financial), and NUS Enterprise, the entrepreneurial arm of the National University of Singapore (NUS).

With examples such as expansive educational opportunities for low-income children, housing development in underprivileged communities, and even care programmes for the elderly and the disabled, the Alipay-NUS Enterprise Social Innovation Challenge aims to identify and support startups in Southeast Asia—particularly Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia—that use digital technology to foster a more inclusive society.

“We understand that we can’t do it all by ourselves,” said Geoff Jiang, Ant Financial VP and General Manager of Technology and Business Innovation Group, “because the impact of one company may be limited, but when we build an ecosystem of partners with a shared vision, we will be able to achieve much more.”

Also read: Can social impact be growth hacked?

As part of the Challenge, Ant Financial and Alipay have been facilitating the sharing of ideas and experience on leveraging digital technology for social impact, organising roadshows in various cities in the region.

During the Indonesian roadshow, Keith Zhai, Ant Financial’s Head of Corporate Development for Southeast & South Asia, shared the story of Ant Forest, one of the company’s CSR platforms. By May 2018, Ant Forest had encouraged more than 350 million users to lead a low-carbon lifestyle, planting over 55 million trees in China’s arid regions and reducing more than 2.8 million tons of carbon emission.

In the Malaysian roadshow, Alipay’s Senior Algorithm Engineer Xin Guo explained to social entrepreneurs how he and his team developed the idea of using AI to help insurance companies reduce their costs of claims handling by over RMB 1 billion.

This initiative saved claim adjusters 750,000 hours of time through the automation of the claims process, and most importantly, reduce car owners’ average waiting time of claims handling from 30 minutes to just a few seconds.

Singapore and Indonesia as breeding grounds for social impact startups

Now exactly what makes these countries the best places to start? We have seen a number of Southeast Asian startups from Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia show promising ideas that fit precisely what the Alipay-NUS Enterprise Social Innovation Challenge is looking for.

Singapore is currently home to Hapticus, which has created a virtual transportation hub for sectors with special needs (similar to an “Uber” service especially for those with disabilities). Hapticus is already operating domestically and is in the process of expanding regionally.

In Malaysia, a social enterprise called Soara Industries uses technology to drive social change by providing access to safe drinking water through the use of a compact water purification design, and basic solar lighting in rural and marginalised communities.

Also read: Startups should focus on creating social impact, plus insights on fundraising, unicorns, and traffic from Scoutedby CEO

Meanwhile in Indonesia, Endapo is a travel platform that fosters environmental consciousness through their “green urban lifestyle” system, operating as a form of green technology with their paperless processes. They also provide reusable bags as a means to endorse the green lifestyle.

These are only some of the existing social impact startups that use cutting-edge technology not only to foster societal inclusivity that ultimately impacts the world, but have proven that sustainability is the best path to take for social entrepreneurship.

Opportunities for tech startups that focus on social impact

“NUS Enterprise helps innovators scale their efforts and maximise social impact, through our strong support ecosystem and extensive entrepreneurial networks, which include mentors, impact investors, corporate CSR teams, capacity builders, and community partners,” said Professor Wong Poh Kam, NUS Enterprise’s Senior Director of the NUS Entrepreneurship Centre.

With a chance to win S$140,000 in cash prize, the Alipay-NUS Enterprise Social Innovation Challenge also offers important business insights, plus the unique opportunity of obtaining training, mentorship, and support for growth anchored on financial sustainability while achieving massive social impact.

This means more than just the cash reward, social impact startups will stand to gain commitments from both NUS and Ant Financial to fully realise their visions.

Together, NUS and Ant Financial challenges you to partner with them in creating lasting and sustainable social impact for Southeast Asia and the world.

Have an innovative idea that harnesses digital technology for social impact? Sign up for a chance to receive funding and support to bring your idea to the next level.

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