1) Marathon in Singapore
I arrived safely back to Singapore on the night of the 6th of December. As my family was away holidaying in Australia, I met a friend in the airport. After going home and unpacking a bit, we went to eat some hawker food at the nearby Adam Road Food Centre! Yum! Then I tried to sleep early as I had a Marathon to run the next day. Yes, a Marathon!
On the 12th of November, I had received an email from World Vision Singapore, asking if I would like to join the World Vision team for the Singapore Marathon. I realized that there would be a Marathon held in Singapore and was quite excited. I emailed a friend of mine (who was born in Mauritius) who was really into running and asked her if she was going to attend. She said yes and was actually looking for friends to run with – most of her friends not really being interested. I thought it would be a great challenge and so I got her to pay for the registration for me first so I could partake in the event when I came back to Singapore. At this time, I hadn’t confirmed the date of my flight to Singapore, but I wanted to get back early December. In the end, it so happened that my flight allowed me to arrive only a day – in fact less than 12 hours – before the start of the Marathon in the early morning of 7th of December. By mid-November, I started to train hard for the Marathon in the gym I went to. Rather than spending more time on weights than on the treadmill, I started to increase my time spent on the treadmill. I trained very hard as I realized running a Marathon is no easy feat and I had to prepare for it. After about a week of pretty intensive running, I started to fall ill! And in fact, the next two weeks till my flight, I was sick and unable to train at all! I was actually a bit sick when taking the flight on the 3rd of December. And perhaps not totally recovered when I ran the Marathon!
Nevertheless, I completed the Marathon in 7 hours 38 minutes and 19 seconds! It was just within the 8 hours time limit. My friend completed it about 3 hours quicker than me. Though my time was quite bad, I was quite pleased that despite my minimal preparations, the fact that I was sick for two weeks before the event, my very exhausting flight, and the fact I hardly had any rest (not being able to sleep that much) between arrival in Singapore and the start of the Marathon, I was quite pleased! I took up the challenge of running the Marathon as a challenge. It’s one of those things you know you’re going to suffer for it but then say to yourself, “What the heck, you’ll suffer when it comes.” And suffer I did when I was actually running! I ran at a pretty reasonable pace the first hour. After that, I walked most of the way, running occasionally. I told my friend to go ahead of me as I wouldn’t be able to keep up with her – and thus I don’t want to hold her back. And along the way by myself, I talked to a few people who were walking like me. I ended up making friends with an Indian who I spent the last 2-3 hours with. We talked and challenged ourselves to run a bit here and there. We even took a 15-20 minutes break very near the Esplanade. Eventually, I ran ahead of him as I knew that if I wanted to finish the Marathon within the 8 hours limit, I had to make a move. By the time I finished, my legs were dead. I had great trouble the rest of the day, and especially the next day, walking properly. But by the following day, things were ok. Overall, I was quite proud of myself for having completed my first Marathon though I came in a pathetic 2469th position out of 2480 runners who completed it within 8 hours! I really hope to do more in future years though I’ll also definitely be more prepared. Though I’m sure I’ll still suffer no matter how well I prepare (coz I know I wouldn’t have time to prepare that much!), the feeling of having completed the Marathon and achieved your goal is pretty unbelievable – no matter how bad a position you finished in!
2) Decision to stop my Spanish learning and not go back to Colombia
Within a month or two of coming back to Singapore, I decided not to go back to Colombia and also not to go to Chile for my last year of University studies as an exchange student. There are several reasons for my change in direction. Firstly, eventhough I do love the Spanish language and the Spanish and Latin American culture, I realized that I love other things more. I know that if I were to go back to Colombia to improve my Spanish and then go to Chile for my studies, I would very much be spending the time from which I go back to Colombia (say February 2004) till June 2005 speaking Spanish mostly and reading Spanish books. This is because I would need to improve my Spanish dramatically. I would not be able to read much English nor speak or write much in English – but would have to do all those in Spanish if I wished to be serious in improving my Spanish. And I know that is something I wouldn’t enjoy doing and would probably find it extremely hard to do. This is because I have so many other interests and desire to learn so many other things besides just improving my Spanish. And all these things I desire to do and the books I desire to read and the stuff I desire to learn would all involve the English language. Since 16 years of age, I’ve been on a journey – a journey of learning. And it would be hard for me to stop all this learning which involves reading, writing and communication with others – all in English – in relation to the many different subjects I’m interested in. I realized that while I was in Colombia, my Spanish did not improve as much as I had wanted it to because I was still reading, writing and communicating in English so much. I would spend a lot of time on the Net investigating stuff I was interested in. I would thus read a lot in English. In fact, when a pastor friend came from Singapore to Bogotá, I got him to pass me 4 English books that dealt with my current interest then – theological and philosophical books. I was pretty bored and I wanted to read and learn more. There weren’t any bookstores that sold really good English books. So through my time there, I realized that my quest for knowledge, for learning, for answers to my many questions, to find a more consistent philosophy of life, to continue my journey – all these could not be stopped! And all this was getting in the way of my learning the Spanish language. It was all a matter of how important learning Spanish was to me as compared as to furthering my journey in other areas of my life. In the end, Spanish was in important, but not as important.
Secondly, I realized that spending one whole year in a University in Chile meant taking all my subjects in Spanish. Many people from my University who do go on such overseas exchange programs would do it for one semester only – half a year. Furthermore, they would most likely fulfill their general education requirements, in which they would not need to have a great fluency and understanding in Spanish. In my case, I would be doing humanities and social sciences subjects there. Things would thus be very different and much more difficult. I would be reading tons of books in Spanish. I would be writing a lot in Spanish! In other words, my Spanish would have to be incredibly good – just like a native person. I wasn’t confident of achieving that level of Spanish because I knew I would not be studying Spanish only and always in Colombia and Chile.
In the third place, I realized that I had a greater interest for Development. My interest in Development and issues of poverty far surpassed my interest in the Spanish language and Spanish/Latin American culture. I wanted to move more into this line in future. Initially, my interest in development and Latin America (thus the Spanish language) did complement each other. I could maybe work in an NGO in Latin America. However, I realized that it was a bit impractical to continue to think of doing any developmental work in Latin America. Not only did my life in Colombia make me realize how different the culture is, but more importantly, Latin America is too far from Singapore, my home country. And I still want to be based and live in Singapore in future. Thus I probably wouldn’t want to be involved in development work in Latin American in future as traveling there would be too impractical and expensive. Furthermore, I know if I were to be in the developmental field, I would want to expose Singaporean youths to developmental work – and thus inspire and motivate them to help in the developmental field. Latin America would thus be too far and expensive for youths to travel there. Most likely, I’ll be involved in developmental work in a Southeast Asian country. Because of all this, I thought that going to a Latin American country to study and also improving my Spanish dramatically need not be a great priority for me. If I were to go to study in Chile, I would not be studying much on development anyway – but rather Spanish and politics. Thus there were now no great reasons for me to go to Chile to study and to continue to return to Colombia before that to improve my Spanish. It would be better for me to go to another overseas University and study more developmental subjects. This would allow me to spend more time on something I’m interested in and also give me more free time to pursue my own learning and interests.
Lastly, I soon came to realize that my interest in theology and understanding Christianity (and how it should be related to culture) was regaining momentum. For many years, I was really into theology and bringing together the best of both the Conservative and Charismatic worlds of Christianity. When I started to becoming interested in society and politics and developmental interests like poverty, I became disappointed with how little Christians and Christianity cared about the present world – how most Christians didn’t bother much about the poor, suffering and oppressed and how few Christians actually bothered about reflecting thoughtfully on how we ought to engage with this world Christianly. However, gradually as I started to know more Christians who are going through similar journeys with me and are grappling with the same issues, I started to be encouraged. Rather than despairing because of the disappointments they’ve seen in evangelicalism, they are reacting positively and steering Christianity in a postmodern world on a more positive path. Because of this, I see hope. While before not wanting to associate myself too closely to those who call themselves Christians or to churches who practice Christianity the ‘modern’ way, now I see hope of being part of a group who understands my disappointments, have gone through them themselves, and who desire to go beyond the old ‘modern’ paradigm of practicing Christianity into pioneering a new and exciting way of being a Christian. And so along with this new found hope, I’ve begun to become interested yet again in theology and reflecting deeply upon how I can a biblical Christian. I’ve begun reading more and communicating and being involved with other link-minded Christians in working out this new vision of what Christianity ought to be like. And it’s been exciting. But it’s also made me realize that I have no time to waste and I’d like to do so much now. Learning Spanish – which would take a lot of my time – is now no longer as great a priority as was before.
All this of course doesn’t mean I’ll totally stop improving my Spanish. No, I will continue to do so but slowly. I no longer feel the urge to improve it dramatically and be fluent with it in as little time as possible. This has now ceased to be a great priority for me. Yet, my love for the Spanish language is still there and I will continue to improve my competence in this beautiful language.
3) Trip to Spain (5th May – 11th June)
I went on a short (well, short though more than a month!) trip to Spain. It was a part business, part holiday, part practicing my Spanish trip. My friend Winston was there studying on a one year exchange program and had just completed it. Yet he wanted to stay on there for a while and explore business opportunities before coming back to Singapore. He had found a cheap place to stay in (with 2 Chinese from China) for about at least a month more and had also done a bit of research into various business opportunities. One of the main ones was to sell 100% pure (non-concentrated) pineapple juice there which my father brought into Singapore from Malaysia. At present there were no 100% pure pineapple juice sold there – rather, most were from concentrate as it was cheaper to produce. So, we thought, there was a market there and I decided to go to Spain to try and sell pineapple juice with my friend Winston!
It was both our first serious try at business and sales, so it was quite an experience for more reasons than one. I flew Thai Airways to Madrid and then took a 5 hour bus trip to Alicante, where Winston was based. This small city is situated in the southeast coast of Spain and is part of the Valencian Community. It is a quite a beautiful little city – not spectacular, though not too quiet and dead either. There were beautiful beaches there and around Alicante – Benidorm, which is less than an hour’s drive away, is a very popular beach destination for people all over Western Europe.
The first week of my stay there was actually quite wasted because I stayed most of the time at home and in bed as I was sick. During the 2nd and 3rd week there, Winston and I spent much time walking around warehouse areas to scout for interested buyers and on the phone calling up various companies to make appointments. We also prepared our presentations for our appointments and also sent some samples out to various companies. We had made some appointments in other cities of Spain and so during our last week or so, we spent a week traveling to three other cities of Spain.
The week from the 30th of May till the 5th of June was my most productive and exciting time in Spain – as well as the most exhausting. We caught a 5-hour bus trip around midnight on the 30th of May and reached Madrid in the early hours of the morning. We planned most of our bus trips such that we’ll be spending the night on the bus so we did not have to spend the night in a hostel and could thus save money! I wouldn’t really recommend traveling this way unless you wanted to save money. Our nights (or should I say mornings) in the bus didn’t really give us much quality sleep as it’s pretty hard to sleep in a bus! We arrived in Madrid on the 31st and the first thing we had to do was to search for a place to stay and leave our bags at. We were basically too early for most people to be up and so most of the time we woke up the people in charge of the hostel. Some just couldn’t be bothered with us and didn’t want to wake up so early to serve us – telling us to come back later on as they aren’t any places at the moment. Others welcomed us and told us that they would have a room ready later on when some guests leave but in the meantime, they welcomed us placing our bags in a different room. We basically didn’t mind not going to our rooms early in the morning because basically we weren’t there to sleep. We had a few days in each major city we were going to and not enough time to waste away sleeping – eventhough we hardly had a good sleep on the bus the night before. So in Madrid we did find a good hostel at a cheap place – which unfortunately had only one free room available that had a big bed for two of us to share. Winston and I were ok with it because we had spent 3 weeks before in just one big bed in our place at Alicante. We were used to sharing beds already. Once we left our bags at the hostel, we had a good chat with the lovely landlord who told us much about Madrid. We went to a big flea market (called the “Rastro”) which opened only on Sunday – the day we were there. It was the hugest flea market I had ever seen and it would took us hours to walk it through. We were lucky to be early and arrive when it just started but later on there were huge crowds. Remember that at this time, summer was just beginning and tourists would come from all over Europe and even the World to Madrid. I found out recently that Spain was the 2nd most popular tourist destination in the world behind France and ahead of the United States! Anyway, the long walk was beautiful and was probably the first time in Spain that I felt like a tourist. Before that, preparation for business occupied most of my time and thoughts. And eventhough, technically, business appointments were still ahead, the real tough work was in the preparations and not in the actual presentations and appointments. So by this time, I was all geared up to enjoy Spain – exhausting as our itinerary was.
We really walked a lot during this one week travel. In Madrid and Barcelona, we lived within the city area and so there was no need to take much transportation but only walk and walk to our destination. Besides the Rastro (where we bought lots of touristy stuff and gifts), we also went to the Museo de Prado. I was tempted to visit Real Madrid’s stadium but since I wasn’t that big a fan of theirs (if a fan at all!) I didn’t. Believe it or not, we spent quite some time in bookstores – big and small. Winston and I have always loved reading (me much more) but in this case, we both saw the need to take advantage of buying some good and cheap Spanish books before leaving Spain. For him, because he had a list of books to buy for his Spanish studies next year in Canada and for myself because I wanted to improve my Spanish. During that week, it so happened that there was a book sale and fair in Madrid. We were thus very lucky and went to many bookstores and bought many books. We also went to the bookfair there and found Christian booksellers who sold bibles. We were both really excited about buying Spanish bibles – both in the Spanish language alone and parallel versions with Spanish and English side by side. In the end we went to about 4 Christian bookstores in Madrid and Barcelona and bought quite a few bibles. My list included two big parallel bibles – one of NIV/NVI and the other of NASB/Las Americas. I absolutely am in luurrrrvvee with my parallel bibles ;) That was not all! I also bought the Spanish “Dios habla hoy” version, a small NVI version, a thin Las Americas version and a New Testament parallel of 4 translations – Reina Valera 1960, Reina Valera 1995, Dios habla hoy and Biblia en lenguaje sencillo. Ha, that’s 6 Spanish bibles in all from Spain. And I also have my trusted parallel NIV/NVI New Testament with Psalms and Proverbs bible which I bought with Winston in July 2002 in Sydney! Haha! Boi, I’m feeling so pumped up! ;) [Actually, I think it’s so cool to have parallel bibles in two languages you love. Oh well, most of you wouldn’t know how it feels… If you actually learn a foreign language you love, you’ll know what I mean!]
We stayed two nights (31st May and 1st June) in our hostel. We played cheat a little on the 2nd of June. Since our bus to Barcelona was late at night again, we took our bags out of the room by noon and the landlord allowed us to place it in another common room. We came back in the evening, showered and then left for the bus terminal – all without having to spend a dime eventhough we left the bag there till late and used the shower facilities! We then caught the bus at night and arrived Barcelona early the next morning. As usual, we tried finding a cheap hostel in the wee hours of the morning and it took us a bit more time. Eventually we settled for a pretty scary and run down hostel as it was the cheapest we could find. However, the room was probably the most comfortable room we were in for our whole time in Spain. It was big and had lots of space. And also, there were two beds! Yippee! Unfortunately, we had only one night to enjoy it! We went to the Museo Picasso there. However, the main attraction for us definitely had to be Gaudi’s Temple Sagrada Família. This was an awesome piece of architecture and art which left us thoroughly amazed. I also visited the football stadium of FC Barcelona and bought a Barcelona jersey there. We spent just one night (on the 3rd of June) in our hostel and on the 4th of June left our bags till the evening, took a shower, then left for the bus terminal – exactly the same thing we did as in Madrid. We arrived in Valencia on the 5th for our final appointment. After the appointment, we were really dead tired. Rather than exploring the city for a day and catching the bus at night, we decided to leave the city straight away after lunch. But lunch was excellent. Probably the best meal we ever had throughout our stay in Spain – it was for me! It was a pretty cheap Meditarranean food buffet buffet which cost around 10 Euros per person. The draw was really the paella there. For us, it was the best paella we had ever tasted till that point – we tried a very pathetic one in Alicante. Valencia is of course the region where Paella originated from and there was authentic Paella Valenciana here – with Rabbit meat and all.
That week long trip was probably my best and most exciting week I’ve had in years. Though it was tiring, we got a lot done. Yet I guess we didn’t do as much as we’d like to, which we would have done had we had more time. Spending only 3 days in Madrid and 2 days in Barcelona is probably a bit too short but then it’s quite amazing how much one can do in such a short time if one were to go all out like we did.
One thing I realized is that in every city we went to, there were always a row of Chinese shops selling wholesale clothes. It’s quite amazing. The Chinese really know how to do business! Another interesting point to note is that the Spanish are really laid back. There is a siesta or rest period from around 2-5pm everyday. That means a lot of shops and offices close at that time. They then work from about 5-8pm. As much as the concept of a long rest period in the afternoon sounds good, I don’t envy working everyday till 8pm! Though I have to say that in summer it was ok because the sun did not go down till past 9pm! So the day was really long! By the way, I also visited the plaza de toros to watch bullfighting in Alicante on the 16th of May. I guess I was one of those bad curious tourists who couldn’t resist taking a peek at Spain’s national pastime. I don’t support such animal cruelty (yes, what the hell was I doing there watching then!). When my friends and I left the place early, we passed by the place where there were butchers cutting up the bull – each bull ends up being killed by the matador at the end of each ‘round’. Yes, they were doing it before our eyes, open to the public who passed by. It was really disgusting. I was told that the meat would go to the poor – well, I guess it’s some consolation that the bulls endured all that for a good cause…
One of the more exciting activities I did in Spain was shopping! I didn’t buy many clothes – most were just touristy clothes for my friends. But the rest of my shopping stuff had to do with things related to improving my Spanish language and my Spanish cooking! I already mentioned my love affair with my bibles. Other stuff I bought to improve my Spanish was a whole 8-CD Spanish audio version of the first book of Harry Potter. This cost quite a bit but I thought that the main area I really needed to improve in was my listening. Because of this, I also bought many cheap (2-5 Euros) DVDs. Most of them were with English and Spanish Audio and Subtitles or a combination of that – again, to help my listening. I bought the Lord of the Rings DVD set and also two computer language programs to help in my Spanish and also French (which I hope to pick up one day). Not forgetting the Spanish books I bought – Don Quixote by Miguel Cervantes and 100 years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez. Oh yes, and also Spanish grammar exercise books! Wait, what’s more, I bought lots of Saffron – the spice needed for cooking Paella – and other spices and also desert packages. And my favorite food thingy has to be the Paella pans I bought. Oh, it was so cheap and amazingly cool!
Overall, the trip was good. Though no business deals came out of it, the experience was valuable and this was my first time in Spain. It helped me practice my Spanish and also know more about Spanish food, which I love. I have always said that my interest in Spanish and Latin American culture came more from my love for Latin America than Spain. Latin America is a place that needed development and my heart was in this area. But at least now that I’ve been to Spain, I can say I’ve been to Spain. Spain is of course much more modern than any Latin American country. It’s beautiful in its own right. Definitely a place I’d love to come back again. However, as interesting a place as it is, I cannot allow myself to forget my love for Latin America. Spain’s not that developed – as compared to the other Western European countries – but it’s a much more comfortable place to stay than in Latin America. I decided against traveling to other beautiful spots in Spain (like the historical south) as I wanted to travel there with close friends – Winston didn’t want to go further after that so I didn’t want to go by myself. So I do expect to visit there in future and hopefully by that time I’ll be much more fluent in my Spanish.
4) Social Entrepreneurship
Before I get into how Social Entrepreneurship and I became good friends, let me start with what Social Entrepreneurship is about? I’ll mention two broad ways it could be defined:
1) Combining a businesslike approach with a social end – this is the more common way the term is used. A business as such is usually called a Social Enterprise. Rather than profits being the “end” of the business, the profits are but a means to an end: profits would be used to further the social cause. Such a Social Enterprise could be started by an NPO (Non-Profit Organization) for the purpose of bringing in revenues for the NPO and thus making the NPO self-sustainable and not dependent at all or so much on charitable giving and fund raising. Or the Social Enterprise could be contributing socially through the doing of its business – for example, one that involves former drug addicts in a painting business, thereby giving them.
2) Solving social problems through innovative ways – here the meaning of “entrepreneurship” has less to do with the business minded flair to create value out of nothing and thus make money, but rather such a flair is related to the social problem. Social Entrepreneurs (or Social Innovators) in this sense thus refer to those who possess that entrepreneurial-like flair and use it to solve problems in new and innovative ways.
Social Entrepreneurship in both ways has been on my mind since the beginning of 2004. Since becoming more interested in political and developmental issues from around the time of 2001, the desire to devote my future to social causes has only become increasingly stronger. The pretty long free period from the my returning from Colombia to Singapore December 2003 till my leaving for my final year studies in Toronto in September 2004 afforded me much time to think and reflect upon what I want in life and what I hope to do in future. It was not as though I didn’t know already the area I wanted to focus my life on – it was definitely something related to “poverty” in the Third World. However, during this time I started to focus more on how I hope to play my part in eliminating poverty. Poverty is a big issue, perhaps the most serious problem in the world. I am only one person. I have my own gifts – how could I use it in relation to how I desire to eliminate poverty? There are so many ways one can be involved in such an area. And so gradually I started to narrow down my focus.
So let’s start first with what I want to do and what I think I’m gifted to do in terms of the 2nd definition of Social Entrepreneurship. 5 points about my gifts, interests and thoughts are noted below which will influence the direction I believe I’ll go in future in doing my part to eliminate poverty and being a Social Entrepreneur (2nd definition)
1) I want to live in Singapore
I’ve realized for many years that I want to live in Singapore in future. Or rather, if I were to live in any developed country, it’s going to be Singapore and not Australia or Canada or the United States. I was brought up here and I feel Singaporean. I love Singapore and I love being identified as a Singaporean. I am not embarrassed at all. You get a lot of Singaporeans complaining so much about Singapore and how living in other countries is so good. I’m quite sick of all those complaints. I guess I’m past that stage. To me, I accept Singapore as a more closed-off society, yet I am optimistic that it is changing. I accept that wages suck here, the education system suck…etc. But deep down inside, I still love Singapore. Others may think it’s so cool to migrate overseas but though it may be better in some areas, it will never be as good as living in Singapore in other areas. It just depends on what is important to you.
I believe that those who want to migrate overseas are those who care more about themselves than about the country – whether it be Singapore or the country of migration. That is, they care more about how a country can contribute to their happiness, rather than how they can contribute to the growth of the country. They are there to take advantage of the better lifestyle of their dream country of migration. But are they there to contribute to society? Hardly. And anyway, most of them can’t because they are not really part of the society there. And because they are not part of society there, they don’t feel the need to contribute or make a difference there anyway. They are just there to benefit from the country, not to serve the people there.
Why do I say this? Don’t tell me an Asian in Australia (whether born there or migrated there) would feel part of the society there. Don’t tell me they would feel as part of the society there as they would if they were white! They won’t. They will never until the number of Asians outnumber the number of whites. No matter how much you talk about globalization and all, the color of your skin and the background you come from would always stand as a barrier between people. Globalization is about people and nations becoming increasingly interconnected. Yes, people are traveling more and migrating to different countries. But globalization is also going to result in resistance when too many people of the Third World move to First World countries. When migrants don’t care about the culture of their host country, problems happen. When they want to forge their own identity, why would the host country accept them? This is already happening in some parts of Europe like France and Holland. Yes, Third World citizens may want to take advantage of the beauty, peace and opportunities that the First World provides. But don’t expect to feel a first class citizen no matter what. You hardly see any Asian personalities in all the big areas of culture like government and sports in Australia. And guess what, the more you see Asians in these areas, the more backlash there will be. Most Asians just hang around themselves and most of their close friends are fellow Asians. Now, there’s nothing wrong with that because that’s what I would do too. If I were to live in Australia, I would be more comfortable with Asians and most of my close friends would be Asians. And that’s the reason why I don’t want to live outside of Singapore – why would I want to be part of my small little clique when I can be part of my whole nation if I were to live in Singapore?
I love Singapore because I feel Singaporean. I am familiar with the Singapore culture. Not 100% familiar or totally comfortable as I don’t speak Mandarin well. But I feel more at home in Singapore than any other country. I know that those people I see in the newspapers and television are people like me – of the same background as me. We have a common language to bind us together – Singlish. We are all familiar with our recent history, the different schools in Singapore, the way Singaporeans talk and the bad habits we have. And we can all relate pretty well with one another.
I know I can make a difference here. I know that my presence and my work will be accepted and appreciated. Most importantly, I know I can relate to Singaporeans. All these are very important because if you want to contribute to a society and make a difference, you have to be familiar with the country and the people and be able to relate to them.
2) I want to work among the youths
The young has always been in my heart. Maybe because I still feel very young. I know I look young and much younger than I actually am – people have told me I look up to 7 years younger than my actual age. I used to serve in the youth ministry in one of my previous churches. And in my present church, my dream is to be part of starting a youth ministry there.
I think I want to work among the young because I love their energy and vibrancy and I believe greatly in their potential. As a youth, I’ve always felt that people did not realize my potential. I was always very advanced in my thinking as compared to my peers. But not many adults saw the potential in me. To them, the young can’t contribute much. They have got so much to learn and are too immature to be trusted. Yet I wanted to be involved. I wanted to serve. I believed in myself. But got few opportunities.
I see the young as the future leaders. I see them struggle through our meaningless education system and I wish I could inspire them to do something meaningful. I see them involved with trivial entertainment and I desire to see them do something useful with their time.
Whatever I want to do in future, I want to do among the youths. I want to make a difference in their lives. I want to be a positive influence to them. To see the young people positively touched by your service and inspiration to them gives you a feeling that is unattainable in most other work.
Working among the youth also allows you to shape their future. I want to see youths grow up with a desire to make a difference in the world, with a vision to reduce poverty. Catch them when their young, leave an impression upon them when they are young and they will grow up never forgetting what they’ve learnt and experienced. Their future live choices will be shaped by their past. And you can be part of the past that shapes their future.
Working with the young is so exciting. It’s as exciting as being young! As limitless as the opportunities are before a youth’s life, so limitless are your opportunities to influence the young.
3) I want to work in the area of education
I consider myself a product of the education I have gone through. I am who I am today only because of what I’ve learnt before. Knowledge – intellectual and experiential – has been foundational in shaping my thoughts. However, the education I am talking about that has so shaped me is not the formal education I have gone through but rather a self-taught education through reading of books, interaction with people and experiencing of life. Out of the three however, I have to admit that it is probably the intellectual knowledge gained through reading books which has had the biggest impact upon my life. I’m a big books guy. People may normally first be touched by serious emotional issues like poverty through experiencing poverty or other right brain means, however my path to enlightenment regarding poverty was mainly through reading about the world and current affairs. Words and concepts may not move people but for me as an idealist, words and concepts moved me to be interested in the area of poverty. Now, I thoroughly acknowledge that due to our western philosophical and cultural tradition, the importance of words and concepts to understanding and life has been overly emphasized. And I understand that the subjective and intuitive is as important. Not everyone is like me who reads a lot and is moved to take action by what I know intellectually. In fact, I realize that many people do not like reading nor do they like to exercise their brains much to digest difficult concepts and ideas.
So what would education involve when I say I want to work in the education line? I would of course seek to see education in relation to both the right and left-brain. Intellectual concepts are important but the trick is also to bring your point across that in an understandable and digestible way and to many stimulating the left-brain doesn’t always work. I love exciting concepts and I love writing essays and doing research. But I don’t want to be part of the higher education or in the university academia. That’s too ivory tower for me. As much as I like the theoretical stuff and as much as I find that challenging and much needed in society, I find a greater challenge – and one I’m more interested in – is bringing these theoretical concepts down to the level which most people understand, such that the knowledge becomes useful in challenging and transforming the people who receive this knowledge. Thus my interest is in using knowledge to powerfully move and shape lives. To do that I think we have to move both the left and right brains.
4) I am more interested in International poverty than poverty in Singapore
As much as I love Singapore, the level of poverty here cannot be compared to that in parts of Southeast Asia and Africa. As much as I want to help poor and suffering Singaporeans, my heart is primarily with the really poor people in this world. There is poverty in Singapore but in comparison to other countries, Singapore is relatively prosperous overall and the level of poverty present here is very low.
So I’m really not interested in helping the elderly or handicapped or whatever. There are already many VWOs (Voluntary Welfare Organizations) here to help in that area. I think the need is most elsewhere and therefore I seek to help where the need is the most urgent.
5) I believe in inspiring and mentoring
Closely related to my love to work with the youths and interest in education is this 4th point. I want to live a life that inspires others. Inspiration is about living a life that inspires. It is not about techniques used to motivate or manipulate others to do what you want them to do. Inspiration is about giving of yourself and serving them so that others follow your example. Motivation is about getting others to do what you want them to do.
A lot of management thinking is about motivation. You can learn how to motivate others, but inspiration is from within and you have to be inspirational, not do inspiration. The best way to live a life of inspiration to others is to love them and be passionate about what you believe in. The passion for your cause is contagious.
The best way to lead, I believe, is to inspire. It is not to have a dominant personality that so people follow you. That’s just manipulation and that doesn’t come from within. The best way to lead is when it comes from your heart and you become an example of love and passion to others.
As a leader of young people in future, I don’t believe in doing everything oneself (or making sure everyone does things in my way) so as to get things done my way. I believe in being mentors to younger people and guiding them in their efforts. I believe in the youths – not so they can follow my agenda but so they can pursue what they want under the guidance of leaders who can help them and empower them. In future, if I were to help the young in various projects to do with eliminating poverty, I believe in being that facilitator and mentor, not the one that dominatingly leaders them. If we see potential in the young, we must allow them to take control of what they believe in. They will grow more and learn more things through the responsibility we give them. Youths grow when we give them responsibility. I believe our job is just to inspire, mentor, guide and facilitate their growth. They young – they do their own growing.
All this is easier said that done of course. And I have to admit that in the past I have not been a model of the above. I guess the challenge is to balance the actively leading part and the letting go and let them grow part. Our fallen human nature wants control and wants it badly. Not only over our life but also over others. However, we all need to learn more the power of inspiring and guiding, rather than always seeking to get things done our way.
Ok, so how do these 5 areas come together and relate to my interest in Social Entrepreneurship (2nd definition)? I will now put them together and solve the jigsaw puzzle.
All the above really means is that I see my direction and future as raising awareness (education) among the Singaporean youths of international poverty. And in doing all this, my goal is to see myself and other leaders be concerned about inspiring them and mentoring them to greater heights.
How do I see myself as a social entrepreneur (2nd definition) – one that solves social problems through innovative ways? I believe my vision is unique in that rather than engaging directly with social problems in the third world (building houses for the poor, setting up a micro-credit bank…etc), I seek to inspire the young in my relatively well off country to be future leaders who socially engage directly with poverty in the third world. That means my desire isn’t to give the poor a fish, or even to teach them how to fish. Rather, my dream is to create multitudes of leaders who are inspired to give the poor a fish or teach the poor how to fish. How they give the poor a fish or teach them to fish, I leave it mainly up to them. My goal is in seeing young people transformed through education and experience to leaders with a vision to make a positive difference in this world. My passion is to facilitate their growth into world shakers. I feel there’s this great passion in me to want to give my life to help the poor. Through all the unique experiences I’ve gone through, I’ve become what I am now. Yet why don’t more young grow up with a vision to make a difference? My burning desire is to see other young people as passionate as I am. Thus rather than desiring to directly engage in social problems in the third world, I desire to create leaders who directly engage in social problems. It’s like investing my life in human capital that multiplies and re-creates itself.
I just realized that this dream of mine doesn’t mean that I am only indirectly involved in solving social problems because I desire to see young leaders arise who solve social problems directly themselves. Rather, through inspiring the young to be thoughtful and passionate leaders who desire to make a difference among the poor – this in itself benefits society and can be said to solve a potential social problem. That is, rather than youths becoming a liability to society – as some youths who are unfortunately negatively influenced can be – the young become leaders who know what they want in life and thus contribute to society in a positive way.
(I don’t see, however, that this aspect of transforming the potential juvenile delinquents to passionate leaders of vision is going to be my primary focus initially because it’s not easy a task! Being familiar with Singapore culture, there is a difference between the English-speaking/educated population (which tends to be those of middle to upper class) and the Chinese-speaking/educated population (which tends to be those of the lower class). The English educated are definitely more cosmopolitan. Being also more well off and educated than the other group, they would probably be more open to being challenged intellectually and being stretched as a person. Bread and butter issues would not be as much on their minds as doing something that helps them to fulfill their “self-actualization” needs. Therefore, these people have an outlook in life that will make them more receptive to the call to rise up and make a difference in this world. Reaching out to the Chinese-educated Singaporean youths – more of whom come from a troubled background and lead uninspired lives – is a different story altogether. I would admit I’m not up to it because of my language skills (or lack of it) and the fact that my outlook in life would be different from the Chinese-educated. Because of this, it’s harder to relate to them, to know what makes them click and all. But I see it as a great challenge to inspire these people to be passionate leaders of change).
How would all this work out practically in this world? How exactly am I going to inspire young Singaporeans to live a life of difference through raising awareness of international poverty? Here’s what I envision. I envision camps being held for youths. These camps could be held in Singapore or could be held in a third world country in Southeast Asia. Through them, youths learn more about developmental issues (poverty, HIV/AIDS, environment, political issues, economic issues, history of colonization…etc) and also experience poverty. Applying the knowledge they have learnt about poverty, they will come out with actual practical ideas on how they can contribute to solving poverty in the world – of course starting with specific regions and addressing specific issues. We will help them, guide them, mentor them in their various projects but they will be the ones doing most of the work, thus learning the most through this entire process. We will only facilitate; they will come out with the ideas and be responsible for their actions and the results of their projects. These projects would of course be long-term projects. Maybe many months or even years. What they experience or learn during the, let’s say, one week long camp will not stop at the end of it. There will be follow up and continuous learning. The idea is not to give them a one weeklong experience that will move them for only that week and perhaps a short time after. Yes, they ought to be inspired and moved during that week. But just as habits aren’t formed unless there is continuous practice, so also the vision to make a difference needs to be continuously cultivated in each individual. Sustained focus through follow up projects and meetings is thus important.
So what am I doing about all this at present to further my vision to be a social entrepreneur as stated above? I can’t say I’ve progressed much in terms of working towards my vision because I’ve been slightly side-tracked by my interest in Social Entrepreneurship (1st definition) – that is, combining a businesslike approach with a social end. So let’s get more into that.
On the 11th of July 2004, I attended the NUS Business School’s Social Entrepreneurship forum. The first time I recall hearing about Social Entrepreneurship was probably in my third session of University in early 2003 when I was researching an essay on NGOs for my development studies class. I read many journal articles then and I recall coming across the term of Social Entrepreneurship, or at least the idea behind it. The basic idea behind it was somehow combining the business and the social. I was researching on the challenges NGOs face nowadays and one huge challenge is how public funding to NGOs is decreasing as the world is increasingly influenced by the process of globalization and its neo-liberal free market policies. A solution to this problem of too much dependence upon the public for funds is to make your NGO self-sustainable through making profits somehow to fund your cause and work. This is what Social Entrepreneurship is all about. I thought this was an intriguing idea. There are of course pros and cons of all this. The for-profit mindset is at times very much incompatible with the not-for-profit mindset. But if we could make a win-win situation, then wouldn’t that be great?
I can’t say I know many great examples of social enterprises. The first that would come to my mind is the Body Shop because I’m familiar with the life of its founder, Anita Roddick. A different example and one from Singapore, the National Kidney Foundation (NKF), provides a warning of how I wouldn’t like to see Social Entrepreneurship done. As an idealist, I rather see the business and the social separate and mostly incompatible. However, I realize that sometimes I have to be practical and while social enterprises aren’t perfect, I ought to still be open to them. And open I am, and becoming increasingly open – whether for better or for worse.
The forum I attended on the 11th was enlightening, though probably a bit too short for my liking! The crowd of a few thousand people pleasantly surprised me – indeed, Singaporeans aren’t that apathetic after all! The best and most inspirational speaker by far on that day was the Indian Sanjit Bunker Roy, founder of the Barefoot College in India, which has helped many poor people in India through equipping their students with practical knowledge and skills. Sanjit Bunker Roy could be said to be more of a Social Entrepreneur in the 2nd definition, rather than in the first definition, yet he was the main speaker in a conference meant to enlighten us about Social Entrepreneurship in terms of the 1st definition. Two things he touched on caught my attention and both I think speak to the dangers present when seeking to combine the business and the social. The first is that when we talk about the social, we’re talking about passion. It’s really about giving your all and following your heart, not about how the world thinks. Roy came out very strongly against formal education, which was awkward for his hosts (University professors!) yet rather humorous for the audience. Yet I think he’s so right to be against formal education which more often than not stifles our passion. There has to be that passion, that “fire in the belly”. This passion is of course for the betterment of society, not for profits. If your passion is to help the poor, you don’t really think about your own comfortable life – or how you’re going to earn enough to get one. Which brings me to a second point that struck me. He said a volunteer is one who gets a living wage, not a market wage. I think both points are very related. If you’re truly passionate about social change and the poor and suffering, you won’t demand a market wage. That’s because you don’t need a market wage. If you’re truly consistent with your values, then why would you need a market wage which is so much higher than what you need to just live? People who are truly compassionate, passionate for change and who have that fire in their belly aren’t in it to make money or to live comfortably. They don’t care about the luxuries of society, the pressures to consume the world imposes upon them. All they care about is helping the poor. Their motives are pure, their heart is right. They are willing to suffer and live very simply in order to live their dream to help the poor. This is something those who combine the business and the social ought always to remember. That’s why I disagree with NKF. NKF employees don’t receive a living wage but rather a market wage. They believe in attracting the best, but at what cost? They may do their jobs effectively and bring in the money, but through their work they aren’t inspiring the right values in their donors. How can they, when they appeal to people’s greed and the carrot of a Condominium to get us to give? Live your passion, and people will be inspired. Live your cause passionately, and they will join you. Indeed, there is a very real danger in a social enterprise being too concerned about being profitable and in turn succumbing too much to the values of our competitive and uncaring society.
Let’s go beyond my gripes…;) After the forum, I was one of those who wrote a message in the post-forum message board on the Internet. A guy contacted me and we met on the 29th of July to discuss about our interest in social entrepreneurship. What came out of our talk was interesting. He is a person who has a heart for education and had studied Education and Management in Harvard, one of his mentors being Howard Gardner (founder of “multiple intelligences”). He has also been involved in business. So his desire is to combine the business and the social (education) through starting an enrichment education business (profitable, of course) and slowly seek to help out in the third world in terms of education. I thought his vision was rather interesting. Although this wasn’t the first time I knew of what we term “enrichment” business – i.e. programs that go beyond the normal academic subjects which enrich the lives of students and even adults – it was during our talk that it dawned upon me how big a business all of this is. The first time I got to know of the potential of the enrichment business was when I was talking to one of my church friends who studied life sciences before it became big in Singapore. After she graduated, she started a little enrichment business with a friend to teach life sciences in schools. I thought then that this concept was something I ought to take note of. After all, my passion for development studies has sort of something to do with enrichment programs – or at least there was a potential to go into this line with my desire to communicate developmental issues to students. Of course I knew then that it wasn’t going to be that popular because who wants to know all about poverty and all other developmental issues? However, through talking with my friend from the forum and sharing with him my burdens and interests after he shared with me his of finding people to work in his enrichment business, I realized that it was possible to bring development studies education to students if we add in a bit of other stuff that makes it marketable (like creativity) and attractive to students or parents of students. Before when I thought of doing developmental studies enrichment program in schools or to the public, I was thinking of it more in terms of a non-profit thing when I had my NGO up and going. However, now was the first time I thought of it in a social enterprise way. I needed to survive of course and so if we were to make such an enrichment program attractive enough to get parents to pay for their children to go through such an education, I can survive doing this full-time. And that would be great because I would be doing something I love and yet can survive! The challenge of course is that perhaps development studies education alone wouldn’t work, but a bit of tinkering around and adding this and that could make such an enrichment program attractive. And this guy was the one with the business sense and also had studied marketable and attractive stuff like creativity (in Harvard) which could be incorporated into our program to draw students.
I felt extremely enlightened after our talk. Perhaps this was the direction I ought to go? I thought of it for quite some time but realized how inadequate I am if I were to make this program profitable. That meant of course high standards and we had to deliver. I saw this as a challenge. It made me realize that excellence is something that I need to strive for. I attended the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre’s (NVPC) annual conference on the 27th-28th July and one thing I remember is how there is a need to pursue excellence even in the non-profit sector. The public’s perception is often that because we’re doing something worthy and not-for-profit, they can’t expect excellence from us. But that ought not to be true as even people who think in a not-for-profit way or who desire to do something socially beneficial should pursue excellence in all that we do. And so I realized that indeed it can be good to do thing stuff profitably. It will make us accountable to those who have paid for the program and there will be great pressure on us to deliver excellent services. That’s scary, but if it’s scary and excellence is something I had not thought of pursuing before, then I really need to get my act together and place the pursuit of excellence in its right place.
Eventually, after some time of thinking it over, I decided that perhaps now wasn’t the right time to get into any project with him. I felt I had a lot to learn if I were to deliver excellent services. Also, I had another big project on my mind which I’ll mention more below. In addition, I thought education may be a good post-graduate degree I may pursue. That’s only if I find a good program which I can learn a lot of. I thought studying education was important because I saw how big enrichment programs are in Singapore and how I needed to be more equipped in how I can bring down all the inspiring stuff I’ve studied in development down to the students. I realized that whether I go into the for-profit or not-for-profit field, I need to do my best and pursue excellence and a masters in education may be a way to help me better myself in this education area.
Going back to the Social Entrepreneurship Forum I attended. There was a little Social Entrepreneurship Exhibition after the forum. It was quite a huge fair with lots of students involved. My first thought was damn the Government has been doing a good job in promoting entrepreneurship among the young! What can you expect of the Singapore Government? They deliver alright! One of the first persons I talked to was a student from Project Senso. I had heard of Project Senso before through a friend of mine. Later on I went to the Project Senso booth and talked with one of the founders. This very young organization was started by 8 young Singaporeans who came together to play the Cashflow boardgame. They later started Project Senso, which is, in their own words, an “Asian Entrepreneurship and Financial Literacy Community run by Volunteer Businessmen who has or are still walking the path.” I was excited to see a young organization run by young Singaporeans. And so I wanted to find out more. I have always wanted to start an NGO. Could I do it? How did they do it? How did they get all their support? How did they get their grants? Et cetera…
I came out of our little talk being affirmed of what I had always suspected: It doesn’t take much to start something inspiring like that – just passionate people with a vision and commitment to carry out their plans. And I felt I could do it too when I get a team who’s committed. It’s not difficult at all. It takes time, commitment, passion but in the end one’s efforts will see the fruits of one’s labors. I was pretty pumped up…
In the exhibition I also met someone from another booth that I hadn’t plan to visit. It was from the booth of Personal Mastery Resources. There I talked to a lady who was promoting a government-subsidized course on how to become an entrepreneur. The course was basically for those who are working, not really students. But somehow I was interested to find out more. It was only recently that I became interested in business and entrepreneurship. Before I used to hate studying business (thinking it’s meaningless) but my interest in all this is purely due to the combining of the business and the social (social entrepreneurship) and not purely profit-motivated business entrepreneurship. I thought the course sounded pretty ok, quite practical and was cheap since it was heavily subsidized. I had time on my hands and this was something I wanted to get to know about more. So I went for the preview to the course the next day. And eventually I paid about S$288 for the 4-day course – it’s called the Weekend Entrepreneurship Bootcamp (WEB). The dates I went were on the 6th, 7th, 13th & 14th of August, from 9-5pm. Overall, I found it a pretty good course. Definitely worth the money. The theoretical stuff was pretty ordinary – but then again, when you go to these kind of business basic know-how courses or even those motivational ones, what you learn there is most of the time nothing spectacular that can’t be learnt through other cheaper means like books. But what you really benefit from a course like this is the interaction with your “teachers” and fellow “students” and the networking that results. Hearing what others desire to do was inspiring and rubbing my business idea off the others was also very useful. Furthermore, I also got to know the other 7 participants pretty well and found a few that I’d like to work together with in future or would just be good friends to keep in contact with.
So really, I haven’t mentioned what exactly has Social Entrepreneurship (1st definition) to do with me. Basically, since early 2004, I started toying with the idea of starting a Spanish restaurant. I’m not sure how or exactly when that idea came about but it started with just an idea that I thought would never actually progress far till it became an idea that was progressing, till it’s now a serious idea that is gradually being put into action!
Why a Spanish restaurant? Firstly, no prizes for why a Spanish restaurant. You oughta know by now how much I love Spanish things! Anything Spanish and Latin American! All things Spanish and Latin American! But besides that fact, somehow I started to love Spanish food too. I’m really not sure why or how that started. But I guess it comes in a package – you get interested in the language and other parts of the culture come along with it. So somehow along the way I became totally enamored in Paella (by the way, pronounced as Pa-Eh-Ya), probably the most distinctive Spanish food. In late 2002, I started searching the Net for recipes. I remember preparing it in my kitchen in Sydney a couple of times. The first time was a day before my sister’s birthday (late October). This was because it was my first try and I couldn’t do it the first time for her birthday in case it didn’t work out so I tried a day before – got up early in the morning before she woke up and cooked it, tasted it and gave the leftovers to friends. Then on her birthday morning, I woke up early again – it takes about 2-3 hours of preparation and cooking in total – and cooked it for her. I tried a couple of more times before I left Sydney. Tried it sometimes in Singapore too. And when I was in Spain, I tried it twice. I still have yet to master it but one thing I’m happy about is that since I came back from Spain, I’ve tried it with authentic paella pans!
So it started with my love affair with paellas. Actually, around the same time, I developed a love affair with Sangria too! Yes, I am prone to promiscuity, God help me! By the way, Paella is a rice dish that’s cooked differently from the way the Chinese cook their fried rice. The trick is in the broth which is used to cook the short grain rice. Try it, it’s one of the best dishes in the world and always in every good international food cookbook. Sangria is easy to make as it’s basically dry red wine combined with soda with some fruits – and lotsa ice of course. I love it better than wine or beer and the taste is not too alcoholic yet not too light either – i.e. just right!
My love for Spanish food of course wasn’t a good enough reason to start a Spanish restaurant! Here are some other reasons I thought in favor of starting one:
1) The unique low priced positioning of the Spanish Restaurant
I realized that though there are Spanish restaurants in Singapore, they tend to be of the high price range. For those who aren’t willing to spend say S$20-30 per person, there wouldn’t be Spanish food available for them. And thus I saw an opportunity to be the first to start a Spanish restaurant positioned in the low, low-medium or medium price range. By low, I mean the concept of a fast food Spanish restaurant like MacDonald’s, with meals costing maximum $6. Then there’s the low-medium price range like Pastamania where meals cost around $10 or slightly below. Or lastly, the medium price range like Fish & Co. where meals would cost between $15-$20.
Of course catering to the lower price range does not automatically mean there will be demand for it. Those who eat at the high priced range Spanish restaurants are those with money to spend and those who want a good night out. Perhaps they are paying for the fine-dining ambience as much as for the food. Those we’re trying to attract with our lower priced food may not be familiar with Spanish food and thus the taste of the food is very important for them. The reason for the success of the higher class Spanish restaurant may thus not be applicable to a lower class Spanish restaurant seeking to attract lower spending customers as these customers would have different criteria (as to whether they would eat at a low price Spanish outlet) as compared to the criteria of the richer patrons (as to whether they would eat at a higher class Spanish restaurant).
However, while the success of the high priced Spanish restaurants in Singapore doesn’t automatically translate to the success of a low priced one, I still felt that there was a possibility that the concept of a low cost Spanish restaurant was unique and could still be successful. Of course, more market research would still be needed. But I found Spanish food unique and the ingredients used pretty similar to what we eat in Singapore and thus probably acceptable to the Singaporean taste buds.
2) The increasing popularity of Spanish culture worldwide and in Singapore
Another factor that made the idea of a Spanish restaurant seem possible is the rise in the popularity of and the appreciation for Spanish and Latin culture worldwide. Though the traditionally popular foreign languages in Singapore are French, German and Japanese, Spanish language is gaining popularity here. I’ve met up many others in Singapore who have taken up Spanish language in private schools. The meetup for those who are interested in Spanish language ranks 2nd among all the meetups in Singapore – ahead of meetups for other foreign languages. The language and culture is known as very passionate and unique to what we Singaporeans are familiar with. Latin dancing like Salsa and Argentine Tango (which have all Spanish influences) are gaining in popularity. Spanish soccer is already popular with the likes of Real Madrid and Barcelona soccer teams known throughout the world and of course also in Singapore. And now Liverpool has got a Spanish coach and many Spanish players to go along, with three English International soccer players now playing in Spain for Real Madrid. In the music arena, you have the popularity of Latin singers like Jennifer Lopez and Ricky Martin. Spanish is the unofficial 2nd language in the most influential country – the United States – and over there Hispanics have become the largest minority group just ahead of the Blacks. In many ways Spanish and Latin culture will only get bigger throughout the world and also in Singapore and thus the idea of a low cost Spanish restaurant succeeding in Singapore, I believe, is not far-fetched at all. (Oh, did I mention that Spain is the 2nd most popular tourist destination in the world behind France and ahead of the United States, and that the Spanish language is the 2nd most used language in international communication – whatever this means!)
3) The Social end of the Business
This is after all a Social Enterprise. I would never have got involved in business for business or profit’s sake. Sure, I loved Spanish food and I saw no other Spanish restaurant catering to the lower spending customers. And I expect Spanish food to be in good demand here because I see Spanish culture increasing in popularity throughout the world. These were probably reasons enough for a business-minded person who dared to take risks to have a go at striking it rich. However, I wasn’t such a person and I couldn’t see myself spending all the time starting a Spanish restaurant for the sake making a lot of money. My heart was with development and the poor. My heart was with the above (Social Entrepreneurship according to the 2nd definition). However, when I started to ponder more about Social Entrepreneurship (according to the 1st definition), I thought the idea of the Spanish restaurant is something I may go into if I could start it as a Social Enterprise. That is, if I could combine my passion to solve social problems with my passion for Spanish food and starting a Spanish restaurant, it would be a win-win situation. My passion to solve social problems was much greater than my passion to start a Spanish restaurant. However, the former needed money (not forgetting the fact that I need to earn a living too!) and if the latter could contribute to the former, then why not? Yet the former has to be predominant and the protagonist in the whole Social Enterprise. Without the social, frankly, I couldn’t b bothered about the business no matter how passionate I am about Spanish food. The idea of being able to support a social end through the business is that which is inspiring me to put my effort into making the restaurant a reality.
Better still, the idea of a low cost Spanish restaurant fitted in perfectly with my burdens. I wanted to reach out to the young and get them more aware of the social problems of the world. The low-cost Spanish restaurant could attract the young due to their limited buying power. Furthermore, I could see that the Spanish restaurant wouldn’t only be able to contribute to the supporting of the social concerns I had in mind through the profits it made, but the restaurant could also be inculcated with these particular social values. Its ambience could promote these social values and social projects. The restaurant could serve to attract a community of the like-minded. It’s had the potential to be a Social Enterprise in more ways than just generating profits for a social cause. It could be a carrier and promoter of the social values itself.
So there was the inspiration for a Social Enterprise. There was a unique money making idea, and there was a unique social cause related. Niche was the key to success and to attracting others. And I felt the Spanish restaurant with its low cost positioning was a niche product and service. Similarly, the way I desired to play my part in solving social problems – by educating and inspiring young Singaporeans to make a difference in this world – was unique among the VWOs and NGOs I know in Singapore. Good ideas, yet I know I was only one person. I had a lot of ideas and wanted to do a lot of things. Yet I know that to succeed, I need to find other like-minded who were willing to take the challenge and go through all the hard work and suffering together to bring these ideas into reality.