With 10 years of teaching experience up his sleeves, it would be easy for Mr Russ Neu to stay on in this cushy job and climb the MoE (Ministry of Education) career ladder. However, a particular incident involving a student’s unfortunate death from an undetected illness due to tight finances changed his perception on life.
He thought, “Could we do more and help society’s struggling community instead of just earning more money?” And that was what sparked Russ’s decision to give up everything to pursue a life not for fame or money, but rather to contribute and alleviate societal problems.
Fast forward 6 years later, Social Collider is set up in August 2018 - a collaborative, co-working, and co-innovation community dedicated to help the growth of impact startups in Singapore. Barely one and a half years into its inception, Social Collider has helped numerous social enterprises and has gained some recognition from the industry, the government and the media.
I had a quick chat with social hero Russ to understand more.
What other experiences have inspired your entrepreneurial path towards social responsibility?
So, I was sent by MOM to Laos and spent 2 years there. It was an eye opener when I was there because I saw how businesses were very willing to help the needy by employing the elderly and the disabled readily.
But, the game changer was when I went to China to do my Masters. I witnessed how people sold their blood to get out of poverty and this is how AIDs spread. For me, that was the realisation that you can teach a person how to fish and that will feed them for life. But, this doesn’t mean they can get out of poverty. I want to build a marketplace for them to sell their fish and be the platform to help them get out of poverty. And that is the reason for Social Collider.
“Whenever people ask me what I do, I tell them I sell fish!”
I have always believed that businesses should be a force for good, not just for profits. We should not exploit the environment and mankind.
How has being a social entrepreneur worked out for you so far? More than just a co-working space , Social Collider’s mission is to connect various industry partners, create synergies and open up opportunities. I am an aggregator of resources and an enabler.
Will I be successful? I don’t know. But so far, we have gained a little traction such as meeting Minister Desmond Lee and getting invited by radio station 938Now to share about my cause. I would like to think that without Social Collider as a platform, all these opportunities would not have taken place.
What do you mean by building a co-innovation community?
We co-innovate solutions. For example, Curious Squirrels is a local startup who offers coding lessons but they do not know how to do outreach activities. So, through Social Collider, they worked with other partners such as UBE Sg and others, and came up with co-innovation solutions where they are able to increase the attractiveness and value of their workshops.
Some new businesses have sprung up because the community came together and innovated to find new business solutions.
How many startups do you have in the Social Collider community?
Currently there are 12 that are housed in our co-working space. Previously, we had 23 but because we just shifted to smaller office so I am unable to keep everyone unfortunately. As for members, we have over 30 startups who joined us.
So, what advice do you have for both new and existing social entrepreneurs?
Number one, find your purpose in life. Do not chase passion, chase a purpose instead. Passion is something we enjoy doing but purpose is more than that. It is something you know you have to do in your life.
Number two, how do you know what is your purpose is? Get out of your comfort zone and explore the world! I used to think last time that I will never get into business because I thought I would not be good at it. I did not know until I got out of teaching, a very stable and well-paid job. But if I had not left my teaching career, Social Collider would not have happened. Many times, people do not know what they want because they have not ventured out of their comfort zones.
Wise words indeed. And for those who have nagging thoughts about how Social Enterprises make money or they should not make money at all, let me clear this up for you.
A social enterprise is not a charity. It is a real business that seeks to both make good social impact and make money. Ultimately, a business requires money in order to be successful so to ensure that their efforts can continue and make a greater impact.
“It is a common misconception that social enterprises do not make money. People think we eat bread all day haha. Or sometimes, I joke to people that I am a millionaire. Far from it actually. We are a business after all, we need to make profits so that we are sustainable.” Russ quips.
If you are interested to contribute or join Singapore's largest community of good doers, you can reach Russ and his team here!
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