Meet 7 Gamechangers From Social Venture Challenge Asia 2014


“Having this energy, these new ideas, for me was amazing. The ideas were solid, both in terms of social impact and business. It gives me hope for the future.” - Sebastien Marot, Founder, Friends-International.

The seven finalist teams are not only making a marked difference. They are changing the course of thousands of lives.

“India is at the threshold of hope, development and take-off. We are at a very important juncture, where Indians from inside and outside are waiting to see how we transform the country. It’s a very exciting time for Indians and the focus is on ownership and taking responsibility of the problems and it’s not somebody else’s problems … I am a mother and this is my legacy for my children”

Soma Biswas Vajpayee
Founder of Zaya Learning Lab


Zaya Learning Lab (India)

Zaya’s mission is to bring affordable world class learning to every child. They have created ground-breaking integrated blended learnings that combine individualised learning with tablets, traditional group instruction with a teacher and projector and peer learning. This allows them to form a network of low-cost schools that delivers a high-quality learning experience to underprivileged children across the developing world.

Their innovative patented technological solutions, such as ClassCloud, bring the power of the Internet to every classroom anywhere in the world. Combined with their tailored teaching programmes and applications, they have managed to find a solution to counter the lack of infrastructure, poor connectivity and inconsistency in teaching programmes in developing countries.

“We participated in the DBS-NUS Social Venture Challenge Asia because of two reasons: (1) It’s global and you need to know where you stand and what is happening in the space and (2) It’s the validation that you need that you are doing the right thing.”

“I think Indians will never give up. There is despair and there is promise. What I love about the youth today is they are so much more aware. They are looking for answers and they are doing something about it.”

Maya universe academy (India)

Maya is the first for-profit social enterprise, community supported primary school in Nepal which trades the time of the parents for the education of their children. The founder, Manjil Rana, took a common concept prevalent since the beginning of time - and gave it a new face by trading time for education, instead of products, changing the way schooling is funded. “In the village I saw people trading in time … However, today we are so caught up with making money that when we see someone with no money we think they are worthless … We see them as a burden to society … However, I thought let’s give them [the villagers] something that they desire the most, that is a school for the children to go to … so I offered to teach the children and they can work for me.” Thus, parents of students enrolled in Maya commit to two days of the week to help in the farming of crops that would generate revenue for the school.

 “I travelled around a lot … I felt like I needed to go to the middle of nowhere, just to be.”

 “All the non-profit organisations have to work with public schools, because that is the law and it does not work. You can look at the facts and numbers and it doesn’t work. The way we look at development [of education] doesn’t work. That’s why all these non-profit organisations, I call them corporate giants, they are increasing … All the time their work keeps increasing. If [the problems] are solved they would go out of business, so it doesn’t help them to solve these problems for real, but we get fooled by those beautiful stories and beautiful pictures.”


Bodhi health education (India)

A number of developing Asian countries face an acute shortage of skilled health workers and Bodhi leverages low cost mobile technology with eLearning to create a new breed of quality healthcare workers to meet this problem. This strategy not only improves patient healthcare. It gives health workers better knowledge and the possibility of wage increments.

“The key learning through the competition has been to think regional and expand the solution beyond India. We had apprehensions about the ability to deliver at that level. Through the boot camp and upon interaction with mentors, the idea of partnerships came to us. This has significantly reduced our time to market. From being only content creators, we have now pivoted the model to open our content platform to training and capacity building institutions.”

“India is a country with a population of 1.2 billion. A significant portion of the population is devoid of basic services such as shelter, clean drinking water, health and education. In the recent years the Governments have realised that it is not possible for the State to directly provide these services. Instead, they can be enablers in this process. Hence entrepreneurship - and in particular social entrepreneurship - has received a big push in the country. This opportunity is being exploited by young entrepreneurs who wish to tackle these difficult problems through innovation or ‘jugaad’ (innovative fix) as we call it in India!”


Local Alike (Thailand)

Local Alike preserves the traditions of local communities in Thailand through tourism revenue generated for these communities. It also allows tourists to experience Thailand in an authentic way and promotes understanding between different cultures. Local Alike acts as a link between entrepreneurs and tourists, bridging the expectations of both parties. To do this effectively, they have set up a web portal, created a database for local tour guides and formed tight relationships with local communities. In addition, they set up a fund for sustainable community-based tourism to be used for improving infrastructure and environmental conservation. Local Alike has worked with ten communities in Thailand since 2013 and aims to increase it to at least 20 communities this year. They have brought in over 350 tourists and accrued nearly USD40,000 in terms of tourism revenue.

“Community based tourism is where you spend money and you help the community, not just the hotels, or the big attractions in the city … We want to change the practice of tourism from one that exploits the country to one that listens to the community and for tourism in Thailand to be sustainable.”

“This competition helps us to improve our business model, increase our connections and make friends.”


Science of Life Studies (Cambodia)

SOLS 24/7 provides  free education to  disadvantaged youths throughout Cambodia. With personal development and motivation programmes, SOLS 24/7 moulded young, enthusiastic Cambodian youths who were eager to pass their knowledge to people who could not afford to study in the city. The peer modelling system allowed the SOLS 24/7 education methodologies to be easily replicated and taught by youths, thus ensuring that the multi-layered life skills learned by Cambodians do not remain dormant. SOLS also provides corporate training and subsidised coaching programmes to generate income and cover operational costs.

Since its incorporation in 2000, it has opened over 60 centres nationwide, impacted over 100,000 Cambodians and it is among the largest non-formal education providers in Cambodia.

“Our motivation goes back to the core of our mission, which is educating the underprivileged. The more money we make from our profit-making projects, the more we can reach out to the poor who cannot afford education.”

“We hope to give the world a comprehensive education system where people do not only learn employment skills, but also attain leadership and character education so that they can overcome many different challenges in life and can achieve their dreams.”


Interclo Designs (Singapore)

Interclo Designs created a multi-functional disaster relief clothing called the “survival plus jacket”. It is a single, multi-functional item that replaces other essential aids by serving as a jacket, blanket, shawl, mat and sleeping bag.

“DBS & NUS are prestigious institutions and we are privileged to make it to the finals of this regional competition. For ambitious start-ups like InterClo that want to make a global impact, a platform like Social Venture Challenge Asia lends us credibility. The PR that has surrounded this competition has given us visibility and the traction we need to open doors that would previously have been reserved for bigger players. We trust that the connections we’ve made during Social Venture Challenge Asia will help realise our vision to change the way we respond to natural disasters in a sustainable way.”

“We spend $100bn responding to natural disasters each year. At this rate, by the year 2050 we will be spending more than $300bn. The good news is that governments and relief organisations around the world are starting to realise that this is not sustainable. According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), ‘Every dollar spent towards disaster preparedness saves $7 in disaster response.’ Although we have figured out how to prepare for food, water and medication such that it can reach survivors within 24 hours after a disaster, clothing aid continues to be a reactive process. ‘Survival Plus’ can change that and make sure that clothing aid too can reach survivors within 24 to 48 hours after a disaster.”


Kitabisa (Indonesia)

Kitabisa is Indonesia’s first online crowd funding collaboration platform (in the local language) to connect people with world-changing ideas to the people who have money to make those ideas happen.

“The most important lesson is that you have to treat a social venture as business not in the sense of a profit-maximising machine, but rather a self-sustaining engine that allows for growth and scale which ultimately will lead to more social impact.”

“We are living and working in one of the most dynamic regions [Asia] in the world, so if you blink and the economy is booming and things are changing really, really fast. That is so exciting. In my job I need to change all the time and that keeps the excitement going, because if you stop where you are you are dead … It kills all the old models that don’t work.”

Sebastien Marot
Founder, Friends-International


This article first appeared on

f you want to find more about socially conscious living in Asia, check out Asia For Good's social enterprise directory.

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