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The Secrets of Social Entrepreneurship in China

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One of the biggest surprises I’ve had recently was seeing the importance of social entrepreneurship in China. In a country that is often described as combining the worst of the capitalist and communist worlds, I found people who are trying to change both, and now. Currently there are few in number, but they are part of a trend that’s gaining traction with the younger generations.

The most ambitious is  Isaac Mao.  Known for being one of China’s first bloggers, Mao decided make his entrepreneurial and IT skills available to activists. He spends his time between Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing, so he can help the most people

Mao has a theory of “sharism,” that sharing creates value for givers as well as receivers. Taking inspiration from the brain’s neural relationships, he approaches social relations as the relationship between social neurons, or “seurons.”

“The flow is the important part, how information is transmitted from one seuron to another in real time,” he says.

Mao is working on a project that should launch by the end of the year: a tech platform to allow activists and people working for social good without goal of financial profit, to expand their projects, like the one run by Dadwa, a singer who helps artisans and designers from minority backgrounds promote their products.

“She’s famous as a singer,” Mao says. “But she doesn’t know the Web well.”It’s an area where Mao’s help can be valuable.

Mao’s tech skills can be beneficial in three ways:

  • Creating a social graph and communication tools that allow communication between participants
  • Offering a payment system that facilitates e-commerce for people who have difficulty establishing maret-presence for their own boutiques.
  • Allowing artisans and small businesses to integrate into an efficient supply-chain management system.

“We combine the best software, the best social networks and the best business processes to satisfy complex needs that no existing platform can satisfy,” Mao says. “I try to connect people, not just to  make money. My goal is sustainability.”

“A social business can’t succeed on its own in China,” he adds. Hence the idea for a platform. Happily, he’s not the only person who sees the need.

Yin Yang, for example, has fewer resources, but wants to create “a quality environment to allow people to participate in social innovation,” by providing a space for sharing ideas and projects.

The Beijing startup We-Impact approaches things from a different angle. The Shanghai-based company offers organizations a framework for reflection and action, teaching them that it is possible to generate revenue through sustainable development.

“Our parents’ generation started the development process. Our generation needs to create social responsibility,” says Ann Wang, We-Impact’s co-founder. She realized this in 2009, while in Copenhagen attending a climate-change conference. Up to that point, she had worked in luxury industries and concierge services for the ultra-wealthy.

When she returned from the conference, she started to work with a British associate and Simon Kubski, a Canadian who has lived in China for five years and speaks the language fluently.  Their goal wasn’t to oppose industrialization, but to take a more social approach to it, trying to change people and organizations’ lifestyles, since that is where “human values and action” meet, Kubski says.

Wang and Kubski call themselves “engagement specialists” who create a sense of participation among the groups they work with, notably in convention and conference sessions. They’ve hosted everything from Shanghai Fashion Week’s closing ceremonies to music festivals. But they also help companies – from a pizza place to the local Lexus branch – reexamine their values.

“We don’t necessarily provide a solution,” Wang says. “But the framework we give helps them get there. It’s important, especially in this area, that founders and leaders come to their own conclusions, reexamining their own values and figuring out how to translate them to the product or service level.”

They did this with Sophia Pan, of P1.cn, a successful social network built around luxury brands. Working with We-Impact, the company is in the process of changing “into a platform where people can share their real lives with their real friends,” Pan says.

“We’re driven more by values than by commerce,” Pan says, adding that she hopes to provide exclusive contributions. By doing this she risks losing, and assumes she will lose, half of her network’s members. That’s the gamble, trying to do this while maintaining positive revenue: Pan hopes she will bring together the real leaders in China’s young generation, a generation she describes as “very surprising.”

Several things contribute to this movement’s emergence

First, it’s important to recognize that there is a notion of trendiness in things like this, as I learned from social activist Ye Yin. Things happen after people start talking about them.

A few people have told me about the importance of “values,” which they believe were lost during China’s development, as a way of forgetting 1989′s suppressed protests. They’re conscious of the potential for further widening of social and geographic inequalities, and that they can’t wait for the government to act on this.

Instead, they took matters into their own hands, trying to change society without doing politics – something that’s important to many young Chinese.

It’s even more interesting that these young people want to be “civic-minded,” to use a word used to describe them by Yin Yang, another social entrepreneur. Maybe they’re helping start a renaissance in active civil society?

Can we learn from this?

There are definitely lessons here for people who think that democratic nations are experiencing a crisis in traditional politics right now.

This sort of action isn’t a way of eluding a dictatorship’s restraints, but a way of helping solve problems that the political class is incapable of addressing.

This is no doubt why social entrepreneurship – the pursuit of social objectives by a company that must also keep its revenue in mind – is becoming attractive to a growing number of young people around the world.

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About the Author

This article was written by Francis Pisani, a blogger who shares his insights on business and various developments. see more.

Callum Connects

Denise Morris Kipnis, Founder & Principal of ChangeFlow Consulting

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Denise Mossis Kipnis’ curiosity in people and the world, lead her to set up ChangeFlow Consulting.

What’s your story?
I’m driven by curiosity. Having been the only one in a room who looks like me for most of my life, I developed a curiosity about who stays, who leaves and who thrives in minority/majority situations including when and how connection and collaboration happen. I was a systems thinker long before I knew what that was, always asking why and so what; and seeing the pieces, the whole, and the places in between. So helping people and organisations move through the complexity of transformation feels natural to me.

What excites you most about your industry?
I see change and inclusion as two sides of the same thing; I don’t practice one without the other. Some people see change as death, as loss, as exhausting. And it can be. But I see in the work I do as an opportunity for something new or hidden to emerge. When an organisation understands that it is first a group of people, who themselves represent and belong to groups of people, and it begins to tackle what it would mean to understand and learn from all that talent, all that diversity, to have them all working for and not against the organisation, to truly unleash all that their people have to offer; that’s magic.

What’s your connection to Asia?
Change and inclusion are personal values as well as professional strengths. For me, living and working outside of the States was a bold experiment to see whether any of the stuff I’d learned about change and inclusion would work outside of the US. My husband and I targeted Asia specifically: it would be the greatest contrast, culturally speaking, for me; and a unique career springboard for him.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Although I’ve practiced in other cities, I am biased towards Singapore. In some ways it’s what Los Angeles is to the rest of the United States, a microcosm of sorts. The regional/global nature of it means that so many different nationalities and cultures are represented. As a result of this mix, you never know what you might get. In some situations, cultural dynamics are obvious, sometimes subdued. The variability is compelling.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
“Never ask anyone to do anything you wouldn’t do yourself.” Michael Rouan.

Who inspires you?
Often it’s a “what” not a “who.” I can get inspiration from a passage in a book or a situation in a movie, as well as a turn of a phrase or watching people interact. I often make the biggest connections between the various threads I’m working on when I’m sitting in someone else’s event.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
I’m honestly not blown away by much. Instead, I’m struck how circular things can be: ideas often come back around with a slightly different twist and I watch the way it shakes things loose for people. I recently sat through a workshop on Self as Instrument, and despite being thoroughly versed already, I learned something. In preparing for a panel on design thinking, I unearthed a new language to describe things.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
You’ve caught me at a good time. I’m sitting in appreciation and gratitude for all my experiences, because I wouldn’t be who I was today if all that has happened, didn’t. And yet one thing comes to mind: It wasn’t until I redesigned my website two years ago (shout out to Brew Creative!) that I realised I hadn’t made explicit agreements with my past clients as to what I could share publicly about our engagement, or whether I could use their logos in my promotional materials. In my business, confidentiality is so important, and yet I need to be able to talk about the work as reputation and experience leads to the next success, and so on. It turned out a lot of the contacts I had known had left the organisations where the work was done, so they couldn’t help at that point. So the practice I’m carrying forward is to get those agreements up front, and to make sure my relationships in client systems are broad as well as deep.

How do you unwind?
Science fiction, puzzles, wine.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Home. I don’t travel to relax, I travel to learn and explore.

Everyone in business should read this book:
Built to Change, by Ed Lawler and Chris Worley. To my knowledge, it’s the first pivot from advising organisations away from stability and toward dynamism, from strategic planning to strategizing as an action verb; to blow up the traditions and rigidity that impede organisations from developing change capability.

Shameless plug for your business:
We’re taught that there are two kinds of people: those who see forests, and those who see trees. There is a third type, my type, and we see the ecosystem. Worms, climate, birds, the spaces in between. This is the perspective organisations need to be successful in solving complex problems and thriving in change.
ChangeFlow uniquely blends four disciplines (two of which are multi-disciplinary in themselves): organisation development, culture and inclusion, change management and project management.

How can people connect with you?
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ChangeFlowConsulting/
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/dmorriskipnis/
LinkedIn Company page: https://www.linkedin.com/company/4862954/
Email: [email protected]
Website: http://www.changeflowconsulting.com

Twitter handle?
@ChangeFlow

This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews

Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started, built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.

Connect with Callum here:
twitter.com/laingcallum
linkedin.com/in/callumlaing
Download free copies of his books here: www.callumlaing.com

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Callum Connects

Agnes Yee, Legal & Compliance Recruiter of Space Executive

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Agnes Yee started Space Executive in Singapore, which is a hub for businesses in some of the world’s fastest growing economies.

What’s your story?
After graduation, I joined a design media company as a Business Development Executive, during the era when ‘reading a magazine online’ was unheard of. I believe that laid the foundation for being unfazed by rejections.

I fell into recruitment pre-GFC and rode the highs and lows in the early years. A decade later, I decided to set up my own recruitment company, partly because I could. I’m acutely aware of the face that being an Asian female in Singapore is sometimes a privilege, and that many women in the world are living a very different existence.
Thereafter, we joined Space Executive as part of a merger. I am currently the Partner of Space Executive, a recruitment company focused specialist disciplines, including Legal, Finance, Digital, Sales and Marketing and Change. We also run Space Ventures, a venture capital business, which invests in seed and pre-series A businesses.

What excites you most about your industry?
On a daily basis, we’re influencing how one spends a third of their day. It is interesting how the Internet has transformed the industry, and I’m excited to see how we can harness technology to bring us to the next phase of this business.

The VC is an extension of applying our skills and experience in reading people. We very much invest in the people as much as the idea. Being a native Singaporean, it’s been exhilarating watching Southeast Asia becoming a hotbed of ideas; and young entrepreneurs simply daring to dream.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I’m a born and bred Singaporean. I love that I speak both English and Mandarin, grew up playing with Indian friends and eating Malay food.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore for the low barriers of entry to set up a business, but has to be China (and Hong Kong) for their hunger and constant innovation.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
青春不要留白 which translates to ‘Don’t waste your youth.’

Who inspires you?
Anyone who has gone against the grain.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
It wasn’t recent but reading the article on https://waitbutwhy.com/2015/12/the-tail-end.html never fails to blow my mind how little time we have left. Charting our lives in weeks, and realising I only have enough time left to enjoy 60 Christmas turkeys, read 300 books (all if I’m lucky); and mostly, I’m left with the last 5% of the time that I spend in-person with my parents.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I’m cognisant that every decision I made in life has brought me to where I am today, and I wouldn’t change one thing. But I’d really like to have had more time to travel.

How do you unwind?
Exercise and wine.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Trekking any mountain in Asia. It brings us back to the most basic. To overcome elements of nature and our own mind.

Everyone in business should read this book:
Start with Why, Simon Sinek

Shameless plug for your business:
Space Executive started in Singapore, a hub for businesses in some of the world’s fastest growing economies. We assist organisations in accessing a targeted and specialised, and often times transient talent pool.

Out of Singapore, we have recruited across 14 countries; and have embarked on our global expansion plans with offices in Hong Kong and London this year, and US, Japan and Europe in the following years.

Space Ventures provides funding, management and financial guidance to young businesses with original ideas. We have invested in peer to peer lending platforms, credit scoring, social media education, and other start-ups spanning diverse industries. We are always interested in hearing more about new ideas.

How can people connect with you?
https://www.linkedin.com/in/agnesyee/

This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews

Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started, built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.

Connect with Callum here:
twitter.com/laingcallum
linkedin.com/in/callumlaing
Download free copies of his books here: www.callumlaing.com

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