Mentors to give social enterprises a helping hand

When social entrepreneur James Teh's company had a workforce of five, including everybody in meetings was a simple matter.

But as T.Ware grows, Dr Teh is having to work out how to keep his staff informed with not every one attending every meeting. And at the same time, he may need to ensure that sensitive information stays within the company.

"These are small details but you have to do them effectively and efficiently to minimise costs," said the 32-year-old chief executive, whose two-year-old company makes high-tech jackets which simulate hugs, helping to keep children with autism calm.

With the aim of helping Dr Teh and other entrepreneurs like him improve their businesses, the Ministry of Social and Family Development is piloting a Social Enterprise Mentoring Programme in December.

President Tony Tan Keng Yam announced the initiative on Monday at the Social Enterprise Association's annual conference, Social Collab, at the Marina Bay Financial Centre.

Dr Tan told the 300 representatives from social enterprises, voluntary welfare organisations and corporations attending the event that the mentoring programme "aims to help social enterprises scale up their operations and to achieve greater social impact".

The first five social enterprises who will take part in the pilot programme, in which they will get help on business practices ranging from strategic planning to marketing, are being finalised.

One of the five, however, will be Bliss Restaurant and Catering, which provides jobs for those with disabilities and people from marginalised groups.

The group's founder Christine Low, who is waiting to find out who the mentors will be, said: "I hope to get help on branding to tighten the outfit, because currently all the outlets have different looks. It's hard to afford to pay someone to come in and do branding for us."

She also wants to learn how to make the organisation leaner and improve corporate governance.

The pilot is expected to last till next July when a review will be done to see if it should be expanded to other social enterprises.

The mentors' backgrounds could be key to the success of the programme, said Ms Serene Ow, co-founder of three-month-old Shop for Social, which provides creative marketing services for social enterprises.

She pointed out that big corporations might have different mindsets from small enterprises. "Maybe it would be helpful if mentors are people who also started out small and grew."

The programme will be run by social enterprise Empact and supported by the Social Enterprise Association. According to the former, the full list of mentors is still being finalised.

But they must have a track record of entrepreneurship or key experience in corporations, have relevant functional or industry-specific expertise, and be able to commit to eight months of volunteer mentoring.

Individuals interested in participating as mentors can contact for more information.

Minister of Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing said in a statement: "We hope that this will generate greater interest and understanding of social enterprises, and encourage more corporate employees to contribute their skills and expertise in such areas."

T.Ware's Dr Teh hopes the programme will be a success for the enterprises picked, adding: "I wish there had been something like this when we started out."

Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to for more stories.