Social Enterprises VS COVID-19: The New Normal of Social Businesses

In the second article in this 2-part series, we look at how these social enterprises have modified their business strategies to stay afloat in these uncertain times — Ma Te Sai, Singapore Fashion Runway, Foreword Coffee Roasters and Skillseed — and talk about how they have changed their business models for a good cause.

[Left to right: Ma Te Sai, Singapore Fashion Runway, Foreword Coffee Roasters, Skillseed]

By Willa

Truth be told, masks may now be a part of our whole #OOTDs, while some may even feel real sian of wearing the same old disposable masks every. single. day. 

So, why not wear masks that look stylish and support Persons with Disabilities at the same time, or sip on some cold brew tea in a swanky glass bottle while easing the impact of disposables on the environment?

With a global pandemic, business ideals and organisational strategies have no doubt evolved for plenty of organisations worldwide. Social enterprises are indubitably not an exception to this, and some have slowly shifted into producing products that Singaporeans need and enjoy.

In the second article in this 2-part series, we look at how these social enterprises have modified their business strategies to stay afloat in these uncertain times. Despite the current erratic situation, these organisations still leverage significantly on their purpose of doing good for society by helping their chosen beneficiaries. 

Below, we feature four social enterprises — Ma Te Sai, Singapore Fashion Runway, Foreword Coffee Roasters and Skillseed — and talk about how they have changed their business models for a good cause.

1. Ma Te Sai

‘Ma Te Sai’ means ‘where is it from’ in the Lao language. This Singapore-based social enterprise co-creates products and sells textiles, gifts and homewares done by hand by the people from local villages across rural Laos. 

Some of Ma Te Sai’s pouches that are for sale
[Image source: Ma Te Sai]

A vast majority of their craftsmen are the disadvantaged Laotian farmers who regularly grow local produce and make handicrafts for additional income for their families. These individuals are keen to develop new skills and are eager to pursue a better lifestyle.

However, such a time has been proven to be difficult with no handicraft sales due to the absence of tourism. Nevertheless, Ma Te Sai still continues to support their artisans through development grants in order for them to continue working on product development and skills training.

At time of writing, the organisation is working on a program to train 20 women from six different ethnic groups from northern Laos in using sewing machines. Luckily enough, with Ma Te Sai’s outlet within The Green Collective in Singapore, they hope to sustain an income for this group of people. Here’s a directory of all their current available products.

The organisation had their very first online pop-up store with the help of Live Popups during circuit breaker, where more than 220 of their products went on sale. During this one-day event, the social enterprise even hosted a live video where they answered shoppers’ queries about their products on the spot. Now that’s truly a milestone for the Laotian farmers and craftsmen that Ma Te Sai supports all the way in Laos.

2. Singapore Fashion Runway

Now here is a for-profit social enterprise that actively creates platforms and opportunities through fashion. 

Be it through designing garments, sewing, modelling and styling, Singapore Fashion Runway nurtures its beneficiaries so that they can learn a new skill and at the same time, seek a new source of happiness.

The organisation’s beneficiaries include:

  • Individuals with special needs
  • Persons with Disabilities
  • Individuals diagnosed with chronic illnesses
  • Breast cancer patients
  • Breast cancer survivors 

These individuals learn more about confidence-building and in taking part in Singapore Fashion Runway’s newest initiative during this pandemic. From designing and reproducing clothes, the social enterprise moved to the production of ‘Fashion for a Social Cause’ fabric masks for Singaporeans of all ages and genders. 

Each mask was specially curated and designed by Singapore Fashion Runway’s beneficiaries, using a wide array of fabric designs and types. 

Fashion for a social cause fabric masks
[Image source: Singapore Fashion Runway]

Additionally, from the 1st of August, its beneficiaries will be crafting fabric masks with Singapore inspired prints. These were designed by youths with special needs and sewn by families disadvantaged by the pandemic. 

Visit their Instagram page and their official website for more updates on their weekly fabric mask designs and on their future initiatives. 

3. Foreword Coffee Roasters

This enterprise provides training and employment opportunities to persons with disabilities and special needs in the F&B industry. Having started as just a small café in the confines of the National University of Singapore, they have come a long way in helping their beneficiaries through speciality coffee making and sales. 

You do not have to worry about your coffee running cold upon collection
[Image source: Foreword Coffee Roasters]

Foreword Coffee Roasters continues to provide island-wide bottled latte delivery and has actively been doing so in the past months despite Singapore’s circuit breaker measures. The only thing different now is that the organisation has recently expanded this offering to even cold brew teas. A customer can order by 4pm and enjoy a swift next day delivery, excluding weekends and public holidays. 

In a bid to reduce waste produce from disposables, Foreword Coffee Roasters also encourages customers to ‘Return and Reuse’ their glass bottles and coffee bags when they make a purchase. Time to time, the cafe would drop little incentives and discounts to loyal customers, to thank them for taking part in this program that goes a long way for our environment. Here are more details on the Return and Reuse program for coffee bags and glass bottles respectively.

Keen to check out the cafe’s menu items and stay updated with their future initiatives? Follow them on Instagram and visit their website here

4. Skillseed

Skillseed is a for-profit social enterprise that works together with community partners and experts to collaborate on projects across different social and environmental causes. 

Alongside shifting to the ‘new normal’ and the changing needs of Singaporeans during a pandemic, this social enterprise now offers virtual training programs that touch on social innovation and human centered leadership, community engagement training and more. 

The same immersive experience will be offered in Skillseed’s online trainings
age source: Skillseed]

A similar enriching experience is promised by Skillseed. However, this time, the social enterprise has made it more convenient and safe for all attendees. 

Want to expand your leadership practices and connect with fellow changemakers from the comfort of your own location? View their list of virtual training programs here.

(P.s. Skillseed is currently giving a 15% off discount for new clients until 30 September. Head down to their Walkshops webpage for more information.)

A worldwide pandemic should not stop us from doing good and in helping the people who are in need. There is no better time than now to be kind and to give back to society and our environment.

Social enterprises continue to grant inventive and visionary solutions to address looming and unmet social needs in the country. Especially in recent years, the social enterprise sector has grown dynamically and has impressively expanded its reach. Check out raiSE Singapore’s BusinessForGood Directory to view a complete list of enterprises that need our support, especially in a time when all we have is one another.