High-impact enterprises: Entrepreneurs on their motivations and rewards

Giving back has never been so strategic. From healthcare to education to travel, there is little in today’s socially-aware business practice that doesn’t have a cast-iron corporate approach behind it. And yet it’s the human story they can tell that remains at the core of their success.

What is the sum of your ambition for the future? For the next generation of leaders, there is a rich and nuanced set of factors at play in the way we choose to live and work. For three different entrepreneurial ‘activists’ in particular, giving back to society has become a duty that drives both their corporate and human urges.

Despite the distinct sectors in which Papinee, Pencils of Promise and Fullerton HealthCare Foundation have each identified a purpose to make their impact, there are at least three common threads binding them in their quest to make a difference.

It’s The Personal Impact That Counts

The formative experiences of Dev Suj, Adam Braun and David Sin are fundamental to the way their ambitions have taken shape. For Dev, founder of Papinee – a storytelling kit provider that brings the world to less fortunate children across the globe – it was literally his mother’s loving influence under difficult conditions that was the spark.

“My mother was not very well, so she wanted to find a way to show us the world,” says Dev. Converting the family living room into great global landmarks like the Pyramids or Mount Fuji, she brought the world to her children through educational play.

“I wanted to create a ‘movement’ or business that could help the less fortunate and was reminded of the word ‘Papinee’ years later by my uncle.” Papinee was the term of endearment Dev’s mother gave to those orphans she also created stories for – meaning unique or special.

For Adam Braun, it was another strong female figure – his grandmother – who left a lasting impression on his world view. As a survivor of the Nazi gas chambers in World War Two, the story of her struggle made him realise that “she survived not through a series of miracles, but though one thing: a sense of purpose.”

That survival instinct through the drive to make a positive impact on others who need help, was a guiding factor in Adam’s founding of Pencils Of Promise, a for-purpose company dedicated to building schools for the world’s less fortunate.

The ‘purpose’ in David Sin’s experience was a keen sense of injustice he felt in seeing large numbers of Asian citizens suffer through lack of proper healthcare provision. His company, Fullerton Healthcare Foundation, was established as a philanthropic arm of Fullerton Corporation dedicated to making healthcare accessible and free across Asia to those most in need.

“We had been actively involved in the ‘impact’ world a long time before establishing the Foundation,” he says. “We learned that we needed to ensure that what we were doing was not just a nice-to-have or a weekend thought process, but relevant to our core activity, with high impact and with clear beneficiaries.”

Don’t Forget That Business Principles Are Good Too

The defining feature of these businesses’ success shows how for-profit principles can have a strategically vital role to play in achieving a demonstrable human benefit for their users. All three company founders have been able to draw upon corporate experience to understand of the mechanics of good governance and planning even in organisations with a social imperative.

In Fullerton’s case, David took a conscious decision to run the profit and non-profits business side by side to see how it could work. “We’re able to leverage the best-in-class resources in terms of human capital, finances and infrastructure that very often you cannot find in the not-for-profit world“ he says.

“When you’re running a business”, says Dev of Papinee, “the big question is about risk and how much risk you’re willing to take. If you take calculated risk, you prepare yourselves for the ups and downs. At the end of the day, it’s not just you who is benefitting; it’s also the social directive that you’re working towards.”

Results, in Adam’s opinion, is what makes the blend of profit and no-profit work as it’s what defines people’s interest, whether for a commercial venture or a social enterprise. “People want to see that their contribution is going to impact the lives of those affected.

“At Pencils Of Promise we’ve really held ourselves accountable to results and have delivered transparency to every supporter.”

Think Big, Think Responsibly

Today’s new generation of high-impact business leaders are highly adept at aligning a sense of responsibility with their corporate ambitions with a sense of social responsibility. While this is in part due to a keen understanding of the importance of sustainable governance of the planet Millennials are more environmentally aware than any previous generation], it is also a fundamental recognition of global citizenship and where deep inequalities may lie worldwide. Profit with purpose is now the only game in town where new business models are concerned.

Dev of Papinee had experience of the NGO world but felt that it lacked the responsible sustainable structure required: “Coming from the world of business,” he says, “you need to get to give, and you need to give to get. We win as a business; the children win in what they get back in terms of inspiration and ideas; and also our partners win.

“I knew that we could expand the ‘give-back’ by growing and expanding Papinee like a business, because they work as one together.”

For Adam at Pencils Of Promise, it’s exciting to watch how business models are evolving: “We now have this next generation of not-for-profit businesses being driven by for-profit business accountability and principles, and on the other side we have mission-driven for-profit organisations that are holding themselves accountable to societal impact. The intersection of those two spaces is where I see so much innovation going forward.”

“The concept of giving back is core to the Asian but especially core to my family,” says Fullerton’s David. “If you hold a position of power or resources, then the responsibility on you to make the right choice, is even greater.

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