Digerati50: Innovating for the social good

  • More people need to work on addressing social challenges via innovation
  • Risk appetite biggest change in Kal Joffres since becoming entrepreneur

Digerati50: Innovating for the social good

Digital News Asia (DNA) continues a weekly series that profiles the top 50 influencers, movers and shakers who are helping shape Malaysia’s Digital Economy. These articles are from Digerati50, a special print publication released in February 2016. The digital version can be downloaded from the top right corner of the page thanks to the sponsorship of Telekom Malaysia Bhd, Malaysia’s broadband champion.

IN May 2015, Malaysia unveiled a three-year roadmap for developing a social enterprise ecosystem, the Malaysian Social Enterprise Blueprint 2015-2018, which focuses on entrepreneurship that is not only about business, but about making a positive impact on society.

For Canadian-born Kal Joffres, it must have seemed like validation of what he has been doing for a few years now through the startup he cofounded, Tandemic, where he is also director.

The idea for Tandemic came at a retreat in Bentong, Pahang at the end of 2010 when the then 26-year-old realised there was an opportunity to tie in companies’ corporate social responsibility (CSR) programmes into their social media efforts, and build an online brand presence that people might genuinely care about.

“Over a series of phone calls, I pitched it to my soon-to-be cofounder Hakim and that’s how we started Tandemic,” he says, referring to Hakim Albasrawy, an inaugural Digerati50.

Over time, Joffres and his team realised that many clients did not care as much about the quality of their community as they did about the quantity of their followers.

“We then shifted towards running Makeweekend, which became the largest design thinking-based programme in Southeast Asia, and supporting the growth of early stage social enterprises,” he says.

Makeweekend is a national programme where youth brainstorm and build prototypes of solutions to everyday problems.

Joffres’ description of Malaysia’s social innovation scene is: “Nascent.”

“I think we are at the cusp of something very important and big, but most of the change is ahead of us.

“The social sector is an important part of our economy. There are 40,000 NGOs in Malaysia, and the Government spends a great deal on social services and education.

“While private companies continuously innovate and make use of new technology, can we say the same of the social sector?” he says.

There is a need to involve more people to work on addressing social challenges via innovation, he believes.

“It’s not that we don’t have enough money or resources to solve today’s global challenges. The problem is we don’t have enough people working on them.”

But he also believes that social enterprises are going to play a big role in getting more people involved. “People want to be able to do good, and enjoy a good standard of living,” he says.

Being a serial entrepreneur himself – he had founded two tech startups in his native Canada – Joffres sees getting the right kind of people as the biggest challenge for a startup like his.

“It takes a very special kind of person to work in an organisation like Tandemic,” he says.

 “You have the potential to make double or triple what you’re making in consulting or investment banking, you have parents and friends who are measuring you based on how ‘respectable’ your job is and who don’t understand what you’re doing – yet you chose your own path because of a deep dedication to a particular set of values and towards making a change.”

To him, starting a business really puts a different perspective on things, in countless ways.

“I think one of the biggest ways in which starting a company has changed me is my risk appetite. When you’re working for someone else, you have a much lower appetite for taking risks and for doing the things that you think are right.

“As you build your own company and gain traction, you gain the ability and confidence to make bolder decisions and really pursue the approaches that you think are the right ones,” he says.

For information on customised reprints of Digerati50, email [email protected]

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