In this month’s Social Impact column, we’ll be shining a spotlight on Social Entrepreneurship! We interviewed Cheryl and Daniel, founders of The Social Space, to understand what drives them in their social entrepreneurship journey.
Tell us more about yourselves and The Social Space. The Social Space is a multi-concept store started by my husband Daniel and I, featuring a wholesome cafe, fair-trade retail area and non-toxic nail salon, all promoting a greater awareness for sustainability, an appreciation for providence, and more accessible conscious living. While Daniel started his career in the corporate sector, I started my social entrepreneurship journey in 2015 with The Nail Social, an award winning local nail salon that provides vocational training to underprivileged women.
What was the key motivation behind this venture? In 2017, Daniel's job at Singapore Airlines moved us to Bali, Indonesia for two years, where we saw first-hand how socially conscious businesses were mainstream and made a real impact in the community. Inspired by our days living in the island paradise, we brought home a determination to raise the bar for the social enterprise scene in Singapore and that was how The Social Space was born. We wanted to create a multi-concept space to show customers that it’s possible to be socially conscious just by going about their day to day activities - from getting your daily coffee, to shopping for household essentials, to indulging in some retail therapy and even getting your regular manicure. We also wanted to introduce sustainable living to the general public in a fun and ‘non-preachy’ manner, and to dispel the notion that living consciously meant having to compromise on quality or style. From a strategic standpoint, it was important that the business developed multiple reasons for customers to come back in terms of products and services that were complementary, unique and had a positive impact to the community and plant. Looking back at the last couple of years, what’s the highlight? The last few pandemic-hit years have been extremely tough for us as a whole, but if I had to choose a highlight, it would be seeing our community rally around us through the circuit breaker period. We had customers who would send us words of encouragement via social media, and customers who made it a point to find a way to support us regularly, whether through ordering food via delivery almost every day, or patronising our online shop or purchasing vouchers in bulk for themselves or to give away - it was really the support of our regular customers that helped us pull through that period. What was your biggest challenge and what did you learn from it? Our biggest challenge has always been trying to balance our social impact and business needs. Due to the nature of the people we work with, our role is not just of an employer, but many times also as a social worker, counsellor, therapist all rolled into one, and this can be pretty mentally draining at times. At the same time, we also need to maintain the nitty-gritty aspect of the business to ensure that we remain financially viable and sustainable, so as to be able to continue supporting our cause. This, of course, became even more challenging when Covid hit and there were several months we couldn’t even open for dine-in. Business was very badly affected, but given the profile of the persons we work with, we made it a point not to let go of any of our staff. Many of them already came from vulnerable backgrounds and were struggling to cope with the effects of the pandemic in their personal lives, so we persevered so we could ensure job security for all of them. How do you measure impact driven by your venture? Currently, our impact is measured based on the number of beneficiaries we train and employ. However, we realize that that does not take in to consideration the social and environmental impact driven by other in-house sourcing and operational policies. We are currently n the process of developing a more robust social impact matrix to help us as a social enterprise, as well as our retail & F&B partners measure our social impact individual and holistically. What’s your advice for someone who would like to become a social entrepreneur? My biggest advice to aspiring social entrepreneurs is to always remember why you started. When the going gets tough (and it is going to), remembering why you embarked on this journey in the first place will help to motivate you to keep going.
This article is part of the Social Impact column by the Social Impact subcommittee that focuses on social causes concerning women and children. Click here to learn more about the subcommittee and its initiatives.