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Doing Good: DBS Bank ramps up support for Southeast Asian social enterprises

DBS Foundation, the first foundation in Singapore dedicated to championing social entrepreneurship, is increasing the funding pool of its 2021 DBS Foundation Social Enterprise (SE) Grant Programme to SGD 3 million – more than double last year’s grant amount. This is the bank’s latest move in a series of heightened support measures aimed at supporting SEs in times of need as the pandemic persists, and enabling them to continue creating positive social impact.

Karen Ngui, Group Head, DBS Strategic Marketing and Communications and Board Member of DBS Foundation, said, “Social enterprises play essential roles in improving lives and livelihoods while addressing key societal gaps at a systemic level. With the bigger grant quantum this year, we hope to support more SEs in the region during these especially challenging times, as they make bigger strides in delivering impact and enacting change from the ground-up.”

Now in its seventh year, the DBS Foundation SE Grant Programme is designed to grow and scale early-stage SEs i.e. businesses for impact – given their dual bottom-lines of profit and impact. In addition to grant funding of up to SGD 250,000 each, successful applicants from the bank’s key markets (Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, China, India and Indonesia) stand to benefit from a suite of holistic support measures from both DBS Bank and DBS Foundation such as capacity-building programmes, networking and publicity opportunities. It also includes access to DBS Foundation’s SE community for potential synergies with the broader ecosystem, such as peer learning and cross-SE collaborations. 

The DBS Foundation SE Grant Programme has established a strong reputation and following over the years, with 2020’s cycle attracting over 800 applications. This year’s grant programme is open to SEs that have a market-validated business model, and a roadmap for growth in terms of achieving profitability and creating impact.

With food waste being a substantial contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, the DBS Foundation SE Grant Programme also features a special “Towards Zero Food Waste” category for SEs working towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions and helping to stem climate change by addressing the issue of food waste. First launched last year, this seeks to support businesses for impact that are tackling pertinent issues such as food loss and other gaps in the food value-chain. 

For the first time, this year’s grant programme will feature an exclusive “by invite” track where selected SEs from the bank’s key markets in Asia will be specially invited to apply for the DBS Foundation SE Grant Programme. DBS Foundation will join forces with the DBS Bank franchise as well as established ecosystem partners and platforms in each of these markets to curate, shortlist and recommend strong candidates, effectively tapping on their local market intelligence and networks to reach up-and-coming SEs.

All applications received before 15th June 2021, 2359 hours (Singapore time, GMT +8) will be evaluated from mid-June to September, and applications received thereafter will be evaluated in the next grant cycle. The announcement and awarding of successful grantees will take place towards the end of this year.

Beyond nurturing SEs in early stages of growth, DBS Foundation is also redoubling efforts to provide selected high-potential SEs with bespoke mentorship and support to fast-track their growth. DBS Foundation will identify innovative SEs that demonstrate strong potential to scale, and help to expedite their progress by amalgamating the bank’s services, expertise and connections to provide customised, targeted and holistic support. This includes assigning each of these SEs a dedicated DBS relationship manager and a specially curated group of specialists from across the bank, who will work with the SEs to develop growth plans based on their unique needs, including but not limited to strategic advisory on fund-raising, assistance with banking and funding needs, connections to industry contacts and DBS Private Bank’s clients for investment and business opportunities, and matching SEs with DBS’ senior leaders for mentorship opportunities 

“Last year was a seminal year that not only brought many societal issues to the fore, but also highlighted the valuable role that SEs play in the community. Having journeyed alongside many SEs since the early stages of their growth, it is heartening to see how far they have come and the increasing need for these purpose-driven businesses to be able to deliver impact at scale. Creating social impact is an important part of DBS’ sustainability agenda, and collectively all of us at the bank are committed to helping these businesses for impact to make an enduring difference,” added Ngui. 

To date, DBS has nurtured over 640 SEs in the region through a variety of means (including grant funding and other forms of capital support, bootcamps and masterclasses, and networking opportunities), and continues to work towards cultivating a stronger SE ecosystem. The bank also stepped up to boost support for the sector amid Covid-19’s emergence, collectively disbursing a combination of loans and grants totalling a record SGD 9 million in 2020. These include providing a working capital loan at preferential rates to ease cashflow needs, launching the inaugural DBS Foundation Business Transformation and Improvement (BTI) Grant to help SEs to retain jobs or transform their businesses, and funding early-stage start-ups through the DBS Foundation Social Impact Prize, amongst others.

One SE that has demonstrated robust growth and successfully navigated the pandemic with DBS’ support is Singapore-based TreeDots, an awardee of 2018’s cycle of the DBS Foundation SE Grant Programme, and a recipient of the DBS Foundation BTI Grant. Determined to redefine, repurpose and redistribute food that typically ends up as waste, TreeDots tackles the issue of food loss by linking vendors with affordable and quality ‘ugly’ or soon-to-expire unsold food to businesses and households. With DBS Foundation’s support, the company has grown from a budding start-up to a thriving business with over 90 employees today, and is on track to tripling their annual revenue in 2021.

Nicholas Lim, Co-Founder of TreeDots said: “DBS Foundation has been one of TreeDots’ strongest pillars of support in our fight against food loss. In addition to Grant Programme funding, which helped with our expenses when we first embarked on this journey, we also received last year’s DBS Foundation BTI Grant which assisted our efforts to navigate the business through Covid-19’s uncertainties. Being part of the DBS Foundation community has also given us access to valuable partnership and publicity opportunities over the years which we couldn’t have attained otherwise, given our early-stage status at the start.”

TreeDots is the inspiration behind the latest episode of DBS Sparks Season 2. Themed ‘Everyday Heroes for a Better World’, and based on true stories inspired by various SEs supported by DBS Foundation, DBS Sparks Season 2 seeks to raise awareness and galvanise action around today’s pressing sustainability issues – from plastic pollution and food waste, to social and gender inequality.

For more details on the DBS Foundation SE Grant Programme and guidance on applications, read their website here

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