The Heart of BfE
October 1, 2016 | Shaun Teo
Shaun & Tanya founded Bridges for Enterprise in August 2015. Shaun is passionate about empowering others to bridge the gap by pursuing social impact through a sustainable and successful career.
I felt conflicted in the first year of university. Just a few months before university started, I conducted a healthcare project in some Cambodian slums. My heart broke when I saw the appalling living conditions and it made me angry at the injustice… Why should this kid in front of me have to suffer from malnutrition, while I had such a privileged life in Singapore? Previous trips to developing countries like Indonesia, Vietnam and Laos left me a similar feeling of dissatisfaction with the status quo. Was there more to life? There had to be…
On one hand, I wanted to act upon my convictions, to use my life to make a difference to others. But I felt so small, helpless and powerless. Another part of me wanted to live a comfortable life, to have a prestigious career and have enough to take care of myself and my future family.
The internal battle between idealism and realism raged even more intensely after I started university. Most of my peers studying Economics were enthusiastic about finance and not wanting to miss out, I too applied for finance spring weeks, and did consulting engagements. I wanted to hold on to my idealism, but I found it increasingly difficult. In my mind, there were two diametrically opposite routes I could take: Either a career in finance or consulting (and the success, prestige and comfort that followed it), or a life spent championing social causes in an NGO/ development agency (which I regarded as extremely meaningful, but less comfortable and less “successful” in the eyes of the world).
The turning point for me was the summer of 2015 where I ran a social entrepreneurship programme in Tanzania for East African Startups, and did an internship at an impact investment firm in Singapore. These experiences made me realise that there was a way for me to pursue a professional career and make a difference in the world. It is against this backdrop that Tanya and myself founded Bridges for Enterprise at Cambridge University. My experiences in Dar Es Salaam convinced me that social entrepreneurship was a sustainable answer to social problems such as poverty and inequality. By appealing to incentives, local social entrepreneurs could do well by doing good, and do good by doing well, creating jobs and making tangible change in their society. These passionate business owners typically do not have the same support structures as in developed countries- with interest rates as high as 19% in Africa. This is exactly where our pro-bono finance, consulting and legal advisory services can have such a big impact, empowering businesses that then go on to change the society around them in a sustainable way!
The past year has been an incredible journey, where we celebrate the successes of our clients. One of our clients was Gravilog, a healthcare mobile app in Palestine that provides healthcare information in a region where information is less readily available. We partnered with an experienced consulting team from NYU that provided consultancy expertise on improving revenue streams and jointly developed an investor proposal. This Michaelmas, we will be embarking on the finance and legal advisory, and have connected the startup with a professional mentor. We were so happy when the team was awarded the best mobile app in Palestine by WSA, and this has made me believe that we can make a tangible difference in the lives of others even in our capacity as students!
If you resonate with any of the above struggles, I’d like to encourage you to continue dreaming big and not to lose sight of your innate idealism. Settling for the status quo will be more comfortable compared to swimming against the tide but it will be worth it. On a personal note, a big motivation for me is my Christian faith which gives me a desire to do all that I do out of a love for others which overflows from a love that I was first shown from God. This is what keeps me going through the numerous difficulties of starting this initiative. Whatever your motivations are, I wholeheartedly believe that there is always an opportunity to make a difference in the world we are in 🙂
And if you believe in what Bridges for Enterprise stands for, we would like to invite you to join us! You would have the unparalleled opportunity to work alongside professional mentors, providing finance/legal/consulting advisory services to businesses all over the world across a wide spectrum of sectors ranging from clean energy to F&B. I believe with all my heart, that it is possible to bridge the gap between career success and making a difference in the world!