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Survey on social enterprise shows stubborn group of non-buyers

SINGAPORE — People who have never supported social enterprises have not changed their minds in the last six years to buy from these businesses, even though a recent survey showed that there is greater awareness of this sector.

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SINGAPORE — People who have never supported social enterprises have not changed their minds in the last six years to buy from these businesses, even though a recent survey showed that there is greater awareness of this sector.

The findings were released this week by the Singapore Centre for Social Enterprise, which did a public perception study on social enterprises from May to June this year, through a survey of 1,888 respondents at various malls. The first survey was done in 2010.

The study found that, overall, public awareness leapt nearly five-fold — from 13 per cent of respondents in 2010 to 65 per cent this year, with those aged 31 to 35 being most aware (70 per cent).

People’s understanding of such enterprises has also increased — seven out of 10 respondents could correctly categorise at least one of the three social enterprises named in the latest survey, compared to just two out of 100 respondents who could correctly name a social enterprise in the previous survey.

However, there was no “breakthrough” when it came to those who have never bought anything from a social enterprise. This group remain unchanged at 23 per cent in both surveys. Typically, they are males aged below 30 and females above 50, who are difficult to “convert” because only 30 per cent of them seem to care about social mission, the study found.

As many as 42 per cent of these non-buyers base their purchase decision on quality of goods, while 35 per cent base their decision on price.

And although more people are buying from social enterprises — from 22 per cent in 2010 to 35 per cent this year — the increase appears to be the result of potential buyers being converted to become buyers, since there is a corresponding drop in the percentage of potential buyers. Taken together, both groups of buyers have not grown beyond 77 per cent of the public respondents, the data reflected.

The study categorised potential or ready buyers as those who are willing to buy from social enterprises in the short term (next six months).

The top two reasons that motivated people to buy, it found, was the social enterprise’s social mission, and unique services and products offered. In particular, they are likelier to support social enterprises geared towards people with disabilities, low-income families, and those with health conditions. 

In its anaylsis, the study noted that there is a certain “maturation” of the social enterprise sector, where buyers and potential buyers are becoming more discerning in their purchases, not so much motivated by philanthropic reasons, but more critically evaluating the “credibility and validity of the social cause and mission of social enterprises”.

Addressing the challenges that the sector faces, the study recommended that social enterprises look to focus more on ramping up the quality and uniqueness of their services and products, and to differentiate themselves further from traditional businesses in order to grow their customer base.

Ms Debra Lam, 23, co-founder of Society Staples, which conducts team-building workshops and events to promote inclusion of people with disabilities, said that it is still an uphill task to reach some companies, because the perception is that a social enterprise is a charity. “So there’s this justification whether (they) should pay (us) for the services and products we are offering,” she said.

“It’s about staying true to our social mission and ensuring we are diligent in delivering the quality of services to make sure we can match up to other traditional businesses or do even better,” she added.

Dr Zhang Weina, research director at the Asia Centre for Social Entrepreneurship and Philanthropy in the National University of Singapore which led the survey, said that the study showed that social enterprises are “not just relying on donations and grants to make their business viable”. They can bring people together and still stay profitable,” she said.

Mr Richardo Chua, 34, group managing director of events agency Adrenalin Group, also a social enterprise, called for greater collaboration from different players.

“Social enterprises can keep on pushing hard, working hard to be competitive in whatever marketplace… but ultimately, it’s about a collective (effort) by the community to do (our) bit,” he said.

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