Singapore’s entrep does well

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Chit Juan

Chit Juan

She did it! Four years after the Singapore government gave her foundation (with charity status) property rights for 20 years on a 120,000 square feet piece of land in the city’s primmest area, entrepreneur Elim Chew opened SCAPE—a youth-oriented hub, a space for one million youth to visit any day, all-year round.

There is a wide space for roller boards, basketball and other sports on the ground floor. There are meeting rooms, dance studios, even a psychotherapy counseling clinic. All for the youth whose energy levels need such a space to be productive rather than destructive.

Elim finally proceeded with plans for the youth-centric foundation when the Singapore government doled out SGD 50 Million (plus rights to use the land) to build a multi-story structure. How can they be sustainable? They rent out two floors (first and second) to commercial tenants like fast food outlets Toast Box, McDonalds, Sakae Sushi and similar popular brands.

The commercial rent subsidizes the other spaces. There is a big “collab” area or a hub quarters for youth , SG residents to gather, meet and do business or otherwise just hang out and work on their individual tasks or homework. But there are meeting rooms, too. Rent is a mere SGD 10 an hour for a meeting room. Then there are dance studios, movie studios, meeting halls.


On the patio or open area of each floor, you will see kids practicing dance routines, gathering around in groups, each one having a purpose including volunteering for SCAPE.

In the underground parking level, Elim has also put an incubation area for social entrepreneurs to start their small businesses. Rent is a mere half of usual city rental rates. Contracts are for one year and renewable. You can get a space like 10-15 square meters, and even a space like a box size (at MyBox, one of the tenants) for SGD 200 a month. MyBox is a concept of renting out small boxes or shelves for entrepreneurs. Founder Elijah Tan is only 17 years old but runs this successful start-up.

When these start-ups do well, they move up to the first floor, a more prime area for stalls and kiosks, right beside national brands. The start-ups give opportunities to the disabled, the dropouts, and other entrepreneurs who otherwise would never be able to try Singapore’s retail market in an upscale setting.

The spaces in SCAPE are conducive to productivity. You feel the youthful vibe and the place encourages the youth to keep busy and find their own activity. There even is a café called Bettr Barista—another social enterprise training women who have learned no skills in midlife except housekeeping—for women to be trained as baristas or coffee preparers. I spoke to one who already has progressed to become a trainer for incoming women.

Why is this happening in Singapore? Because there are people like Elim Chew who had a dream. And there are members of Parliament who listened and supported her suggestions. The National Youth Council sits across the SCAPE building, but the activity is right there in SCAPE. Only Singapore residents can take advantage though. Tourists and expats may use the “collab” facilities across the street from SCAPE.

The youth are so lucky to have visionaries like Elim in their midst. And the government has listened and moved on it. Elim put up the Social Innovation Park upon the support of an MP named Penny Low who took Elim to Davos to expose her to Social Entrepreneurship. She met the people of Schwab Foundation who are now also supporters of SCAPE and she met other possible funders. Singapore’s bank DBS has been a constant supporter as this makes DBS have a CSR that is youth centric, and makes their brand top-of-mind in the youth as well. How’s that for strategic investment? I hope our banks think the same way.

Elim is a mover and shaker of Singapore’s youth. And rightly so because her main business is fashion for the youth. She put up 77th Street clothing geared towards the youth and since I met her seven years ago, her looks have not changed much. She and sister Sulim Chew even has a boutique mall in Beijing—yes, in Beijing, China. They are so into the business of fashion for youth that they know the pulse of this age group. And this is why Elim knows whom she speaks of.

But she calls herself an entrepreneur who does a lot of social missions. This gives her the right to drive a Mercedes Benz Kompressor 200—a bright red convertible, in Singapore. She says “social entrepreneur” makes people think differently when you drive a fancy car. Like you have to look simple and poor. Elim would rather call herself an entrepreneur “because that gives you the license to be truly successful,” she says.

And be able to drive a fancy car.

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Chit Juan is a founder and owner of ECHOStore sustainable lifestyle, ECHOmarket sustainable farms and ECHOcafe in Serendra , Podium and Centris QC malls. She also is President of the Women’s Business Council of the Philippines and President of the Philippine Coffee Board Inc., two non-profits close to her heart. She often speaks to corporates

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