SI can be defined as innovations that are social both in their ends and means as new ideas to meet social needs and new social relationships to enhance society’s capacity to respond (Mulgan, 2012). SI competitions are found to bring new actors and ideas as well as collaboration (Patel, 2013). Such competitions also provides new entrants an opportunity to obtain valuable early funding, especially that conventional grant givers prefer established projects and institutions (Youn, 2013). This study aims to identify avenues of SI creation and implementation throughout the process of such competitions in Southeast Asia. Information was gathered from thirty-two websites and six interviews with competition organisers. As practical contribution, a framework is prescribed to increase SI creation in such competitions.

There are more than thirty national and international level SI competitions in Southeast Asia. Countries with well-developed SE ecosystems (e.g. Singapore and Philippines) have the most competitions. In contrast, poor countries (e.g. Laos, Myanmar, and Cambodia) have the least. Instead, they have entrepreneurship specific competitions. Entrepreneurship can be considered a form of SI because job creation helps communities but is not included in this research. Many competitions in the region organised by NGOs are directed towards youth, and target ideation and start-up stage organisations. These factors influence SI creation. Competition ranges from one off submissions to nine-month activities. Highlights from several competitions are provided in the following paragraphs based on interviews and perusal of websites.

Six organisers as stated in Table 1 agreed to be interviewed.
Table 1: Interview participants
Name of SI competition organiser Country of origin
1. Hatch! Ventures (Hatch!) Vietnam
2. Centre for Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the National Economics University (CSIE)
3. Youth Trust Foundation (myHarapan) Malaysia
4. Make the Change (MtC) Singapore
5. Singapore International Foundation (SIF)
6. Junior Achievement Singapore (JA)

Unique aspects of each competition are highlighted. First, Hatch!, an entrepreneurship hub, together with UNDP Vietnam organised the SDG Challenge. The competition was primarily entrepreneurship-focused but initiatives need to demonstrate SDGs integrated in their business proposals. Even though the competition was for ideation and start-ups, the organisers made extra effort to connect potential mature organisations to their network members. In contrast to ignoring such entries, these connections enabled additional SI creation. Winners were provided basic financial awards. After that winners went through due diligence and accelerator programme for additional funding based on their requirements. Second, CSIE partnered British Council to organise Youth for SI Programme Challenge. A unique aspect is train-the-trainer component, whereby SI related training were provided to university staff. This encourages sustainable SI creation post-competition. The competition was opened to youth, but primarily to university students. However, it was found that some proposals from non-university participants were better because of their more practical approaches. This meant superior SI quality. Finalist were required to pilot their projects and receive future incubation that helped their SI implementation.

Third, myHarapan organised Social Project Challenge and Social Business Challenge for secondary schools and youths respectively. The purpose of these competitions was to develop youth. Therefore, the organiser considered the character and personality of participants important for evaluating proposals. The organisers informed that secondary school category participants were more committed than university counterparts. Commitment, character, and personality affect the success of SI implementation. The organisers also strategically invited potential investors and partners to be the competition judges. Fourth, an SE called MtC organised Design for Good Youth Competition. The purpose of this competition was to connect participating organisations to their other programmes. The uniqueness of this competition is that beneficiary organisations that address current pressing social issues are identified as targets for SI proposals submitted in the form of creative art designs. Designs contained useful awareness slogans. Fifth, SIF organised Young Social Entrepreneurs Programme opened to participants worldwide. The competition lasted nine months with multiple interaction opportunities for finalists, such as workshops and field trips. Participant commitment was an evaluation criterion. Interaction and commitment increase SI quality and implementation success. Organisers held alumni engagements with former participants to encourage them to remain involved in the social sector. Sixth, JA organised SI Relay that took place at national and international levels. Corporate sponsor was highly involved by providing trainers, mentors, and judges. Public workshops were conducted to create awareness about SI. Winners were given non-cash awards. Thereafter, organiser connected the winners with government agencies and other organisations to implement SI proposals.

The perusal of various organisers’ websites reveals useful findings that help improve SI competition process. Three observations were found. First, some organisers provided technical resources on their websites. For example, DBS-NUS Social Venture Challenge Asia provided articles to educate readers on areas to improve SI quality. The second observation relates to different types of organisers. Most competitions were organised by NGOs with two notable exceptions, namely university students (e.g. Social Start-up Challenge by SMU SE Club) and for-profits (e.g. Chivas Venture, Danone, and BPI Foundation). More competitions encourage more SI creation. Third, several organisers adopted hackathon format competitions involving quick succession of activities over a few days (e.g. SDG Hackathon by Youth Co: Lab Thailand and Hack Society by Rappler Philippines). Hackathons produce applications that improve service delivery and inspire collaboration (Johnson & Robinson, 2014).

The actual competition process is an extensive process. Based on interviews and observations conducted, an SI competition process framework has been developed. In essence, the proposed SI competition process framework has six stages. The first stage focuses on providing information. The second stage relates to collaboration and partnerships with experts and network channels. The third stage is creating awareness for higher participation. The fourth stage pertains to participant evaluation. Three sub-activities may be included in this stage, namely referrals to relevant parties for further development, refining proposals through guidance, and rehearsing by testing initiatives. The fifth stage is follow-up with past participants to support additional SI creation and implementation. The sixth stage is to repeat the process with improvements and adjustments.

This study identified several avenues for SI creation and implementation throughout the process of such competitions in Southeast Asia. The SI competition process framework highlighted some potential avenues. One weakness of this research is information was only obtained from organisers through interviews and websites. Future research could include other pertinent stakeholders (e.g. sponsors, mentors, participants) and other regions.