Enabling Academy

In response to the high unemployment rate amongst people with autism, Gamuda Group established Project Differently-Abled (DA) since 2013. Young adults on the autism spectrum were employed as part of Gamuda’s workforce since March 2014. This project was initiated by Gamuda’s group managing director Datuk Lin Yun Ling as part of the public-listed group’s Diversity & Inclusion programme designed to create an inclusive workplace. To date, Gamuda Group has employed 20 employees who are on the autism spectrum. The success of Project DA has inspired the company to pioneer Enabling Academy, an Employment Transition Programme in 2016 to equip more people with autism to work in professional jobs. This programme is fully sponsored by Yayasan Gamuda [Gamuda Foundation].

Key Objectives of Enabling Academy

The key objective of Enabling Academy is to provide a three-month employment transition programme to enable more people with autism to achieve sustainable white-collar or professional employment which leads to independent living. EA aims to collaborate with Partner Companies to create gainful and sustainable employment for more people with autism nationwide by training and developing a circle of support in each respective partner company. Enabling Academy promotes an inclusive and open-minded work culture that appreciates the abilities and contributions of employees with autism (Figure 1). 

Figure 1. Roles of Enabling Academy

Programme Overview and Structure

Enabling Academy has two intakes per year. Each intake recruits a maximum of 10 trainees. There are four key processes involved to promote sustainable employment (Figure 2). As shown at Figure 2, Enabling Academy aims to promote sustainable employment through providing continuous support even after trainees’ job placement. Upon enrolment into Enabling Academy, each trainee will be assigned a job coach to monitor and follow-up on their progress. Individualised support is given to equip trainees with employability skills for meaningful employment.

Figure 2. Key processes involved to promote sustainable development

There are two courses offered at Enabling Academy. Course I and Course II are designed to equip trainees with relevant soft skills and practical job training that are essential for employability:

Course I: Personal Development for Career Sustainability

This course focuses on soft skills development, covers three modules: Personal Management, Career Management and Life Management. Training is conducted in classroom setting with creative approaches that encourage active participations from trainees for effective learning. Lessons learned is enhanced during practical training.

Course II: Job Skills Development

A mock office with simulated-based learning approach is set up at the academy to provide trainee an experience in a corporate work environment with relevant jobs, such as administration, IT assistant or programmer, research assistant, accounting and engineering profession to develop their employability skills. Besides practical job training, basic work etiquettes such as communication skills, accountability, team work and time management are taught in practical ways.

Eligibility Criteria to Join Enabling Academy

Applicants who are 21 years old and above and have an official autism diagnosis or medical report from a registered psychologist/ psychiatrist are eligible to apply for Enabling Academy.

Other requirements include minimum secondary school education (or equivalent), diploma or a bachelor’s degree, possess basic work etiquette and vocational aptitude suitable for any administrative or professional jobs in corporate setting, interested in corporate employment and has the ability to work in an office environment as well as independent living skills. For further details, please refer to appendix 1 (E-flyer of Enabling Academy).

Personnel at Enabling Academy

At present, there are six full-time staff who are professionally trained in the field of psychology, special education or counselling are employed to support the group’s 20 DA employees, 18 graduates from Enabling Academy who have been placed into respective partner companies and 11 trainees who are currently undergoing three-month pre-employment training. Each staff serves the role as a trainer and job coach.

Current Achievement

In the span of a year, from May 2017 to April 2018, Enabling Academy has placed 18 young adults with autism in 15 corporate companies that are partners of Enabling Academy. Their position includes administrative assistant, technical officer (chemical engineering), accounts officer, document analyst, mailing clerk/coordinator, data entry officer and others. 


EA is currently in collaboration with the Malaysia Department of Social Welfare to organise a seminar on Employment Transition Programme (ETP) for key stakeholders such as Department of Special Education, Department of Skills Development, relevant NGOs and Private sectors, in view of implementing ETP as a national programme to equip more people with disabilities for employment. Being a pioneer Employment Transition Programme in Malaysia, EA hopes to be a role model to other employment transition centres in our nation.

Exploring avenues of SI creation in organised competitions in Southeast Asia

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.

Conceptualizing social innovation in Malaysia

Although social innovation examples often come from developing countries, for instance, Muhammad Yunus on microcredit and Akhtar Hameed Khan on Orangi Pilot Project, much of academic literature tend to be westernised. While considerable attention has been devoted to the meaning of social innovation in the United States and Europe, this raises the question of how social innovation is understood in developing countries. Drawing upon an example of Malaysia, a developing country, an empirical phase involving 18 practitioners of social innovation has been conducted. The findings present an empirically informed conceptual framework, which shows that the usage of social innovation focuses on the socio-economic wellbeing.

In recent years, developing countries such as India, China, and even Malaysia have shown a growing interest in social innovation, which serves as a way to combat social problems as varied as literacy, mentally disable and drug use (Tucker, 2014). By way of example, Malaysia has recently begun to move away from social protectionism and instead moved towards social innovation that seizes the strength of public, private and social sector partnerships (Eleventh Malaysia Plan, 2015). The former Prime Minister of Malaysia, Najib Tun Razak, emphasised the importance of social innovation and described the most effective ways to encourage social innovation, as follows:

“When we say innovation, many will see it as innovating products or for commercialisation. But social innovation directly affects the people. It is important to firstly, explore social innovation through experiments and secondly, widen channels and accessibility for the people to state their wants and expectations of government services” (Arukesamy, 2014).

In particular, it appears that the development of social innovation in Malaysia is subsequent to the United States White House Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation and European Commission Initiatives through Horizon 2020, in 2009 and 2010 respectively. The Malaysian move is also supported by some recent major programmes that have carried out social innovation over the last five years there (see Table 4.1).

Year Major programme/ activities
2012 Social Innovation Lab
2013 Global Social Business Summit was held for the first time outside Europe in Malaysia
2014 Malaysian Global Innovation & Creativity Centre (MAGIC) was established
2015 Social Innovation was incorporated into the Eleventh Malaysia Plan (2016-2020)
Table 4.1: Some recent major social Innovation programmes in Malaysia

A strong tie existed between Malaysia and United States during Najib Tun Razak’s tenure (Mukhtaruddin, 2016). It was at a peak when President Obama visited Malaysia to form strategic relations, five decades after Lyndon Johnson had paid a visit in 1966 (Alagappa, 2014). Subsequent to the Global Social Business Summit, which was held for the first time outside Europe, Najib announced the establishment of Malaysian Global Innovation and Creativity Centre (MaGIC) to spearhead the development of entrepreneurs, which was then launched by President Obama (Goh, 2014). This significantly shaped the bilateral relations between the two countries. Since then, government agencies have engaged in social innovation, as can be seen in public funding allocation and policy enthusiasm in the recent Eleventh Malaysia Plan (2016-2020) (Economic Planning Unit, 2015). There is a possibility that social innovation discourse is being shaped by government institutions.

The interview findings have been presented thematically in this chapter. A new conceptual model is presented in figure 1, below, based on the empirical results. The figure suggests that social innovation is being used by policy makers to nudge citizens into developing their own responses to social problems. A strong government role is seen in enabling social innovation, which is being generated by and for citizens to fulfil a wide range of socio-economic welfare needs.

Figure 1: Social innovation pathway in Malaysia

Social innovation in Malaysia contains a new form of social relations that sees public, private and third sector organisations as well as individuals collaborate together, so that unique roles are provided in delivering programmes. Here, different actors work collectively, taking shared responsibility for advancing social change. This relationship allows support in many forms of services and resources, such as expertise, knowledge, finances, and technology.

These new forms of social relations were presented by the participants as facilitating innovation. The innovation concept refers to the new ideas or solutions which emerge that are closely aligned to gradual or incremental improvements rather than invention. The ‘innovation’ involved relates to the newness of these ideas or the newness of the collaborative form of social relations in the generation, selection and implementation of new ideas in Malaysia. This innovation then leads to a positive societal impact through an increase in aggregate individual utility.
Social innovation in Malaysia involves three plausible routes. First, new forms of social relations lead to innovation; second, innovation leads to utilitarian social value; and third, new forms of social relations lead to innovation, which creates utilitarian social value (and thus societal impact) (see Figure 1). Therefore, the participants’ conceptions of social innovation were consistent with previous academic discourses, particularly the weak tradition (see Ayob et al., 2016; Pol & Ville 2009; Phills et al., 2008 and Mulgan, 2006, 2007).

While they talked about involving different groups in the innovation process, the end goal was to make them (or their society / economy / service users) better off rather than to reshape society through reframing its power relations. The findings also suggest that practitioners in Malaysia use the term social innovation partly as a way of attracting resources (usually from the government). The ways in which they use the term are consistent with international understandings of the concept. For that reason, it is evident that social innovation in Malaysia is broadly understood in ways that are consistent with Western understanding. It is a western concept that has been brought into Malaysia. The interviewees interpreted social innovation in ways that are consistent with their own personal and organisational practises.

Social Enterprise Performance in Malaysia and Singapore: How can social innovation be measured, scaled-up, or sustained?

Social entrepreneurship has been recognised as an effective path to address social problems. The conventional non-profit organisations (NPOs) employed the social enterprise model to transform from grant-dependent to income-generating social enterprises. Many regions including the EU, USA and East Asia governments proactively promote the social enterprise sector by constituting social enterprise legislation and alter the government’s public service policy by collaborating with local social entrepreneurs. Besides, some world leading corporations accomplish their corporate social responsibility (CSR) by investing in a social enterprise.
Since 2010, social entrepreneurship in Malaysia and Singapore encountered rapid growth, However, it is still at the seed and venture stages. The survey reports conducted by the social enterprise legal agencies, namely Malaysia Global Innovation and Creativity Centre Social Entrepreneurship (MaGIC SE) and Singapore Centre of Social Enterprise (raiSE SG), showed that, majority of the social enterprises are confronted with the criticality of survival challenges, especially in financial sustainability. Specifically, more than half unable to break-even after years of operation and face the difficulty to balance both social and financial bottom lines. The low sustainability issues hamper the social impact sought by these organisation, moreover, exhaust the valuable and limited resources that should be benefiting the underprivileged communities.
Grounded in the Resource Based View and Resource Dependence Theory, the systematic literature review identified three internal-oriented factors (i.e., business planning, entrepreneurial orientation and social salience) and two external-oriented factors (i.e., financial support and training support) that probably have a significant influence on the organisational performance (i.e., financial and social performance) of social enterprises. Besides, previous studies also recommended business planning practice and socio-economic context, respectively play an intervention role in all those factors and social enterprise performance. To justify the causal relationships between the variables and identify the predictors of an outcome, this study employed a quantitative approach by using PLS-SEM Smart PLS to test the theoretical framework and hypotheses.
The data collection was conducted between 20 September and 19 October 2017. From a total of 181 respondents, 79 (or 44%) are from Malaysia and 102 (or 56%) are from Singapore. The demographic profile showed 93% of the respondents holding the highest position in the organisation, such as director, chief officer, chairman, president or founder. 80% of the social enterprises are not more than 5 years old. Most of them are small size enterprises, 85% with less than 10 employees, 91% with less than RM or SGD 1 million per year. The social enterprises characteristics exhibited in this study are aligned with the latest survey reports like State of Social Enterprise in Malaysia (MaGIC 2016) and State of Social Enterprise in Singapore (raiSE 2017).
Based on the analysis results from the empirical data, there are five main findings concluded in this study. First, the key factor that contributes the largest impact on the financial performance of social enterprises in Malaysia and Singapore, is the entrepreneurial orientation exhibited by the leading teams. The higher their behaviour tendencies in innovativeness, calculated risk-taking and proactiveness, the greater their financial performance is foreseeable. Second, the social performance of social enterprises is well determined by the social salience of the social entrepreneurs. The prominence of the social entrepreneurs in pursuing social outcomes shapes the organisational value and development strategies, tend to generate higher social performance.
Third, business planning has demonstrated a perfect mediator role in the relationships between external-oriented factors (i.e., financial and training support) and their organisational performance (i.e., financial and social performance). This finding is crucial to explain how to increase the return-on-investment (ROI) of the external support from private, public and non-profit sectors. Fourth, the moderating effects of socio-economic context found to be statistically significant on the direction and strength of the relationship between social salience and financial performance. In a highly favourable environment with more resourceful and collaboration opportunities, the negative impact of the social salience on financial performance is irrelevant. Last, the Importance-Performance Map Analysis (IPMA) approach indicated the major factor to increase the financial performance of social enterprises is their entrepreneurial orientation. Meanwhile, the social salience is the most potential area that should be concentrated to enhance their social performance.
The research findings may advise the practitioners on their organisation’s strategic direction, and offers a guiding model to the social investors, policymakers and future researchers. All organisations, no matter big or small, face limited resources. Evidently, this is more critical for social enterprises with implied a multi-bottom lines approach. The findings and discussions in the proposed research along these lines may then advise the social entrepreneurs of the core resources and capabilities needed to be focused while executing their strategic planning. For instance, the social enterprise that encountered with financial sustainability crisis, should focus more on the behaviour tendency in terms of innovativeness, calculated risk-taking and proactiveness. Furthermore, social enterprises looking to expand their services, the socio-economic context of the new geographical area should have taken into their consideration to ensure their organisational effectiveness and efficiency.

This survey can also be considered as the voice (or express opinion) of the social enterprises in Malaysia and Singapore. Although social enterprise movements have already enjoyed a great success in many countries, the concept is still very fresh for most of the communities in this region, including legal authorities, the private sector, conventional non-profit organisations and the public. Thus, support given to social enterprises is very finite. In this light, the proposed framework can be a model to guide governments, social investors, corporate companies, NPOs and the public on how to join forces with social enterprises in forging a better future. Moreover, the findings suggest external supportive body should bundle their financial and training support with the business planning practices, to generate a significant impact on the social enterprises’ performance.