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10 social impact startups in Southeast Asia that caught our attention

These 10 startups are making a positive impact on the deprived and marginalised people amongst us

The key objective of any startup is to turn profitable and make it to the “Unicorn club”, and possibly launch an IPO. Their contribution to the global economy is significant, and they create millions of jobs, thus becoming part of a social change.

But there are a few startups whose ultimate objective is NOT to make profit or get a “billion dollar” exit. Instead, they want to make a positive impact on the society. Such startups are rare but are there in almost every sector, and they change the lives of millions of the marginalised and deprived in the society.

In this article, we have picked a few ventures who are making a positive impact on the society in Southeast Asia.


Food waste is one of the most pressing problems the world is facing. As per a study, roughly one third of the food produced in the world for human consumption every year — approximately 1.3 billion tonnes — gets lost or wasted. Food losses and waste amounts to roughly US$680 billion in industrialised countries and US$310 billion in developing countries.

Singapore-based startup TreeDots has developed a solution to this problem. Started by Nicholas Lim, Tylor Jong, and Jiacai Lou, TreeDots’s mission is to minimise the amount of food waste through a self-sustaining ecosystem via its aggregation of F&B businesses on different points of the value chain within the startup. It recently collaborated with National Environment Agency (NEA) in their food wastage reduction (FWR) outreach programme.

ThreeDots is also the winner of Echelon 2018.


Farmers across the world are a deprived lot. They often lack adequate support to keep their produce safe even after a good harvest. The problem is serve in developing and under-developed countries of Asia and Africa.

Probably, this agritech startup could bring in a change. Ecozen — based in Kerala, India but targeting the markets in Southeast Asia and Africa — has aims to improve farm-to-fork movement of perishable goods by providing solar-based cold rooms at the farm level. The startup has already implemented its solutions in Southeast Asian region, including in Indonesia and Vietnam with the help of high-tech polymer manufacturer Covestro. It is looking forward to expand its business further into Southeast Asia and Africa.

EcoZen is the winner of the inaugural Rabobank Food Loss Challenge Asia.


Most households in the developing countries in Southeast Asia are still living in the dark, as electricity is still a dream for most of them. Green energy solutions have been out of their reach. But not any more. Singapore-based SolarHome is finding a way out for them.

Founded by FORUM, a Singapore-based fintech venture builder, SolarHome brings pay-as-you-go solar solutions into off-grid households in Southeast Asia. It offers off-grid households a solar lighting system at a low-cost 24-month subscription plan, with an initial US$10 down payment, followed by daily, weekly, or monthly repayments through scratch cards or mobile money.

The company plans to bring “reliable, affordable and clean energy to more than 40,000 homes in rural Myanmar by the end of 2018″. The firm also intends to increase distribution throughout Myanmar, advance its mobile money platform, as well as expand its product range to more premium products, including systems with bundled television sets. Technology built into the system ensures that it won’t function if a payment is not made, giving lenders the confidence that they will be able to recover their investment.

The firm recently secured US$10M in debt financing from a consortium of international investors,

MyCash Online

Being migrants themselves, the duo knows the major challenges faced by the massive 40 million migrant population in Malaysia — one being the inability to access various financial services, as most of them are unbanked. The duo’s urge to solve this problem drove them to start MyCash Online, an online financial marketplace for the underbanked migrant population in Southeast Asia.

Incorporated in 2015 and headquartered in Singapore, MyCash provides a tailor-made platform for the unbanked migrant population, where they can purchase products and services online without using any bank account, credit cards, or prepaid cards. Users can reload phone credit, pay bills, and buy bus tickets through MyCash.

Also Read: Malaysian fintech startup MyCash in talks to raise US$2M for expansion into Australia, Europe

It offers many services, including local and international mobile recharge, utility bill payments, cross- border money transfer, wallet transfer, bus and air ticket, e-commerce voucher, dry foods and other products, PA insurance and many more. Migrant worker can fulfil all most all their needs through our platform.


The number of cancer patients is growing at an alarming rate across the globe. Cancer is a genetic disease—that is, it is caused by changes to genes that control the way our cells function, especially how they grow and divide. Doctors and experts in the healthcare industry claim that early detection can prevent the disease to be aggravated.

Ark, a Singapore-based company, is harnessing advanced data science and proprietary microRNA detection technology to develop non-invasive and cost-effective blood tests to detect early stage cancers before clinical symptoms appear.

Established as a result of a merger between MiRXES (a microRNA diagnostic test developer) and Venturecraft, Ark has kicked off by launching a blood test for early detection of stomach cancer in Asia. The firm plans to develop and launch new blood tests for early detection of other high prevalence cancers such as lung, breast and colon cancer.

Ark has research collaborations with top medical research institutions globally. Having recently completed a 5,000-patient gastric cancer trial in Singapore, Ark is planning to launch Asia’s largest clinical studies targeting at least 50,000 participants through partnerships with local governments and medical institutions.


Low-income communities in Indonesia often have limited access to products and services that could improve their lives. The goods available are at a higher price than similar products sold in department stores.

Ruma provides financial and information services in the country through a trained agent network. The company aims to increase access to such services in a country with only 3,600 bank branches that serve a population of 245 million across a sprawling island archipelago.

Ruma recruits agents from Indonesia’s two million independently owned ‘mom and pop’ stores and provides them with technology, training, and support. These shops can then provide local consumers with a range of services, such as pre-paid airtime top up, utility and loan payments, mobile money services, and insurance.

Based in Jakarta, Ruma has served millions of customers through thousands of agents across Indonesia.


People with disability are often looked at with derision. There are quite a few NGOs and organisations working for the upliftment of dibbled people, the attitude of the society towards these people hasn’t changed much.

This is where Vietnamese software company Enablecode makes a difference. With a goal to transform the Vietnamese perception of people with disabilities, Enablecode employs computing experts who are not as physically able as the majority of society. Established in 2014, this startup blossomed from a team of freelancers who have been working together on a variety of web projects in Ho Chi Minh City since 2010. Their goal is to use technology to deliver services and run a strong business as a means to raise awareness of those living in a disabled condition.

Based in Ho Chi Minh City, the company specialises in complex custom web application development, and offers all aspects of innovative, creative, complex web design, including graphic layout, custom coding, advanced functionality and SEO.


Market research should benefit the clients who pay for it, the people who participate in it, and the groups, causes and communities those participants care about. Singapore startup Happi was started with this intention.

The Happi mobile app rewards users for responding to 5-question surveys with chances to win prizes they select, donations to the charity group or cause they select, and, possibly, connections to career opportunities — all free. Clients pay Happi for the responses and a portion of this money goes to pay for the prizes people win and a portion goes to the donations to the partner groups.

Clients get fast, easy, and cost-effective insights from and engagement with consumers. Everyone wins.

Impact Terra

Farmers account for more than 40 per cent of Myanmar’s GDP and 60 per cent of the workforce. But they often don’t get adequate attention from the government or the tech community, despite the growth and penetration of smartphones and internet.

Erwin Sikma saw an opportunity here. He saw a huge potential to improve the livelihoods of rural smallholder farmers through the use of digital solutions such as smartphone apps by providing them with real-time agricultural information, access to markets, and proper access to financing options. This leads to the birth of Impact Terra.

The company has come up with a platform, Golden Paddy, for farmers which offers real-time, personalised information about local crop prices, weather-based advice like flood or drought warnings, and pest risks.

The platform also collects data on farmers, such as their location and details about crops, which helps financial service providers deliver financial products that meet their needs and correspond to their specific risks. This enables these farmers to get the capital they need to improve or expand their farms at accessible rates.


There are one billion people in the world without a home. The lack of adequate housing continues to be a problem to which we cannot find a solution. Housing is a human right and the first step of empowerment towards emerging out of poverty.

Also Read: How these two school girls are helping Rohingyan refugees find a good shelter in Bangladesh

billionBricks was founded by a team of architects, designers, engineers and urban planners committed to solving the global housing problem. A non-profit, billionBricks used design and technology as its tools to innovate shelter and infrastructure solutions for the homeless and vulnerable. Its approach empowers communities to replicate its solutions on their own.

Last year, billionBricks created WeatherHYDE (a reversible, light-weight, all-season tents) to help the Rohingyan refugees find a good shelter in Bangladesh.

Photo by Kyle Glenn on Unsplash

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