When asking people to give away their hard-earned money to strangers, you must be completely transparent about the process – so says Syakir Hashim.
The 24-year-old is the co-founder of Skolafund, a digital platform that crowdfunds scholarships for underprivileged students, giving them access to higher education. Says Syakir, who is pursuing a degree in global studies at the National University of Singapore: “We went radical on transparency. Access our blog 24/7 and you can see a spreadsheet summarising each campaign, transaction and pitch. We also upload receipts of payments made to the university and students.”
Skolafund’s push for transparency as well as use of technology for good had been a lesson gleaned from the Singapore International Foundation’s (SIF) Young Singapore Entrepreneurs (YSE) programme, which aims to nurture and develop youth of different nationalities to start social enterprises in Singapore and beyond. He and his co-founder Tengku Syamil, a business administration undergraduate at the International Islamic University Malaysia, had taken part in the YSE programme in 2013.
Syakir says the networks built with mentors and other participants from the programme enabled him to learn useful tips about using technology as a force for change, scaling up their enterprise for a regional reach and how start-ups can raise funds more successfully.
At the YSE, the duo had originally pitched an after-school programme balancing recreation and studies called Urbane Academy. “But we wanted to move on to create a bigger impact on the world and we wanted to move into the technology space,” Syakir says. “The SIF helped lay the foundation of our social entrepreneurship journey, like the business mindset and networks we developed through the mentorship sessions and talks, and the skills we learnt at the workshops.”
They decided to use financial services technology, or fintech, for a new social enterprise and Skolafund was born in April 2015. Despite being Singaporean, the two launched Skolafund in Malaysia because studies they had read showed that the country is one of the most willing countries in South-east Asia to donate money to those in need. In just 14 months since its launch, Skolafund has raised more than RM180,000 (S$59,900) for 23 undergraduates in Malaysia.
Syakir acknowledges that a number of friendships made in Malaysia have been integral to Skolafund’s success, like those with start-up hub Malaysia Global Innovation and Creativity Centre (Magic). Skolafund took part in its accelerator programme for four months. “It enabled us to better understand the country’s culture and dynamics, which helped us better strategise our growth.”
Adds Michelle Tan, a Malaysian programme director at Magic: “Skolafund has made a great impact across Malaysia by opening up education opportunities to students in need. They have been extremely helpful as our alumni. Syakir took the time to share his experiences and answer questions on start-ups at our roadshow in Singapore. We wouldn’t be able to build a truly regional programme (at Magic) without the help of friends like Skolafund.”
Syakir is looking forward to November 2016, when he graduates, so that he can turn his full attention to Skolafund. He knows what his first fulltime task will be: calculating the funds needed and raising that amount, so that Skolafund can grow and enter Indonesia. His dream is for Skolafund to become Asia’s largest higher-education funding platform by 2020.
Beaming, he says: “I am very motivated by how (Skolafund) can add value to lives. With each successful campaign, we stay true to our mission.”