"Conjunct Consulting: Transforming the Social Sector"

By Augustin Chiam

· Press,Conjunct

Who says young Singaporeans these days are apathetic? Even with the wave after wave of financial mayhem that have highlighted the desperate greed of corporate types, there are still people who are not just “in it for the money”. Cue the arrival of Conjunct Consulting, a young set-up that does pro bono consulting for non-profit organisations as well as social enterprises.

I spoke to Jared (Yr 3, FASS – Philosophy), Josy (Yr 2, FASS – Communications & New Media) and Hwei Fen (Vice-President External Affairs, Conjunct Consulting) to find out more about the company and what motivates them to do what they do.

Great visions often start out with humble beginning and Conjunct is no different.

“Conjunct Consulting was birthed over a a skype session, then solidified over a cup of coffee. Our two founders, Jia Chuan and Jeremy dreamt of making an impact in the social sector, first in Singapore, then in Asia,” explained Hwei Fen.

Conjunct’s model is heavily influenced by their experience in school. Jia Chuan headed the London School of Economics (LSE) chapter of AIESEC while Jeremy headed The Berkeley Group that also did consulting for non-profits. Perhaps because of their time in the respective universities, Conjunct taps on the youthful dynamism and creative perspectives of tertiary students. Working professionals also provide the extra element of experience and professionalism to complement the tertiary students.

I asked Jared and Josy why students should spare their precious free time to work at Conjunct Consulting. Their answers were surprising but very sincere.

“For business students, they are going to get very real consulting experience but we also see many students from other faculties who are just passionate about making an impact in the social sector,” Josy said.

“I personally ran a social enterprise that did not work out. Now, in Conjunct, I get to use my experience and put it to practical use to see tangible results,” Jared explained.

“The work we do is very demanding so people who want it on their CV do not usually last very long,” he added.

Conjunct taps on the youthful dynamism and creative perspectives of tertiary students.

For Conjunct, the focus is on making the kind of strategic change that will enable the social sector in Singapore and Asia to flourish. The problem is that not many people have figured out what “social” means and how to measure impact. As with most consulting firms, there must be some way to measure the effectiveness of a particular business model usually through the setting of key performance indicators (KPIs).

Hwei Fen explained that Conjunct is in the process of developing a matrix to measure “social impact”, one that can be tailored for each social sector organization they are engaged with.

She further explained that “social impact is difficult to measure but we are mainly looking at the long-term impact on society.”

“We vet through all our clients missions and goals to ensure that all the money goes back to helping society”

For Conjunct, the future for the social sector begins now. With better organisational plans and processes, perhaps Singapore’s social sector will begin to awaken from its long slumber. A record S$896 million was donated to charities last year so the sector is not short of money but the management of this money to produce results is perhaps still lacking. This is where Conjunct hopes to step in and fill the gap.

Hwei Fen is optimistic about the future. She hopes to see more tertiary students participate in the venture and help to make strategic change.

"We vet through all our clients missions and goals to ensure that all the money goes back to helping society"

“If we were not optimistic about it, we would not be in this [the social sector]. We are both guided by passion as well as pragmatism,” she explained.

She added, “I believe that working in the social sector is losing its stigma.”

Already there are plans to expand operations by setting up an Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) chapter. Conjunct currently has 3 chapters represented by students from the 3 biggest local universities, NUS, SMU and NTU.

Josy assured me that there were not much conflict between the 3 student chapters but they are looking to “standardize the style of approach”.

“The chapters are like departments but we work in harmony … there will be some differences in approaches given our different school curriculum but there is a lot of information sharing as well as professional input to give us guidance,” Jared added.

The biggest challenge for Consulting, besides the need for funding and donations, is getting the word out there.

“We are not very well known in NUS and we are constantly on the lookout for students interested in our line of work,” Jared said.

“The main criteria we are looking out for is a willingness to work and some problem-solving ability,” he added.

Conjunct does not just recruit Business students but students from many different faculties because they bring different perspectives.

“Different students bring about a different way of looking at the same problem. Science students tend to be more analytical while arts students focus on the social impact,” Josy explained.

In a way, the social sector demands a different approach from conventional consulting because running a social enterprise demands more than one “bottomline”. Often, the buzzword in the sector is the triple bottomline; revenue, social and environmental. Because the social enterprise impacts so many different areas, one cannot only take into account how much profit is being made. Hence, the multiple perspectives provided by students from many different faculties make Conjunct’s approach more holistic.

Conjunct’s bottomline is change. Change not just for the social enterprise and non-profits with whom they work with but change to the attitudes and stigma attached to working in the social sector as well as change in the way people see the contributions of tertiary students.

Different students bring about a different way of looking at the same problem.

As Jared puts it to me, “At Conjunct Consulting, we are given that platform [for change] and at the same time to make positive social impact to the world around us”

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