A few weeks ago I interviewed Zhihan Lee – CEO and co-founder of social enterprise BagoSphere – and quizzed him about the scaling of the company, the tug-of-war between the creation of economic and social value, the need for performance measurement and management in the assessment of social impact, and how his team has built a strong organisational culture. Based in Bago City in the Philippines, BagoSphere seeks to tackle rising youth unemployment through development programmes, with job trainings at its vocational school for those at the base of the pyramid.
Read “BagoSphere: To Scale A Social Enterprise“, and here’s a short excerpt.
Having handled the operational challenges of starting and managing social enterprise BagoSphere for the last four years – of hiring individuals as well as overcoming complex operations and poor infrastructure for instance – CEO and co-founder Zhihan Lee and his team now confront strategic challenges as they scale the company. Based in Bago City in the Philippines, BagoSphere seeks to tackle rising youth unemployment through development programmes, with job trainings at its vocational school for those at the base of the pyramid.
As undergraduates at the National University of Singapore, all three co-founders, including Ellwyn Tan and Ivan Lau, gained insights through community service projects in India, Laos, and the Philippines, and his experience in Laos – where a volunteer-constructed community library ended up unused – spurred Zhihan to learn more, and to eventually work for a social enterprise in rural India in 2009. “Across the three months, I was inspired by the training provided for Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) work and I was consequently struck by the global outsourcing phenomenon,” he recalled. At the same time Ellwyn and Ivan had developed strong cities with the city government of Bago City, and with plans and research for BagoSphere in the pipeline, Zhihan joined the pair straight after his graduation.
Bago City is a small second-class city in central Philippines, and in 2010 the BagoSphere team identified the problem of high unemployment within the population of 160,000.
Zhihan speaks enthusiastically of Philippines and the opportunities for startups in general. “It houses a large English-speaking population, companies are more impact-driven, and the ecosystem houses diverse entrepreneurs solving real needs,” he elaborated. It therefore comes as no surprise that BagoSphere is setting up physical sites throughout the Philippines – in Bacolod City and Manila as a start – with two specific objectives: first to change mindsets on the acquisition and mastery of the English language, and second to influence policies on the funding of quality education through student co-payment and micro-finance schemes.
In this vein, the social enterprise aspires to be the premier training centre for BPO work in the country, and for this ambition to be realised a strong team is needed. When asked about his biggest accomplishment within the company Zhihan cited the culture within the company, explaining that “we are a team which emphasises the shaping of mindsets, by being a maverick (learning to take risks), being an engineer (building skills), and being authentic.” Both recruitment and talent development are emphasised at BagoSphere.