By Pang Xue Qiang
1989: The birth of the internet and half of the world
Jamon Mok is a young Singaporean with big dreams. He is the founder of Gazaab – a micro-social venture capital fund that helps communities overcome poverty.
Gazaab (which means “awesome” in Nepali language) is trying to make a difference to the world: to alleviate poverty through social entrepreneurship.
“Gazaab empowers people to become social entrepreneurs. It is a support system that helps them become leaders who will lead their community out of poverty,” said Mok.
He started the organisation in 2009 when he was a first-year undergraduate at Singapore Management University.
Mok, who is more than just another community-spirited young man, is not doing this alone. He has an aide: the internet.
At 25 today, Mok is part of the digital generation who grew up with the World Wide Web.
1989 is a significant year – for two reasons.
Almost half of the world’s population today was born in or after that year. This means that almost half of the world is made up of people 25 years old or younger.
It was also the year Tim-Berners Lee invented the World Wide Web, changing how we live entirely.
To Mok, the internet was “game-changing, something that can be turned to our advantage.”
The web has a huge influence on how young companies, like Gazaab, work today.
“The use of social media in allowing people to share and spread our work was a crucial component of the internet that helped us move faster and in the right direction.
“Without it, you just can’t prototype ideas as fast, mobilize support or resources or even contact people easily. Without it, maybe I would need to take 10 years to do the same amount of work,” said Mok.
“Technology allows us to scale up quickly with low fixed costs and reach as many people as possible,” he added.
Backstreet Academy is one such project under Gazaab. It capitalises on the extensive reach of the internet to recruit budding social entrepreneurs in cities such as Kathmandu and Phnom Penh.
“Disadvantaged craftsmen/artisans/entrepreneurs are recruited on Backstreet Academy’s web platform where we help them to structure a unique tour experience for tourists.
“These can include boxing, pottery, fishing and any other courses that they can think of to showcase their country in a unique way,” he said.
“Without the internet, Backstreet Academy would not have been possible and that would be a big problem in making Gazaab sustainable,” he added.
Yet, while the internet has been a boon for young Singaporeans like Mok, he added that there are gripes about the digital generation.
“The internet can be an enabler for people to be lazy.
“People can also feel like they are helping simply by doing some simple sharing on the net, again justifying their inaction to actually do something about issues,” he said.
“Keyboard warriors who type more than do, complain more than provide constructive opinions, spreading untruths online, these are all also by-products of the power of the internet,” he added.
Mok, who is currently overseas in Luang Prabang, Laos, said he is rapidly expanding his work to other new cities.
“As a social entrepreneur, the goal is always about social impact and sustainability,” he said.
Millennials such as Mok – a generation who emerged with the internet, are achieving these goals easier and faster.