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Next Generation Impact: Singapore’s Mohamed Abbas

Mohamed Abbas — Co-founder, Rely

In December, The Rockefeller Foundation President Dr. Rajiv Shah invited me to talk with him about next generation impact during his first visit to Southeast Asia. As a young and eager entrepreneur, it was an honor to exchange views and experiences, as well as learn about his philanthropic vision for the world. I found that his vision for the world mirrored much of what I seek to do every day: use data-driven innovations to empower others and create a sustainable impact for the future. Here are the three things I learned from my conversation with Dr. Shah:

Data-driven initiatives propel communities forward!

Information is the currency that not only counts today but will increasingly carry weight in the future. Without data, it is unimaginably difficult to solve community problems. I was amazed by Dr. Shah’s data-driven approach to solving on-the-ground issues such as battling the Ebola outbreak in West Africa during his time at USAID. Together with local partners, they helped collate first-hand data from previous Ebola outbreaks, helping them predict households more susceptible to being infected by the Ebola virus.

Leveraging data-driven models to address the high rate of infant mortality and other communicable diseases in Southeast Asia,  The Rockefeller Foundation has also used predictive algorithms to enhance disease surveillance capacity across the region with their Mekong Basin Disease Surveillance Network. Through this network, they have played an integral role investigating and responding to dengue fever, typhoid, malaria and avian flu outbreaks in Southeast Asia for more than a decade.

My team at Rely has also harnessed the power of data, enabling nearly 400 million people in Southeast Asia to access financial services. Rely believes that responsible people deserve honest financial opportunities. That’s why we developed internal credit scores, leveraging on non-traditional predictive data points across users’ digital footprints. This approach to advanced underwriting looks beyond traditional credit scores, allowing us to open up credit access to everyone – even to those without a credit trail.

I truly believe that data-driven initiatives like these will help us propel communities forward and positively impact humanity in the future.

From left: Onelyst Chief Technology Officer Prakash Raja, co-founder Hizam Ismail, and co-founder Mohamed Abbas. Onelyst created Rely, which offers short-term loans to blue-collar workers who need to purchase equipment such as laptops and mobile phones.

Innovations can help people break out of poverty

During our conversation, Dr. Shah pointed to the number of innovations happening across the region to help address the high rate of extreme poverty in Asia. Innovation can come from anywhere. Innovation can be sustainable. Innovation can be profitable.

In Singapore, The Rockefeller Foundation showed us the value of innovation by supporting the development of the financial mechanism behind the Women’s Livelihood Bond, which has empowered more than 385,000 women across the region to grow their businesses. This is the first bond of its kind to be listed on the Singapore Stock Exchange, showing us that social impact can be profitable.

Being born into a lower-income family does not dictate how entrepreneurial you can be. We need to enable enterprises that employ and empower vulnerable groups such as women, so they have a shot of pursuing their ambitions just like you and I. But, breaking the cycle of poverty is hard – even in developed countries, like Singapore, where it’s expensive to be poor.

Be it buying diapers, baby formula or paying for medical services, it’s difficult to lift yourself out of poverty when faced with these inelastic costs. That’s why we innovated a simple payment method at Rely that enables people to split the cost of bulk purchases at no additional cost. Sustainable innovations can have a profound impact on people and communities who need it the most and help us address wide-scale issues like extreme poverty in the region.

Sustainable development starts with aiming for sustainable impact

Sustainable impact should be at the core of any initiative. Collaborating and co-creating with big institutions or partnering with philanthropic foundations can help to accelerate and widen the impact our efforts have on communities. In Asia alone, there are 10,000 private philanthropic foundations. It’s up to young innovators to maximize their movement and leverage resources provided by philanthropic institutions to create a scalable and sustainable impact.

Life is more fulfilling when we do work that we are passionate about – it’s what we spend a majority of our life doing. Why not spend it empowering and helping the people of today and the next generation tomorrow?

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