Over the years, I watched with admiration as Project Inspire: 5 Minutes to Change the World scaled new heights from its initial launch in 2011 in collaboration with the Singapore Committee for UN Women. The initiative presents 18-35-year-olds with a five-minute platform to pitch their inspired idea for a chance to win a US$25,000 grant to assist an existing social enterprise which supports women and girls in Asia/Pacific, Middle East & Africa.
This year, I was invited to join the international panel of judges and felt privileged and honored to be part of this meaningful project. So, when Georgette Tan who heads communications for our region asked me if I would be a judge at the Grand Finals of the 2014 edition, I readily accepted with extreme delight and total humility. It was to be my maiden experience in judging social enterprises, but I drew comfort knowing that my fellow judges on the panel were doyens in the field.
The Grand Final was held on Saturday, 30th August at the INSEAD Asia Campus in Singapore. I entered the Auditorium with my fellow judges eager to meet the finalists and hear their pitches. I had gone through their proposals in the comprehensive Judges Briefing Booklet and knew coming in that, irrespective of who finally won, all ten finalists were winners.
Over the next four hours we heard ten inspirational pitches ranging from reducing sexual exploitation in Cambodia, educating women on the importance of proper menstrual hygiene in India and economically empowering refugee and migrant women in Australia to solving seasonal unemployment in Thailand and women empowerment through pumpkin value addition.
Choosing one winner and a runner-up from among the ten finalists was a real challenge. As we were reviewing each of these projects, Professor Jasjit Singh guided us through the process skillfully and after some robust discussion we had our unanimous decision. We awarded REACH the Grand Prize of US$25,000 for its winning project, ‘Supporting Disadvantaged Young Women through Vocational Training and Job Placement Program’, while Singapore-based Riverkids project ‘From ‘Ait Chai’ Collector to Fashion Designer’ walked away with the brand new US$10,000 grant, courtesy of new partner Hilton Worldwide.
Meeting the finalists at a farewell dinner that evening, I learnt how transformational the Project Inspire experience had been for them. They were certainly a very relieved lot, enjoying the company of a whole new set of friends.
Next year, as Project Inspire essays its fifth edition, I am confident the program will scale even greater heights.