Chasing Dreams of making a difference

160203 Chasing Dreams of making a difference

He used to be a highly paid economist and equity analyst, but Mr Daniel Soh gave that up to do something he felt was more important: helping the less fortunate. Mr Soh was an economist and foreign exchange strategist at market intelligence firm 4Cast, and later an economist at policy advisory group Centennial Group. He left it all behind to chase his dreams of becoming a social entrepreneur.

The 37-year-old recalls a simple act of kindness that still inspires him today.

“I was driving out for lunch one day and I was having a bad day. Someone in the car opposite me opened the door and started walking towards me. I was tired, and assumed he had forgotten his car coupons. Before I could reach for one, he told me he had an extra coupon that he wasn’t going to use.It was only 50 cents, but that act of kindness brightened my week.”

Even though his life was comfortable and his six-figure annual income placed him among the top 5 per cent of Singapore earners in 2009, he felt like “a blank piece of paper”.                         

“I had asked myself then, I could continue to help rich businessmen become richer or choose to make a difference. If I chose the latter, even if I failed, at least I showed that someone cared.” That led him to leave the finance industry in 2010.

He took on a job as an associate lecturer at SIM University until he set up content production firm SD Group Asia in 2013, which generates revenue of about $250,000 a year. At the same time, he also founded a company called eCapsules Online, with the aim of turning it into a social enterprise dealing with online education.

Early last year, he decided to concentrate on eCapsules and invested $400,000 to create “an intuitive interface technology for optimal online learning”.

The goal, he says, is for the portal to export Singapore’s educational expertise to developing countries in the region. It is slated to launch in Singapore next month, and will offer economics-related content for a start, with a subscription fee of $7.70 a month. The lessons will not be structured like regular video lectures, he says, but will be more like movie productions to capture the interest of students.

Mr Soh, who is married with no children, says: “When I first left my old job, I took a 90 per cent pay cut. It took me a while to figure out what direction I wanted to move in after I left the corporate world. “It wasn’t an easy decision.” He adds: “But I want to allocate my prime years to doing something different.”

“I started to juggle part-time work and school when I was 15 by giving tuition and doing odd jobs. My university fees and expenses were partly covered by study loans and scholarships. I come from a broken family. My parents had divorced and we had financial problems. I would volunteer at family service centres in university to help youth at risk because I was a problematic youth myself, but I managed to do well in school and my career.”

Q What does money mean to you?

A lot of people think it’s just a tool, and they don’t love money but the satisfaction money can buy. But money is my friend which I use to make a difference. When I wanted to leave the industry, a lot of my mentors told me I could always make a lot of money first and when I am older and have financial freedom, I can redistribute the money back to society. But I don’t believe in that. I believe in giving my best years, and my money, to a cause.”

Q What are your immediate investment plans?

A I want to make access to quality educational content dirt cheap. Online learning should work most effectively for mature learners. I plan for an effective export of Singapore’s education services to the international market. This will in turn translate into good cash flow to meet the costly production costs of quality and comprehensive education content online.

Q How are you planning for retirement?

A I don’t ever plan to retire. When I chose to embark on the path of being a social entrepreneur, I made a choice to continue to allocate my time, talent and financial resources, if needed, to make a difference across the world, as long as I still have the capacity to do so. Making a difference is not a one-time event.




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