“If you truly want a social issue to be resolved, if you want change, do not give up” – Sébastien Marot, Founder, Friends International

This article is part of Young Entrepreneurs of the DBS-NUS Social Venture Challenge Series 

“If you truly want a social issue to be resolved, if you want change, do not give up. Be passionate about it and do not rest until you have found the ultimate solution.”  – Sébastien Marot, Founder, Friends International.

Sébastien has been working in the social entrepreneurship space for close to 20 years now. He is the founder of Friends Internationala leading international social enterprise and registered non-governmental organization that focuses on children’s empowerment with a mission to build a future where children are safe from all forms of abuse, are able to become productive citizens of their countries and contribute to a more equitable and sustainable world.Sebastien Marot

After studying at the Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Paris, Sébastien worked with the department of French Foreign Affairs and with marketing team for l’Oreal, before being inspired to work with marginalized children and youth. During his travels through Cambodia in 1994, he launched the award-winning Mith Samlanh project in Phnom Penh to address the many issues faced by marginalized children and youth.

From Phnom Penh, he developed the internationally acclaimed social enterprise Friends-International, to provide protection, support and care for marginalized children and youth around the world, using a series of social business models. Some of the awards Sébastien has received for his work in the field of social entrepreneurship include – the Order of Australia for Service to Humanity, the Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship, and the Schwab Foundation Social Entrepreneur of the Year, Asia, 2009.

 Sebastien is the keynote speaker at the DBS-NUS Social Venture Challenge Asia. At the award ceremony to be held on June 6th 2014, he will share his journey of building and scaling up Friends International. “My main objective would be to share some lessons learned and, if possible, encourage the audience to take risks and launch initiatives of their own, not be afraid of making mistakes or even failing. That is the only way to learn and improve – this is especially true whenever you create something new and you have no choice but to experiment, try and learn. I will share some of these past mistakes and explain what I learned from them and how they led me and my team to develop better and more successful solutions for social issues,” says Sebastien.

You can watch the live webcast of the complete event by registering here. Checkout the teaser below:

 Sebastien feels that events such as the DBS-NUS Social Venture Challenge Asia are very important as they create awareness about social ventures, enable dynamic and fruitful exchanges and build the next generation of social entrepreneurs who will shape the future of social entrepreneurship in Asia and beyond.

He says, “I am particularly excited by the diversity of the many Asian countries the social venture challenge taps into. I see Asia as a ‘mother’ continent of social entrepreneurship with all its fantastic examples. The role of the challenge to build even more awareness and help create and intensify a culture for fostering social entrepreneurship. As basic as this role may seem, should not be overlooked or underestimated. I am very fond of the interaction between the academic world and the corporate or ‘practical world’ which I believe creates excellent opportunities to challenge and further develop existing paradigms.”


He had started Friends-International 20 years ago and been involved in social entrepreneurship and has been very active in the social entrepreneurship space since then. He is particularly interested in seeing how the next generation of social entrepreneurs is approaching the social issues that he has been dealing with for such a long time and how the young social entrepreneurs are solving the emerging social issues too. “Sharing my experience with the students and the audience is obviously very special, but what I am looking forward to the most is to meet the 7 finalist teams and understand more about their great ideas and discuss these. This exchange will certainly be very inspiring and will give me a lot of energy,” says Sebastien.

He adds, “My direct experience will resonate possibly only with people working with children or young people. Having said that, the voyage, the processes, some of the lessons learnt will hopefully be part of what the audience will take home. I hope to be able to share the excitement of launching a new project, accepting the risks and possible mistakes, and “just do it” philosophy by following your heart or your instinct.”

On a parting note, Sébastien shares 3 key pillars of success that he feels every social entrepreneurs should be aware of.

The importance of taking risks – more often than not that means going against systems that are currently in place, which can be challenging.

The importance of keeping the social impact of your work as an essential KPI and always assessing the actual social impact, while keeping a good eye on your business model and revenue/profit. At Friends we always start from the social issue, not the pure business opportunity. I believe this is the mark of a true social entrepreneur.

The way forward for social entrepreneurs is through partnership and by thinking global. If you want maximum impact from your idea/project, then working with all the stakeholders is essential – your customers/clients, civil society, government and/or the corporate sector. Multi-partner and multi-disciplinary backgrounds can help in developing successful models that once refined and adjusted can ideally be replicated over and over again, maximizing their positive impact dramatically.

You can hear Sébastien’s keynote speech at the DBS-NUS Social Venture Challenge finale to be held on June 6th 2014 via a live webcast. Register here. checkout the teaser to the finale of the challenge here. 

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