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Serena Kao aims to empower less privileged

Go Purpose's founder combines impacting investing and venture philanthropy.

Some may baulk at the idea of visiting and sweating it out in a rural village in China. But to Serena Kao, it is an opportunity for her to stir interest in potential investors and raise funds for community projects.

This is just all in a day’s work for the founder of Go Purpose. Set up in 2013, it is a social network incubator and funding platform that raises funds for social-enterprise start-ups and small businesses. Kao, who personally conducts due diligence to ascertain the viability of potential projects, says: “I believe in bridging the gap between the rich and the poor. In order to do so, we need to educate and empower the less fortunate and less privileged – instead of waiting for someone to give you fish, you have skills to bring food to your own table, and do so with dignity. It gives meaning and purpose to our lives, and is also good for our economy.”

Kao realised early in her life how a seemingly small action had such an impact on another’s life. When she was 11 years old, she and a friend went door to door to sell Christmas cards drawn by the physically disabled. “I sold hundreds of cards and one day after Christmas, I received several notes from the artists that read, ‘Thank you for saving our lives! Without the money given, we would not be able to survive!’

“I didn’t have a lot of money to save lives but the time spent after school doing things like that meant a lot more to me than going out to play.”

She began raising funds for World Vision and the National Kidney Foundation, and even gathered friends to co-sponsor a young child in the Philippines and a baby in India.

“Knowing that you have done something to transform someone’s future for the better is worth all the effort.”

It was her father’s charity efforts that inspired her to work towards developing a more sustainable humanitarian landscape. Her father is well-known businessman and philanthropist Kao Shin Ping. Recognising her passion for philanthropic work, he decided to let her manage San Teh Foundation, a private charity that gives from the family endowment and focuses on providing education and medical aid in Singapore, China and Taiwan. It also gives grants and bursaries to needy children.

But, unlike San Teh Foundation, Go Purpose does not function as a charity. It supports projects with mentorship and resources, with the ultimate goal of getting them to eventually run independently. Past projects include training former sex-trafficked women in Cambodia, and helping Atlanta’s black community in the US raise funds to purchase computers for students.

Plans are under way to implement water sanitation and nutrition programmes in rural China.

“Go Purpose combines impact investing and venture philanthropy. I wanted to solve immediate issues of crowdfunding but my ultimate goal is to empower people and to move towards a sustainable working model. It is a way for donors and investors to give back, while knowing how their every dollar impacts others.

“Even though some changes may take a longer time to come to fruition, knowing that you have done something to transform someone’s future for the better is worth all the effort. After all, I am doing (all these) out of  passion and love.”

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