Written by Jack Seaberry
Sitting at a desk, thick beard bobbing slightly as he speaks with powerful prose. A bandana ties back his long hair. Around him art decorates the walls of the office. Beyond the office there are pinned up newspaper articles from his youth, back before the media blackout. Before his strategy was amended to maximize his productivity. He speaks without prompting, digging deep into a repository of knowledge, eyes occasionally glazed as he recounts the stories of how he got here.
A man who was able to become the youngest software engineer. A man who rose to the top of the DJ industry in Cambodia. A man who worked as a model. A man who gave all this up so that he could pursue a career in social work. Raj Ridvan Singh, known to his colleagues and friends as Teacher Raj, is an iconic figure here in Malaysia.
He drives to work in a sports car, or a vintage car, having come from his first home, where he lives with his wife and two children. A millionaire who doesn’t want to boast, who has made his millions as an education revolutionary. He revels in his humble start as a Social Activist in the harsh conditions of early 2000’s Cambodia, having less than RM 1 in his pocket for years. Teacher Raj continues to feel bashful regarding his achievements, despite the many people he’s taught to pull themselves out of poverty. But he knows that it’s important to live as an example. Too many people think that the moment you go into the socially conscious sector you need to start living out of a cardboard box in a back alley, giving all you get to charity. Too many people are turned away from socially conscious work because they worry they’ll be poor for the remainder of their lives, as if greed is the only way to succeed. Teacher Raj knows this isn’t the case. He works hard for the sake of his country, Malaysia, and enjoys the benefits that he’s reaped through his labour.
SOLS 24/7, the NGO that Teacher Raj set up together with his father and brother, has gone from tiny hand-built shelters in the jungle to having community centers across the country. SOLS has constantly expanded under Teacher Raj’s watchful eye, and now operates in a diverse range of fields, including solar power, mental health, technology recycling, and of course, education. These began as not-for-profit ventures, but soon social enterprises were also established. Teacher Raj has been there every step of the way. Having built schools out of spare planks and attap leafs, having written proposal after proposal, seeking for the funding the NGO was once desperate for.
Throughout his campaign to provide quality education for Malaysians, Teacher Raj has blended two worlds that many people consider to be in economic opposition to one another. Those are the worlds of entrepreneurship and social conscience. Using his life as an example, Teacher Raj demonstrates how you can help others, and enjoy the benefits of this help with a clear conscience. He believes this is the true meaning of being a Real Social Entrepreneur.
Teacher Raj has never stopped in his quest to improve the living standards for all Malaysians. He continues to find new and improved strategies to deliver the ultimate resource to all citizens here, information. Wistfully he remembers the households he visited as a child. The impoverished people there who demonstrated a deeper understanding of hospitality than any of the more affluent individuals he rubbed shoulders with.
He speaks as an idyllic strategist. The lessons he’s accumulated each having tweaked his approach into an iterative effort, ongoing, and ever shifting. An inventor and tinkerer at heart, Teacher Raj never seems satisfied with what he’s already produced, and continues to question himself in his quest to improve everything that surrounds him.