By Sandhya Ramachandran
What do you get when you combine social innovation and data analytics? According to Yoann Fol, you get to “create good things.” The social entrepreneur, data scientist, futurist, optimist and humanist created Dathappy to merge these two fields to shape tech for good and fight against technological unemployment.
Curiouser and curiouser!
One does not often hear these two words — data and social empowerment– in the same breath. And so, we decided to connect with Yoann on a virtual tête-à-tête to understand what drove him to marry these two universes and create Dathappy.
“I am deeply engaged to shape the tech for good that will be relevant to our communities,” Yoann begins. “In the current market, it was not possible to combine social innovation with data analytics on a professional level. The only way to do that was to create it on my own. So, I decided to move forward and create this opportunity by myself.”
The early days
While the interest in this intersection of society and technology began young for Yoann, it took some time for him to discover his true calling. He pursued a bachelor’s degree from the Université Lumière Lyon 2 that provided a perfect curriculum to learn digital humanities, equipping him with tech skills, teaching him statistical analysis and introducing him to sociology. Then he began to work in the fields of big data, advanced analytics and machine learning. While working with a contractor in Lyon, France, Yoann got the opportunity to move to Singapore on a project. “It was not planned! But travelling to Singapore offered me an opportunity to visit almost all the countries in Southeast Asia and it was really an eye opener! I saw the world of difference that existed between the two ecosystems. And Western culture was rapidly expanding in these places replacing traditional habits. This lead to launching Dathappy with a focus on social initiatives,” he explains.
Being in Singapore, it was almost an obvious and easy choice to startup here. Yoann reveals, “Singapore has a very interesting startup ecosystem and is a great place to set up a company. There are many incubators and accelerators for support. You have a huge network of people with similar mindsets open to discussion, giving advice or even collaborating on the long term. It’s already a vibrant place and if they continue this way, it will be clearly one of the top places for startups.”
Dathappy offers Data and Digital consultancy to purpose-driven organizations while empowering individuals to make them ready for the skills of the future. But it has been a tough uphill road. Yoann elaborates, “We began with only one part of the business model that we have now — consulting. Our goal was to work with large cooperates and also small nonprofits. But, if you are not Singaporean and part of the local scene, it is difficult to connect with the main players here. You need a lot of connection with different organizations. It has been two years since I began networking. But, it clearly takes time to connect with the different ecosystems. So, there was no magic. Even if you have a good idea and a lot of people are backing it, sometimes you need time for adoption, awareness and to build the relevant connections.”
Data for social good
Even the difficulties did not deter him from pursuing his passion. “Data gives us wonderful tools to tell stories to have an impact and innovate. Many social organizations are, however, still 20 years behind in their use of technology. But if you combine their social impact with the new technologies, you can really drive the change. This is my vision and we are currently focusing on enabling NGO workers, charities and social sector organizations,” Yoann shares.
Working on social good is usually challenging and Yoann agrees, “When you talk to people working in the social sector, you see that they’re really focused on the social impact and sometimes have difficulty to identify what they can do better with technology and data analytics. If you invest in data analytics now, sure you are losing a part of the money for your current operations. But, it will generate value for you in the future much bigger than what you have now.” Through Dathappy’s efforts, Yoann and his team hope that they can help social sector to take a step back and view this global picture of what they want to achieve. Dathappy also offers data strategy, tech operationalization and training for businesses in Singapore and the world-over.
Be the change you want to see
Based on his own experience, Yoann strongly feels that the time is right for more millennials to enter the startup world. “If you want to see some change you have to be the example. There is no losing in this journey. It’s always winning or learning. And nowadays, if you try to initiate new ideas, especially around social or environmental topics, you will find support, sponsors, mentors and friends to discuss and work with. And I think it’s a very good time to try things because the community is ready to accept you and your entrepreneurship mindset,” he explains.
But, according to Yoann, support is crucial. “If you feel supported you can try whatever you want. Even if my parents are thousands of kilometers away, we have a connection. Whatever I do, I have their support. When I decided to start on this entrepreneurial journey, they were a huge support. They also gave me a small amount of money to kick-start my startup. And just this support made me ready to try something I knew nothing about.”
An entrepreneur without borders
Yoann considers himself an entrepreneur without borders. “I’m in Cambodia now. In a few days that will be Vietnam then Taiwan and Hong Kong. There is no need for borders when you have an entrepreneurial mindset. We are more and more connected in today’s world. I don’t envision myself staying in the same place for more than a month. I travel a lot and for different reasons to meet new people, develop my business or new initiatives, and to connect with a different ecosystem. Dathappy is incorporated in Singapore but we have worked on projects in France and probably working on some in the US soon. We have an online community for learners to learn while working on real-life projects. We don’t have any borders!” he laughs.
“If we open our mind and heart, we will be able to solve the Sustainable Development Goals with the best innovations for our communities while living a life full of experiences,” he adds.