JW Sam is strong in his belief that digital transformation can lead to personal transformation. Armed with this point of view, the CEO of SOCOE has spent the past two years travelling the length and breadth of Sarawak with the aim of encouraging the adoption of a digital outlook. “A big part of technology feasibility is not so much on infrastructure as it is on mindset. One can have the most advanced tech in front of you, but without the right mindset, you won’t be able to use it to its maximum potential.”
His explorations throughout the state have enabled him to witness the power of technology and how it can transform lives. “I have personally witnessed a lady in the interiors of Sarawak, selling her murtabak online,” he states. “She gained enough income during Covid-19 to build herself a concrete house. Imagine if she did not have technology, she would not be able to afford a good basic shelter.”
Tech, he reminds, has become a crucial part of our lives, particularly in this Covid-19 laden era. And Sam sees it as being more than just a tool but an enabler, providing “hope” to many. “In this day and age, if you have a mobile device combined with a creative mind and a hard working spirit, the sky is the limit.”
After spending a considerable amount of time abroad, living in Los Angeles and Auckland, Sam returned to Sarawak in 2017 ready to be at the forefront of the digital revolution in his home state. Already well-versed with start-ups, Sam was aware that Sarawak was poised to embrace the digital revolution. To take advantage of this, in 2018, SOCOE was founded. The company is described as a “social-based technology company providing disruptive technology through wide-scale human-based and interactive-based” online apps. It gives people “friendly access” to digital technology which will in turn connect communities. The result of this is real-time digital connectivity and interactivity.
The company is proudly Sarawakian, armed with the mission to spearhead the digital transformation of the state. The goal is to empower all levels of society to be part of the global digital economy. “Sarawak and her people are primed for it,” he asserts. “They hunger for innovation and change. The forward thinking leadership in Sarawak has also been driving much of the efforts in technology and that change has caused a paradigm shift in the mindset of people across all walks of life.” It helps that Sam’s own view of technology is multifaceted. He likens the technological revolution to a renaissance that will also alter points of view in disciplines like sociology, psychology, finance and politics. After just a year, SOCOE received the Malaysian Technology Excellence Award 2019 by Singapore Business Review, a recognition of SOCOE’s community-based technology solutions. SOCOE is the first company from Sarawak to receive the award which aims to recognise companies that successfully innovate revolutionary IT products and solutions that create impact.
Successful case studies include i-Alerts, Sarawak’s official disaster communication and information app which provides Sarawakians official information during times of disaster. The company has also enabled greater connectivity with services provided by the state’s Ministry of Welfare, Community Wellbeing, Women, Family and Childhood Development. The mobile app enterSarawak was also developed by the company in order to ensure a hassle-free entry into Sarawak. Aside from that, the company has developed apps that aim to aid entrepreneurs. Among them, ePreneurs, which gathers Sarawakian products on a single platform and eWanita that serves as a space for women to cultivate their business as well as their personal lives. eWanita provides access to courses and funding, and comes equipped with a helpline.
eWanita has been referred to as a “pioneering platform,” providing opportunities for women to collaborate online. Inspired by his sisters, all of whom he refers to as leaders in their respective fields, and who have made an impact in the public sphere, Sam is also intent on doing what he can to aid women’s groups. “Seeing them (his sisters) impact so many lives in the public sphere while supporting their own families has given me great inspiration to support local women communities. They say support a woman and you support her entire community.”
To achieve this, SOCOE works closely with the Department of Sarawak Women and Families to train, guide and empower single mothers and women. The company has also guided them on digital branding and identity while also working to improve the supply chain process for e-commerce. Apart from this, SOCOE has collaborated with the department to produce a book entitled Wanita, which captures the untold stories of “womentrepreneurs” in Sarawak.
His goal of promoting technological advancement in the state has taken him to the interiors of Sarawak, giving him the opportunity to experience places he had never been to before. Right now, he finds himself smitten by Kampung Talam in Dalat.
Getting there is no easy feat, literally involving a journey through air, land and water. “I need to travel in a small plane, followed by a two-hour car ride and finally a small ‘sampan’ to get to the village.” It is a “small, magical place,” he describes, where the Tapo ladies pride themselves on the Terendak art form. Unfortunately, the craft is diminishing but younger groups are attempting to revive it by modernising the design. “As part of our corporate social responsibility, we have been assisting them to diversify their business product offerings and connect them to the international market,” he says. “I have great excitement for how this could transform the lives of the people which I hold very dear.” Sam’s family is involved in the construction business but he has chosen to provide infrastructure of a different kind. “I remember a time before pursuing this field, feeling that what I was doing, did not have enough direct engagement and impact on the people, which left me slightly hollow and yearning for something more.”
While he still assists the family business, Sam has been able to establish his own place in the world. “This path is further emphasised by seeing how the technology we have developed in just over two years has impacted so many lives and increased the safety and wellbeing of countless people especially during the recent Covid-19 outbreak,” he states. “All this brings me even greater affirmation on the path I have chosen.” Perhaps, it is because he has always been an independent spirit that he is able to move against the grain, always looking for “a different angle” from others. His inspiration, he says, comes from the Japanese philosophy of Ikigai. “It talks about four main parts to choosing my direction in life,” he explains. “First, you must be good at what you want to do. Second, it must be able to provide value to the people around you. Third, you must enjoy it and lastly, it must be able to sustain you economically. This has been my guide for my business path.”
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