An online magazine of news and opinions from the Asia New Zealand Foundation

Green revolution led by new generation of S.E. Asian entrepreneurs

Southeast Asia is not always associated with environmentally friendly business practice, but led by a new generation of young entrepreneurs with concern for the planet, things are starting to change, and two Leadership Network members are playing their part.

A group of people standing in a line in front of a banner reading Generation Gr3en

Network member Rachel Espejo has helped spearhead a regional conference to connect young, business-savvy greenies and help them get their green business ideas off the ground.

Named GenerationGR3EN, the Brunei-based event was organised by AGREA – an agricultural social enterprise in the Philippines that Rachel works for – together with the US Embassy in Brunei.

The conference had a specific focus on eco-tourism, and 50 delegates with passion and the seed of a business idea were selected to take part in the programme, which included speakers, field trips and a “green business pitch” challenge.

The green business pitch challenge saw teams competing to be selected as one of two teams that would take part in an immersion programme with AGREA in the Philippines.

Rachael describes the immersion programme, which has recently concluded, as an "incredibly intense but special time."

The selected delegates took part in workshops on various topics - from branding to negotiation.

"These were run by some of the best people in the business and normally you would pay a truckload to hear from experts of their calibre,” Rachael says.

The programme ended with the delegates re-presenting their green business idea pitches. The improvement since they pitched their ideas at GenerationGR3EN two months earlier was astounding, Rachael says.

Rachel invited fellow network member Fiona Natusch to be a mentor at GenerationGR3EN, just one of several Asia New Zealand Foundation connections at the event.

Fiona works in Myanmar for Proximity Designs, a social enterprise that provides the country’s smallholder farmers with agricultural products and services that are affordable and sustainable. She says she has benefitted from mentors throughout her career, and it was a rewarding challenge to play the part for others.

“It was great to be surrounded by younger leaders from across ASEAN, all passionate about the environment.”

Rachel and Fiona agree the ASEAN region has amazing diversity and amazing potential, from its sublime beaches to lush rainforest to rural hinterlands; however, there are also issues like overpopulation and exploitation of the environment and people, they say.

"Governments are often slow to act, put up too much red tape or don't prioritise environmental protection,” Rachel says.

 A man indicating with his hand while Fiona Natusch takes notes in a book, with a solar panel in the foreground

However, the private sector is increasingly picking up the slack, and both Fiona and Rachael believe many Kiwis would be surprised by the innovative businesses starting up in the region that have social and environmental responsibility at their heart.

In comparison to New Zealand, there is greater momentum in ASEAN for young career starters to be entrepreneurs and not just employees, Rachel says.

“The wealth of knowledge, innovation and entrepreneurial minds continues to blow me away.”

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15 May 2017