Kiwi experience for
S.E Asian social entrepreneurs

Eight leading social entrepreneurs from Southeast Asia spent a week in NZ learning about this country and engaging with the NZ social enterprise scene, including attending the Social Enterprise World Forum in Christchurch.

Watch a slideshow of images from the Social Enterprise World Forum and the Social Enterprise Hui

The group was in New Zealand as part of the Foundation’s ASEAN Young Business Leaders Initiative (ASEAN YBLI), which looks to facilitate trade and build connections between the next generation of business leaders in Southeast Asia and New Zealand.

Although all working in the social enterprise space, the eight entrepreneurs’ ventures span a wide range of industries – from producing locally sourced artisanal food products, handbags and household items like soaps and hand creams all the way through to working with farmers to develop more efficient farming equipment, upskilling disadvantaged and disabled youths and equipping villages in remote areas with skills to engage in tourism.

The visit was timed to coincide with the Social Enterprise World Forum in Christchurch, an event that attracted 1500 people from across the globe dedicated to creating a more sustainable and equitable future. At the forum, two of the group, Helianti ‘Heli’ Hilman and Phyu Hninn Nyein, presented at two of the plenary sessions.

During the forum, the Foundation held a satellite workshop, Farming for the Future, where five of the visiting YBLIs and four Leadership Network members spoke about their experiences running agricultural-focused social enterprises in Southeast Asia. 

"Farming for the Future was the only Asia-focused event of the Social Enterprise World Forum," says YBLI programme manager Adam McConnochie. "It gave participants a chance to understand the problems social entrepreneurs in Southeast Asia are solving and to better engage with the challenges in the region."

Woman with ANZF top on with back to camera

Barbara Defensor: “One of the things that I appreciated the most was the effort to create genuine connections and relationships among the attendees that will not end with the visit."

Following the forum, the group travelled to Akaroa where they took part in the Foundation’s Social Enterprise Hui, a smaller, more focused event limited to the group and members of the Foundation's Leadership Network.

The hui provided the entrepreneurs with a chance to share their thoughts and get feedback from members of the Foundation’s Leadership Network. The Leadership Network members themselves got to learn about social enterprises from a Southeast Asian perspective.

Adam says, “They [Leadership Network members] got to hear from people who have chosen to largely dispense with traditional business models and instead develop successful businesses that are socially conscious rather than simply about turning a profit."

Staying in Akaroa gave the entrepreneurs a taste of Kiwi culture – quite literally. The hui was held at an historic boatshed where the participants got to have the quintessential kiwi lunch of fish and chips while sitting on a pier overlooking the beautiful Akaroa Harbour.

“…New Zealand is simply an amazingly beautiful country!” said Barbara 'Bambi' Defensor, who is COO of environmentally-friendly home and personal care products company Messy Bessy. “The breath-taking views of many of its scenic spots were often overwhelming. I realise now how little I knew of the country prior to the visit…”

She expects the connections she made in New Zealand will be lasting.

“One of the things that I appreciated the most was the effort to create genuine connections and relationships among the attendees that will not end with the visit.

“There will definitely be a long-term value created by this programme both for New Zealand and the Southeast Asia region.”

Four people sitting at a lunch table

The hui provided an opportunity for the social entrepreneurs to share their ideas with members of the Foundation's Leadership Network

As well as the trip being about building and strengthening connections in the region, there was also value in challenging stereotypes Kiwis might have of Southeast Asia, Adam says.

“One of the group, Dissa Ahdanisa, is 27 and wears a hijab. Some Kiwis would have certain assumptions about what this might mean. To learn that Dissa runs a large social enterprise in Indonesia that employs 35 hearing-impaired people is likely to be eye-opening for those folk.”

There is also great value in learning from those in Southeast Asia, he says. “What was most striking about the group – compared to their equivalents in New Zealand – is the scale at which they are operating.

"The majority of the group are running multi-million dollar business that impact significant numbers of people. One of them, Pai, works with 700 villages across Thailand. With a few exceptions, this sort of scale is not present in New Zealand currently."

The week-long visit also included a roundtable with the Southeast Asia Ambassadors and High Commissioners, briefings from Akina, New Zealand’s leading social enterprise support organisation, a site-visit to leading ethical business the Wellington Chocolate Factory and business matching with relevant business, such as Trade Aid, Co-ed Coffee, Dine and a host of others.

The visiting group's time in New Zealand concluded back in Wellington where the Foundation held an Asia After Five networking event at which three of the group spoke about their social enterprises and fielded questions from the room.

Since 2012, the ASEAN Young Business Leaders Initiative has brought 80 entrepreneurs and business leaders from Southeast Asia to New Zealand, building business connections and facilitating trade links. The initiative also sends New Zealand entrepreneurs to participate in sector-specific programmes in Southeast Asia.