By Beatrice Loh
The booming economy of the Asian region has brought with it many opportunities. Standards of living are rising across Asia, but economic growth has resulted in wider income gaps, with many of society’s marginalized falling behind. A new crop of entrepreneurs is using their business acumen to improve the lives of the less privileged in their home countries.
Here is a list of 7 young entrepreneurs with companies targeting social issues:
- Khalida Brohi, 25
Pakistani Khalida Brohi is the founder of Sughar, a nonprofit organization empowering women in 23 rural villages in her country.
When she was 16, Khalida witnessed the honor killing of a friend who had married someone she loved instead of a family-approved choice. She started Sughar to provide socio-economic opportunities and empowerment to women by giving them training and resources. Sughar also strategically engages men in these rural villages by creating peer-to-peer education platforms, trainings for men and even cricket tournaments to bring them together.
Through a six-month course, women gain business skills and learn to turn traditional embroidery into salable fashion products. Graduates are then offered small loans to start businesses and help connecting to markets.
- Ajaita Shah, 30
Ajaita Shah is the founder of India-based Frontier Markets, a company that brings clean energy to poor families.
Although solutions for deadly cooking and lighting practices exist, many in rural India still struggle with the problem that kills over 2 million people annually. The issue lies not with the lack of a solution but in the lack of education and distribution channels. Frontier Markets targets both issues – Shah trains locals to educate and sell to rural households.
As of 2014, Frontier Markets has succeeded in training over 125 people and making them entrepreneurs in their own right. The company has also sold 10,000 solar solutions to date.
- Bijaksana Junerosano, 33
Bijaksana Junerosano started Greeneration Indonesia (GI) in 2005 whilst he was still a university student. The social enterprise promotes an eco-friendly lifestyle through a variety of products and programs.
Junerosano discovered a huge pollution problem in Bandung – the average Indonesian throws away 700 plastic bags a year. Feeling compelled to tackle the issue, he researched reusable bags and designed a line of small, zip-up bags to fit in a pocket or handbag, baGoes. He now produces 15,000 bags a month, and has sold over 300,000.
GI is looking beyond just the production of merchandise. The company has started Waste4Change, a business unit that focuses on consultation, research and management of waste.
- Sangay Rinchen, 32
Bhutanese Sangay Rinchen is the co-founder and marketing director of Dazin, a social enterprise with the mission of eliminating household air pollution from cooking fuel usage. Dazin provides both sustainable fuel and cookstoves for households in Bhutan to save lives, reduce carbon emissions and help people out of poverty.
A former employee in Bhutan’s Ministry of Agriculture and Forests, Sangay quit his job because he was passionate about creating jobs for educated youth in his country. Dazin’s operation model reflects that – apart from massive environmental and health impacts that include the reduction of black carbon emissions and the elimination of smoke-related deaths, the model creates many jobs.
Sangay believes that agriculture and farming is a tool to shape society. He is also the founder of Happy Green Cooperatives, which Dazin operates under, a grassroots movement committed to serving the needs of Bhutanese farmers and youths.
- Anya Lim, 31
Filipino Anya Lim founded Alternative Nest and Trading Hub for Little Livelihood Seekers, better known as the Anthill Fabric Gallery, together with her mother in 2010. The Cebu-based social enterprise creates partnerships with local communities in fabric weaving and handicrafts.
Having been exposed to social work from a young age because of her mother’s background as a pioneer of the Jesuit Volunteer Group, Anya was drawn to working with communities in the field, especially indigenous ones. She left her corporate job in a multinational corporation and volunteered in several organizations, including Unicef Philippines and World Vision. She later pooled her strengths and resources with her mother to start Anthill Fabric Gallery.
From a purely business perspective, Anthill’s function is as an intermediary between the weaving communities to the designers and the market. However, the social enterprise does so much more – Anthill touches on the development aspect by letting communities realize their full potential through instilling a sense of pride in their crafts, introducing product innovation, and heralding business and financial literacy. Anthill is presently partnering with three communities: the Abra Weaving Community, the Daraghuyan Tribe in Bukidnon, and the Handcrafters of Mary Enterprise in Tisa, Lorega and in Toledo City.
- John Tay, Justine Lee, Lim Jing Ying, 24
Singaporeans John Tay, Justine Lee, Lim Jing Ying founded Soüle, a flip-flop business with a social mission – a portion of each sale of a Soüle product goes to initiatives for children living under the poverty line and survivors of natural disasters.
The trio is now making waves with the new service their company is offering: corporate social responsibility consulting. Their clients include large multinationals like electronics giant Samsung and Japan’s Meiji Dairies Corp. Chinese corporations like clothing maker Shanghai Huaxiang, as well as Singaporean companies, have also supported their new venture.
“Multinationals … are not content with just giving away money. They want to be more involved in doing the social work with the charities and, if possible, use their products to benefit the needy,” Tay said in an interview with AsiaOne. The deep pockets of countries with such high profiles tied with corporate social responsibility schemes proposed by the three entrepreneurs mean a greater positive impact on the underprivileged. The increase in profits for Soüle through this service also means that the company’s social work can remain sustainable for a long time to come.
- Nasreen Sheikh, 24
Nepalese Nasreen Sheikh is the founder of Local Women’s Handicrafts (LWH), a fair trade sewing collective based out of her country’s capital, Kathmandu. The social enterprise focuses on the empowerment and education of women with the intent to change social and cultural norms in Nepal.
With the guidance and support of her brother, Nasreen started designing and selling bags and accessories from a young age. When she was only 17, she rented a small space outside Thamel, Kathmandu’s tourist-heavy area, and started LWH. Many of the women working in the collective are challenged by physical disability, come from abusive homes, are fleeing extreme poverty or are just looking to educate themselves so they can advance in life. All of these women have one thing in common – they want to be independent. However, the company is not yet financially stable enough to employ all the women who come to Nasreen for help.
“It makes me sad to turn-away women who are in need of work” she said in an interview with Forbes, “I hope someday I won’t have to.”