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Making money while doing good – The 4th Asian Women Social Enterprise Confernce

From November 22nd to 24th, our Founder – Hong – has attended the Asian Social Enterprise Network conference in Bangkok, Thailand. Flowing is sharing from Nicky, one of workshop’s participants from Australia.

BANGKOK — It was an unusual business conference.  No one talked of maximizing profits, and there were no dark-suited men among the delegates. Instead the women who gathered in Bangkok for a three-day Asian Women Social Entrepreneurs Network Conference in late November are part of a growing business sector in Southeast Asia — one which offers an alternative vision to conventional notions of a successful business.

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Chitpong Kittinaradorn of Change Fusion, an international business consultancy, said there is no globally agreed legal definition of a social enterprise, but the basic principle is that it “combines positive social or environmental impact with financial sustainability.”

Unlike charities or traditional nonprofit organizations, social enterprises are usually designed to make profits that can then be reinvested to promote social causes.
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The sector offers potential investors the opportunity to be involved in “impact funding,” or investments that offer returns while also generating measurable social or environmental benefits.

One Vietnamese delegate, Tang Duyen Hong, operates projects that provide employment for struggling single mothers. “Most of the people we work with are teenagers who had unplanned pregnancies or have been victims of domestic violence. We run a safe house and train them in cooking and sewing,” she said, sporting a scarlet dress made by a trainee in the program.

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Many of the projects generate income to provide further social support and services. For example, she noted: “Some of the single mothers also help facilitate a program we run in which volunteers give low-cost English lessons to children in buildings where there are lots of families living so the children can attend classes cheaply and safely.”

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Other delegates at the Bangkok gathering exhibited distinctly less glamorous but potentially life-changing products. Leang Chanthy, from the Cambodian Agricultural Value Chain Program, showed off her audio-based rat-catching device, developed to reduce the rodent population in agricultural communities. Rats are blamed for consuming 5-10% of Asia’s annual rice crop — “an amount which could feed 200 million people,” according to the International Rice Research Institute.

Focus on Japan

Sayaka Watanabe, the founder of re:terra, a Tokyo-based social enterprise web portal, said that interest in social enterprises in Japan had grown in response to the series of big natural disasters that had hit the nation.

“Especially after [the Tohoku earthquake of] March 11, 2011, the Japanese government and general citizens looked to cultural and natural resources to revitalize rural communities,” she said.”[The disaster] changed citizens’ hearts and that changed society.”

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By Nicky on Nikkei Asian Review
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