[sponsored] Political crises, social upheaval, environmental disasters and the global health emergency of a generation: 2020 has seen a stream of radical developments.

In the face of shifting geopolitical landscapes and rapid urban population growth across Asia, our cities will be at the forefront of dealing with the social and economic impacts of Covid, as we collectively lurch into our “new normal.”

Photo: Nick van den Berg/Unplash.

One of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals is to “make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.”

With urbanisation happening at an increasing pace, this goal is becoming more critical every year. By 2050, almost 70 per cent of the global population will live in cities – up from 55 per cent today. This projection means an additional 2.5 billion people in urban areas within three decades, with 90 per cent of this increase in Asia and Africa.  

This pace of urbanisation is leading to unplanned sprawl, increased pollution and overcrowding, while also putting immense strain on services such as sanitation, water supply and transport. Cities are currently responsible for 75 per cent of global carbon emissions while taking up just 3 per cent of the Earth’s land.

From November 19-21, the 13th Social Enterprise Summit (SES) brings together over 70 local and international speakers for 20 sessions under the theme “new normal, collective power.”

social enterprise summit

During this flagship online international symposium, businesspeople, social innovators, policymakers, academics and young people will explore and discuss solutions in areas including “Community Empowerment”; “Digital Social Innovation”; “Sustainability and Business” and “Education Innovation.” 

Rebecca Choy Yung chairs the SES Organising Committee. “The pandemic is affecting people around the world, bringing attention to health and changing the way people work, study, commute and socialise,” she tells HKFP. “When the world is going through a turbulent time like 2020, collective power is called for, from all members of our society; to gather forces from civil society, businesses, policymakers and academia through dialogues and actions to co-create a new normal ahead.”

Governments, social sectors, businesses and individuals are all finding different ways to navigate the pandemic. In the context of the ‘new normal’, Asia’s young entrepreneurs have a particularly vital role to play in promoting sustainable urban development and making cities more resilient. 

SES 2019.
SES 2019.

On Saturday, November 21, SES will curate an online session entitled “Asia Youth Entrepreneurship Exchange: New Urban Resilience – How Might We Make Future Cities Inclusive, Safe, and Sustainable?” 

The Exchange brings together 12 social entrepreneurs from Hong Kong and other major cities in Asia. They will share inspiring personal stories of empowering communities, reducing urban waste, and building inclusive economies. 

The session opens with a moderated panel discussion between six renowned social innovators from across Asia. This is followed by the “Dialogue with Youth Innovators in Asia”, where six social entrepreneurs in Hong Kong will join the guests to share their stories with participants in breakout groups.

Among the diverse lineup of speakers are Anya Lim, co-founder and managing director of Anthill Fabric Gallery in the Philippines, and David Christian, founder and CEO of Evo & Co in Indonesia. 

Anya Lim.
Anya Lim.

Cebu-based Anthill is a social and cultural enterprise that promotes traditional fabric weaving to create sustainable livelihoods for rural Filipinos.

Anthill works with 750 artisans, 80 per cent of whom are women, to produce contemporary textile designs that celebrate traditional tribal patterns. Anthill’s successful business model mixes e-commerce, B2C, B2B and events. The company pays its workers 33 per cent above the daily minimum wage, while also upcycling hundreds of kilos of waste fabric each year to reduce landfill.

Lim, who co-founded Anthill with her mother, explains to HKFP that she was surrounded by indigenous communities and craft villages early in her childhood. “Growing up, I noticed that there was a gap in cultural transmission between the elderly and the young. Young people had a poor sense of identity and did not see the value in learning the craft and weaving tradition, as it no longer put food on the table,” she says. 

Anthill Fabric Gallery
Photo: ANTHILL Fabric Gallery/Facebook.

“We saw the lack of market demand and market access and long-term economic opportunities as a deterrent to the preservation of our culture and the success of the local textile industry. From there, we were committed to growing a movement of Filipinos who will wear their tribe with pride.”

While Lim explains that Covid has hit Anthill’s revenue “tremendously,” she remains optimistic about the future. “I would like to say the pandemic will pave the way for more consciousness and collaboration in the social innovation space,” she says. “We will take a shift with much focus on sustainability, and take it seriously.”

These sentiments are shared by David Christian of Jakarta-based start-up Evo & Co, which aims to tackle the pressing issue of plastic pollution with a range of sustainable alternatives.

Christian tells HKFP his company, which heads three brands, has seen a significant drop in business this year. But he feels the pandemic will make people “rethink the lifestyle that we had before,” and inspire “more social innovation as a result.”

David Christian.
David Christian.

Over 160 million Indonesians have no regular access to home waste collection, and Indonesia produces around 6.8 million tonnes of plastic waste each year, according to a 2017 survey by the Indonesia National Plastic Action Partnership. In April this year, the country revealed a radical action plan to end plastic pollution in the country by 2040. However, only 10 per cent of Indonesia’s plastic waste is currently recycled.

“The first step to change is to be aware of the problem,” says Christian. “When I came back to Indonesia after four years of living in Canada, I was quite shocked at how bad the pollution is in Jakarta, and I became more aware of the environmental issues that we are facing. I wanted to do something to address the problem, and decided to make unique products to raise awareness.”

Evo & Co produces award-winning seaweed-based packaging that dissolves in warm water, as well as edible “Ello Jello” cups, which offer a colourful alternative to disposable plastic. Christian tells HKFP that, in 2019 alone, the company replaced 15,143,625 individual pieces of plastic.

Ello Jello Evo & Co
Photo: Evo & Co.

The company partners with Indonesian seaweed farmers to boost livelihoods and improve the ocean environment. “I choose seaweed as the main material because Indonesia is one of the biggest seaweed producers, and seaweed is very sustainable,” explains Christian.

Now, through its Rethink campaign, Evo & Co is also seeking to create a collaborative movement between individuals, communities and government to draw attention to environmental issues.

“We believe that we cannot solve these issues alone; therefore, we need to come together and to bring as many as solutions together,” says Christian. “And the first thing that we need to do is rethink the way we currently do things.”

If there has ever been a time for social entrepreneurship, it is in our new normal. And, as Hong Kong prepares to lose many of its traditional crafts in the coming generation, Lim says young Hongkongers can learn from businesses that elevate cultural value alongside commercial value. 

“We take pride in the replicability of our business model – I think that should be the goal of every social enterprise,” she says. “I would also advise young entrepreneurs in Hong Kong to invest in growing a community of supporters among your customers, as they will become your advocates and champions.”

The SES runs from November 19-21 and is free for all to enter. Sign up today and secure your online seat now. 

Event: Social Enterprise Summit 2020: International Symposium
Theme: new normal · collective power
Date: Nov 19–21, 2020
Format: Online Registration

Guest contributors for Hong Kong Free Press.