Text by Johann Loh
Photo by Gone Adventurin’
Somewhere in Cambodia, an ageing woman lifts the edge of a carpet and begins to roll it. A slow, dusty, repetitive process – or it would be, if not for her son, Kimchean Toth, who at 16 years of age invented a machine to help his mother roll carpets faster. Though he clearly possessed creativity and a sense of innovation, this young Cambodian, at the time, had no formal education. Without an intervention, these traits would have gone undeveloped, potentially squandered. Instead, Kimchean, now in his final year of his engineering course, attends a university in Phnom Penh. As one of their first projects in Cambodia, Gone Adventurin’ had raised scholarship funds for Kimchean to attend university.
A social enterprise in Singapore based out of The HUB, Gone Adventurin’ bridges the gap between companies, communities, and people in order to tackle important social and environmental challenges in Asia. They create and tell inspiring stories, helping companies and brands incorporate social responsibility into their business model. We interviewed co-founder Ashwin Subramaniam and started by asking him to walk us through how exactly Gone Adventurin’ worked:
“When a company approaches us with a project we create workshops and research to help them create a sustainability strategy and focus areas. We call this the INCUBATE stage. Then we take either employees or customers from the company on an immersive journey to better understand social or environmental issues on the ground. We call this the ACTIVATE stage. Finally we document the journey to create documentary-style videos or films to amplify the impact. We call this our AMPLIFY stage. So through these 3 stages we enable the company to create business and social / environmental value out of sustainability.”
Gone Adventurin’ was started in 2011 with three co-founders – Ashwin, Laura Allen, and Jacqui Hocking. Ashwin was working in a fairly lucrative banking career, while Laura was working on brand management for a Vietnamese company. Meanwhile, Jacqui was a creative director at an Australian production studio. Ashwin and Laura first met during university at an AIESEC international conference, and Ashwin and Jacqui were introduced through a common friend. But the three of them really first came together during their first project, a 400km bike race through which they were trying to raise funds for a Cambodian social enterprise. Through this first project, they realised the potential for change through experiences and storytelling. Ashwin, Laura and Jacqui quit their jobs, moved to Singapore, and started Gone Adventurin’.
Choosing to shift from a corporate job into creating a startup could not have been an easy decision – even more so for a social enterprise, which even today remains an unconventional career path. Indeed, for Ashwin, his biggest challenge was the fear itself, of losing not only time, but also career and financial stability. Yet looking back, he realises that working full-time in Gone Adventurin’ actually gave him more financial stability and better control over the direction in which he is headed. But more than that, he feels that his purpose in life is to create a compassionate, happy and sustainable world, and Gone Adventurin’ acts as a platform that enables him to fulfil his purpose every day. For Ashwin, Laura and Jacqui, Gone Adventurin’ is the intersection of their individual desires to create more collaboration and positive impact in this world by leveraging the power of business and stories.
Today, Gone Adventurin’ has worked with companies such as Unilever, Standard Chartered, and Google, and their portfolio includes locations across South-East Asia, from Cambodia and Vietnam, to Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. But there remains much in the world left to change and improve. In particular, Ashwin is increasingly interested in and concerned about sustainable consumption: “Sustainable consumption is an issue that I am getting interested in and the more I read about it the more worried but yet optimistic I get.” He notes that there are many shortages that are lurking around in the world today, such as a shortage of seafood, or energy shortages, or of falling forest cover. However, he remains optimistic that even individuals can help prevent and push such shortages back by buying products or using resources carefully and mindfully. He enthusiastically quotes Ghandi: “The world has enough for our needs but not enough for our greeds.”
An odd sentiment, given that multinational companies are typically seen as drivers of consumerism and indeed, over-consumption. But Ashwin notes that Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) in companies is mostly a well-intentioned exercise. Issues arise mostly when the CSR is not connected to the business model of the company, causing a loss of interest and funding. The biggest barrier, then, is in making the process of doing good a core part of the business. In the ideal world Ashwin envisions, companies wouldn’t need CSR departments, as they would be intrinsically sustainable in their local communities.
Like many of the social enterprise’s other objectives, this is perhaps a lofty vision. But until they fulfil their mission, Ashwin and his team will continue to be Gone, Adventurin’.
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