Learnings From Laos; Connection & Collaboration For Social Impact
Few people realise the depth of Australia’s relationship with the picturesque lush jungle nation of Laos, a small country nestled in foothills between Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Myanmar and China in Southeast Asia. The country is officially recognised as a ‘least developed nation’, and as one of the regions’ poorest countries. Despite the wealth disparity between the two countries, Laos is of great significance to Australia, and vice versa. In fact, the Australian Chamber of Commerce was the first international chamber of commerce to be established in the tiny land-locked nation.
When we think about social impact, there’s few better places in the region that Australia has had such a strong and supportive role in boosting the people and economy. The needs of being a least developed nation, and the opportunities that Australia has helped to pioneer through its aid program and commerce, are an interesting departure point of this article series: ‘Australia now: Youth Making an Impact in ASEAN’.
Through this series, we’re seeking to bring you the freshest insights and coverage of the Youth Entrepreneurs & Leaders Speaker Series, an initiative funded and supported by the Australian Government, curated and designed by Australian social enterprise Social Good Outpost.
If you’re joining us now for the first time, Australia now aims to showcase and connect future innovators, leaders, thinkers, creators and social changemakers across Southeast Asia – and one of this year’s core themes is youth.
What’s Social Good Outpost, a women-led graphic and web design agency, got to do with organising such an event, you may ask? When we started Social Good Outpost, it was really out of a drive to produce better quality design for people and causes we cared about. It wasn’t enough to offer the ‘same’ quality for the ‘same’ price as other agencies. That seemed to miss the point entirely. Organisations, people and changemakers at the forefront of many of society’s social issues need design that does better than the rest. They need time, care and attention to detail that commercial studios can’t often do. [Hence, for every 10 hours of full cost design we do, we sponsor 1 hour of pro-bono or low cost design for organisations that need it!]
But from the very start, we wanted to be experimental. We sat down and thought hard about who we were, and who the world needed us to be. We determined our purpose, simply, to create good designs for good causes. The premise being, that so long as we were working on good causes – across a range of social, cultural, environmental, and other areas – we could do any kind of design we wanted to support that purpose.
When I was approached to design and curate this program throughout the ASEAN region, I leapt at the opportunity to utilise my experience working across Asia and my design and social enterprise skills to curate a series that could make a meaningful impact to our near neighbours. The series was also designed to cover topics that meant a lot to Australia, and myself –
how can we empower youth across the region, and provide connections and collaborations through themes such as social enterprise and social impact?
Over the next 18 months, we’ll be running workshops, events, Q&A’s, panels, official receptions and other engagements across Southeast Asian nations under the understanding that youth in Australia and the Southeast Asian region are pioneering some of our greatest innovations and creativity.
For Australian social entrepreneurs, the ASEAN region is a particularly exciting place to be. Did you know that Indonesia’s Youth Enterprise Council has 6 million youth members? Or that 60 per cent of the world’s youth population reside in the Asia Pacific? If you’ve been following along at home,
213 million youth reside in the ASEAN region alone – meaning that there are tonnes of opportunities, but also challenges, that come with such a highly enterprising and young population.
When we were asked to curate the Youth Entrepreneurs & Leaders Speaker Series, Laos was one of the first countries we were asked to work with. Last weekend, we had the opportunity to kick off the very first events, sending over the incredible Dr Cameron Cliff, an inspiring and go-getting 27-year old artificial intelligence and tech expert who also happens to be the Manager of Social Impact for successful Brisbane tech start-up GO1. If you missed it, GO1 is the brainchild of a series of young Brisbane entrepreneurs (some of whom have been deeply involved in the social enterprise scene), who recently received $30 million of funding in its Series B round of funding, just months after raising $10 million in its Series A funding round.
Cam headed to Laos as a keynote speaker of the Lao HR Forum, an event led by a number of enterprising and engaging young Laotian alumni of Australian universities. As a nation with strongly developed human resources management and training, we often don’t realise the challenges of those running and starting businesses in our nearest region. HR is important because it plays an essential role in developing and achieving business’s strategy, and in handling employee experiences of working within organisations. With individuals increasingly ‘on the job’ thanks to mobile technology, the happiness and health of employees has never been more important, and in many cases, is crucial to the long term sustainability of businesses.
In the case of social enterprises, we can often get so caught up on making the social impact we want, that we forget about the crucial people who are part of our organisation and make that social impact happen.
For me, watching the discussions and events held discussing HR in Laos was an important wake-up call – as much as our social enterprises strive to do good for our cause, we must do good by our staff.
Cam notes that in Laos “there was a whole range of people there, from solo entrepreneurs, hotel managers to government staff and HR professionals. One story in particular that I'd like to share was the executive assistant of the hotel having a detailed conversation with me about gamification and artificial intelligence and how it would impact the way they taught non-English speaking staff of the hotel to use new technology. It came right out of left-field during the workshop for me, particularly as we'd spent a large portion of the workshop working with other organisations about how they could introduce basic technology to improve the lives of some of their workers.
It really hammered home for me that, even with access issues and different contexts, we're all facing similar issues in this rapidly globalising business world of ours.
Cam noted that it was likely that nations like Laos would leap-frog ahead of many already industrialised nations when it comes to the use of tech. For a nation that is still characterised as a least developed country, many individuals won’t have PCs, but they will have mobiles. Rather than battling with old desktop computer systems that are quickly ageing and being superseded by newer, more mobile forms of tech, there was an agile-ness and flexibility to the way Laos approached tech.
Many of the themes that are beginning to be raised by the young changemakers who are part of the program are important to take note of, no matter what kind of impact you are trying to make. As we all strive to make the most impact, produce the best social results, or look to partner and collaborate with our near neighbours, we must ensure we remain flexible and adaptable. It will be interesting, and exciting, to see how this plays out for Laos as it develops in a rapidly changing world. It will also be interesting to see what the youth of our nations do too. One thing that both Cam and I have learned through the experience so far, is that sometimes the challenges seem immeasurable. But, the opportunities are also endless. Watch this space, as true collaboration and friendship grows across our cultures.
Australia now is a public diplomacy program of the Australian Government, spearheaded by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in a country or region of significance each year. The program celebrates Australia’s creative excellence, diversity and builds relationships for the future. This year, Australia now has a focus on youth, aiming to engage youth audiences and cement long-standing ties between Australia and surrounding member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Social Good Outpost has partnered with the Australian Government to deliver the Youth Entrepreneurs & Leaders Speaker Series across ASEAN in 2019 and 2020. Follow our events & updates at: www.socialgoodoutpost.com.au/Australia-now
We thank the generosity of the Australian Government for funding and supporting the Youth Entrepreneurs & Leaders Speaker Series.