Photo above by A. Adnan: A MyChangkul route is the perfect escape for urban dwellers in need of nature’s embrace.
How one social enterprise improved communities by building a refuge in biodiversity
By YONG FOO CHUEN
MyChangkul is not your average gardening project. It is a behemoth undertaking that has created more than 11km of navigable trails for mountain biking, trail running and hiking in the pristine lowland forests of the last remaining reserve in Selangor.
Beginning in 2014, my team of five Temuans and I have painstakingly designed, planned and built a map of trails in the challenging terrain of the Kota Damansara Forest Reserve (321.7 ha).
As a social enterprise, MyChangkul’s vision is that by building such trails we can connect communities to the forest. With such connections, we ensure community affinity to it and therefore secure its long term preservation.
Building such trails attracts users from around and afar. Access to the forest also provides opportunities for educational, research and even corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities.
Grass roots involvement
MyChangkul engages the help of native and indigenous folk to build and maintain these trails. We provide training on sustainable trail-building and maintenance techniques, as outlined by International Mountain Biking Association of the United States.
I was inspired to set up MyChangkul because I saw the need to be able to build quality and sustainable trails at a more predictable rate. We have discovered that building trails from volunteerism alone would not be a viable and sustainable option for the outcomes that we were looking for.
Volunteerism is great for connecting communities to the forest but in terms of predictable outcomes and time taken to deliver and complete trails, it has been a challenge. This is so because volunteerism in Malaysia is currently not at the stage where it should be – we can only rely on a steady flow of volunteers during trail building days.
Typically we see the usual same few who would turn up for our build sessions and progress remains slow.
The main challenge for MyChangkul is our ability to grow our portfolio beyond delivering trails just for the Kota Damansara Community Forest (KDCF).
We hope that our success at KDCF would inspire other communities to engage our team to help them build a community forest through the creation of sustainable trails.
Since MyChangkul is set up as lean enterprise, the biggest challenge to growth is our marketing and outreach ability.
To mitigate this we have set up a web and social media presence but we need to do more. A seeding fund or a special social enterprise start up loan would greatly help us in providing resources needed to market ourselves to a wider audience and customer base.
The key elements of MyChangkul as a social enterprise:
- provides a solution to a clear social issue and creates a definitive positive social impact through outputs and value creation.
- has a self-sustainable business model that generates profits to scale and further its positive social impact rather than maximising shareholder values.
Dynamic collaborations with corporate partners
In the past, MyChangkul has collaborated with strategic partners such as large corporations and multinationals to provide sponsorship and funding of trails. Typically as trail sponsors these corporates have naming rights to the trails and therefore they obtain a platform to showcase their CSR mission and branding.
Since our work delivers a positive environmental impact of preserving and protecting the green spaces in an urban setting, the value to corporations and multinationals is not difficult to communicate.
If you are a young person who is thinking of starting a social enterprise, you need to ask yourself these questions:
- Do I believe I can do more and create a bigger impact with a social enterprise?
- Do I believe that the creation of positive social impact is more important than profit?
- Do I have what it takes to run a self-sustainable business?
When it comes to building a social enterprise, you should be driven by a passion for an issue and a cause. It is exactly this passion that drives us at MyChangkul.
Yong Foo Chuen is the vice president of KDCF Society and founder of MyChangkul. He is passionate about the outdoors and loves nature, and is currently the honorary secretary for TRAKS (Trail Association of Kuala Lumpur and Selangor). He is also a keen mountain biker and a long-distance cycle tourer. To connect with Yong, email email@example.com. For more Pay It Forward articles, click here.
First appeared on Leaderonomics.com. Published in English daily The Star, Malaysia, 13 June 2015