It’s funny how sometimes, one sets out to do one thing, but ultimately ends up doing something completely different altogether.
Such is the case for Yap Mun Ching, AirAsia Foundation’s executive director, whose path to philanthropy was fated and shaped by the people and circumstances that she came across during her work as a journalist, during which she had the opportunity to travel to rural and disaster-stricken areas.
These experiences left a mark on her and subsequently influenced her work in AirAsia, first as a Strategic Planner back in 2004, and then 2012 when she proposed the establishment of the AirAsia Foundation — all in the name of giving back to society.
Today, the first-ever corporate entity that has been accredited as an ASEAN Civil Society Organisation continues to grow, and now covers seven countries in Southeast Asia, namely Malaysia, Vietnam, the Philippines, Cambodia, Thailand, Myanmar and Indonesia.
One can just imagine how crazily busy Yap Mun Ching’s schedule would be like, but thankfully, we were lucky enough to get in a quick Q&A:
What Made You Start the AirAsia Foundation?
Well before I joined AirAsia, I used to be a journalist. And I realised that there are a lot of social needs, of course, in society. There is money, there is either money from the government or other companies, but not all of it is very well-deployed. So when this opportunity came about in AirAsia, I thought, “Okay, why not I try something different to see if we can use AirAsia’s resources differently, to make a social change?”
Why Do You Do What You Do?
I’m someone who’s easily bored with what I do, and when I was a journalist it was quite exciting because every day one had to write a different story. So when we’re doing something with social enterprises, it’s essentially that, except deeper. Every time we receive an application, it could be about a completely different social cause. So it challenges me to always find out more about the issue, and of course, bring value to what we do with the social enterprises as well. So that’s exciting and that drives me.
“Okay, why not I try something different to see if we can use AirAsia’s resources differently, to make a social change?”Yap Mun Ching
What Do You Feel When You See Positive Impacts of the Foundation?
It’s extremely fulfilling. It’s not about monetary gains, it’s really about seeing how it changes peoples’ perception towards their work and what they contribute to society as well. One of the most meaningful projects we had was in Yogyakarta when we began working with a group of silversmiths.
They have 400-year-old tradition but it’s dying; there are only slightly above 20 people who are doing it. Initially, when we started the workshop, they were very skeptical of us but after the workshop, they came up and said, “Thank you, we didn’t know that somebody cared this much about our art.” And now, when I go there, all of them turn up and we have very fruitful discussions on design, on innovating it and their products, and that itself is extremely fulfilling.
What Are Some of the Challenges That the Foundation Faces?
The challenge is always getting people to understand what a social enterprise is. If you’re doing a typical or a more common cause, such as helping orphans or working with the elderly, people will understand it because that’s a thing that has been going on in society for a long time already. But when you talk about social enterprises, no one knows what it is — you won’t get an immediate effect, you won’t get photo ops. The results only come two to three years later, IF you are successful.
So, convincing people that this is something worth doing because of its long-term impact is a challenge itself, not only outside but within AirAsia. It’s been a long journey — it’s been seven years — but I can see that there is traction, and we get a lot of support now.
Tell Us About One Malaysian Initiative That the Foundation Has Carried Out.
It’s actually our first grant in Malaysia, to an organisation called Tonibung. It’s based in Sabah, and what they do is equip really remote villages with hydro-microturbines which are basically a technology that lets small villages use green energy very efficiently.
So before they had these turbines, they’d spend MYR150 from their MYR500 salary just buying kerosene which is extremely polluting. Now, all that is taken care of by the turbines, and it goes on to power many village enterprises.
We funded a couple of these projects, but the organisation has been doing it for a long time, and we are very proud that we were able to assist them in some ways with some of the villages. Eventually, the founder, Adrian Lasimbang, also became a senator in Dewan Negara to highlight Orang Asal issues in national conversations. So I am very proud of that organisation
Watch the video below to get more insight on Tonibung:
“It’s been a long journey — it’s been 7 years — but I can see that there is traction, and we get a lot of support now.”Yap Mun Ching
What’s Your Motivation to Continue This?
I think the results have been amazing; of course, not all of them have been as successful as others. But, from the ones that we have, I’d say 60% of them have done pretty well and are continuing to do so. I now have this space and shop (Destination: GOOD), and it gives us a new tool to leverage on in order for us to support social enterprises.
Before this, we were only able to give grants. Now, we can help them sell. We have a lot of networks within AirAsia to promote their cause, to talk about them and to tell people about them. That itself is extremely rewarding, as I can see that when someone comes in and asks about the product, that’s a great impact that I hope we can continue!
Who Do You Do This For?
Oh, we do it for the communities, of course. I find a lot of satisfaction by challenging myself to it. But in the end, if I can achieve some social change, or if I can create an impact in our communities, then that’s all that matters.
“It’s not about monetary gains, it’s really about seeing how it changes peoples’ perception towards their work and what they contribute to society as well.”Yap Mun Ching
As part of a special campaign we are running, dubbed #IDoItForMY, travel360.com has compiled a series of must-watch videos on a line-up of very special personalities, which includes Yap Mun Ching herself. Check out the video below:
In the meantime, follow AirAsia Foundation on Instagram at @airasiafoundation, and on Facebook at @AirAsiaFoundation. For more information, visit the official website at www.airasiafoundation.com. If you’re up for a bit of sightseeing downtown, drop by RexKL and browse through cool things you can buy at Destination: GOOD, and give back to the community!