Change for good
In China’s remote villages, residents who don’t have access to electricity cook their food by burning wood or yak dung inside poorly ventilated homes. The toxic smoke generated from these primitive stoves causes more indoor air pollution than can be measured on a city street in Beijing. Yet in 2008, a company invented an inexpensive solution to the problem: a solar-powered oven that can produce enough heat energy to handle the cooking needs of an average household in the region.
For Ming Wong, the company that created the stoves — One Earth Designs — is exactly the type of enterprise that is needed to build a more sustainable future for Hong Kong and China. Wong, who has personally invested in the company, hopes to jumpstart other firms that want to make a social and environmental impact through Asia Community Ventures, a nonprofit policy research organization he co-founded in 2012.
“Business as usual is not sufficient to address all these issues,” says Wong, who lives in Hong Kong. “That’s why we need something new: impact investing.”
Wong, who has a dual bachelor’s degree in economics and operations research from Cornell, entered the impact investing space after spending 20 years in investment banking and working as the managing director of IMC Investments Limited, a subsidiary of a company that transports iron ore and coal from Australia to India and China. Because the company was shipping pollutants, its chairman wanted to invest its profits in firms that would mitigate the negative impact of its shipping business. “This was the beginning of a journey that caused me to think more deeply about what investors can do to change the world,” Wong says.
Wong believes what is needed are more companies that focus on social and environmental goals, not just on producing profits for shareholders. Because so few firms are working in this arena in Asia, he hopes to provide the infrastructure, including incubators, to help launch startups that have strong social missions.
Last winter, Wong spent three months in San Francisco, where his daughter, Zoe Wong ’13, is creating her own social enterprise: Revive Foods, a company that recovers surplus fruit from grocery stores and wholesalers and converts it into jam and preserves. In February, Revive Foods won $5,000 in a business startup competition sponsored by the University of Texas at Austin’s Food Lab. “I’m a supporter and a cheerleader for her,” her father says, adding that social entrepreneurship “runs in the family.”