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Exporter looks at new initiatives through the ASEAN Young Business Leaders Initiative to strengthen links between entrepreneurs and business leaders in Southeast Asia and New Zealand.

Southeast Asia can be a hard sell to Kiwi businesses, says Adam McConnochie, who is tasked with building business networks between New Zealand and Southeast Asia. 
“A couple of years back, we brought young Filipino multi-millionaire Joseph Calata to New Zealand. This was a guy who had almost single-handedly built a rural supplies chain, the equivalent of PGG Wrightson or RD1. It was hard to encourage New Zealand businesses to meet him. It didn’t make sense to me then, and it still doesn’t.”

McConnochie looks after the ASEAN Young Business Leaders Initiative (ASEAN YBLI), a programme managed by the Asia New Zealand Foundation for the New Zealand Government. The initiative was created to strengthen links between entrepreneurs and business leaders in Southeast Asia and in New Zealand. So far, 62 business leaders from all 10 ASEAN (the Association of Southeast Asian Nations) member countries representing a range of industries have visited New Zealand. While here, the entrepreneurs meet their Kiwi equivalents, to learn more about their sector and explore opportunities to do business in New Zealand.

The Foundation started taking groups of New Zealand entrepreneurs to Southeast Asia in 2015. To date, the programmes have included groups visiting Thailand and Singapore to learn about the tech scene there, a group of food and beverage entrepreneurs visiting Indonesia, and an upcoming visit to Vietnam to learn about that country’s tech sector.

While it’s important not to generalise about an area that spans 10 countries and more than 620 million people, ASEAN can seem like a hard place to do business in – despite the existence of the ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand Free Trade Agreement (AANZFTA). 
Export rules can be confusing and bureaucratic, promising deals may be blocked by delays, and the different languages and cultures can seem insurmountable. No wonder, then, that many New Zealand companies feel daunted by the challenge. 

Making it easier 
This is where the Asia New Zealand Foundation comes in. The Foundation doesn’t write go-to market strategies or business plans, but focuses on connections and introductions. Engaging with entrepreneurs from the region can give business leaders better insights – or simply allow them to start meeting people they can do business with. 
Wellington’s Roman Jewell, of peanut butter company Fix and Fogg, visited the Philippines through the programme as part of a contingent of New Zealand social entrepreneurs. He gained an understanding of Filipino culture and made connections that increased his confidence about the possibility of eventually exporting to Asia. “I feel like if I went back to the Philippines, I could make real headway.
“It gave me an appreciation of Asia that I didn’t previously have. If that is what is going on in Manila, what’s happening in Jakarta, what’s happening in Kuala Lumpur?”

A long-term approach 
One of the Foundation’s strengths is its ability to take a long-term view. For example, Hendy Setiono, the CEO of the world’s largest kebab chain Babi Rafi visited New Zealand from Indonesia in 2014. Since then, he’s been back to New Zealand on holiday and to speak at a conference; hosted a Kiwi YBLI delegation in Jakarta; met Prime Minister Key on his official visit to Indonesia; and generally maintained a strong connection with New Zealand. This connection has since led to business deals, but it didn’t happen overnight.  
Aucklander Nick Siu is now working with Setiono on a joint venture for a restaurant chain. Siu is director of business advisory firm The Agency 88 and, with his wife Sachie Nomura, is co-founder of cooking school Sachie’s Kitchen, which has a TV show and book in its name. 
“I met Hendy through the ASEAN Young Business Leaders Initiative and have built a relationship with him over the past couple of years,” Nomura says.  
“We got on well from the start, but it’s taken time to build that into a business relationship. Through Hendy, we’ve got a range of other business opportunities in the pipeline with Indonesia.”

Keeping the connections alive 
The Foundation’s vision is to have a dynamic pool of entrepreneurs continually engaging with each other and constantly exploring business opportunities, while bringing more Kiwi entrepreneurs into the mix. 
Nelson’s Chloe Van Dyke, founder of CHIA, recently joined the Foundation’s Myanmar Matters event in Yangon, which brought together 27 entrepreneurs from Southeast Asia and New Zealand. “CHIA is currently distributed in Malaysia and Singapore – and understanding the culture and diversity of our export markets is imperative to our success. New opportunities in both exports and imports were explored in Myanmar, and are now being implemented. Having a go-to list of trusted business leaders on the ground in active and potential markets is invaluable to any business owner,” says Van Dyke.
“The success of events like Myanmar Matters should be based not only on the direct impact it has on those who attended, but how we are able to feed that knowledge back into the business community in New Zealand. The Asia New Zealand Foundation has been doing this by creating follow-on events in New Zealand, such as the Tasty Business event held in Nelson in October.”

So are Kiwis getting the message on Southeast Asia? 
“I think so,” McConnochie says. “The challenge for New Zealand is upping our game in services and taking the lessons we have learnt here to Southeast Asia. This should be our advantage as we are a well-educated, innovative and global country.”
He gives the example of a New Zealand rural broadband company that was introduced to a visiting entrepreneur from Myanmar and is now working with them on a project in that country. 

As for Joseph Calata, the Filipino business leader whom Kiwi business people were reluctant to meet? “He found some great partners in New Zealand who are now investing in the Philippines very successfully. We got the right match eventually,” says McConnochie.

The Asia New Zealand Foundation is a non-partisan, non-profit organisation with a range of programmes designed to equip New Zealanders with first-hand experience of Asia and to forge valuable links to the region. Its business programme also includes internships in Asia. For more information visit
Photo: Hendy Setiono and PM Key on his official visit to Indonesia.


Glenn Baker

Glenn is a professional writer/editor with 50-plus years’ experience across radio, television and magazine publishing.


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