We spoke to Rizan at length, on drawing business lessons from starting an NGO; the importance of giving back to the community and ultimately to mother nature.
How did the Beach Bunch movement get started?
It started when Alan Tan and I were chilling out on his balconyhaving a conversation about Alan’s passion; surfing. One of the things that ticked Alan off was that he often got hit by rubbish when he was surfing at the beach. Being an environmentalist by profession, I understand the deeper damage that litter could cause to the marine and the wild life. We decided there and then to do something about it. A few weeks later, we gathered up some friends for a beach ‘clean up / picnic’. A group of 20 friends turned out, and we sweated ourselves off tirelessly that morning of 15th February 2009. Although it was excruciatingly hard work, the occasion left us feeling good about ourselves, and thinking that we could actually make a difference.
That was how it all started. We went on organizing a few other similar activities, words spread; influential bloggers participated in the beach clean up and posted our efforts on their blogs. Before we knew it, we were attracting a lot more like-minded people to join our cause. Today, we’ve recorded up to 900 volunteers with a total waste collection of 3.9 tonnes from 5 beaches within Brunei Muara district in the span of 2 years. What parallels are there in running an NGO and in managing a business? The skills required are very similar. You need good leadership skills, people skills and organization skills. Above all, you need to have a steadfast believe in your vision.There was no shortage of skeptics and critics when we first started the Beach Bunch. If we had listened to them, we wouldn’t have gone this far. What is commonly not reported were the times when the turn-outs were low, and we still kept our head down, picking up one piece of rubbish at a time, inspite of the numbers.
Any entrepreneur will tell you about the virtue of perseverance for a successful business venture. You need to persevere a lot more being an NGO, because unlike being in business, the light at the end of the tunnel isn’t the gold and the diamonds.
What were the some of the comments skeptics say about your cause?
The most common view is that “there is no point in cleaning up the beach, because you can’t change the culture and the mindset of the people.” Many people would say; “you may be cleaning up today, buttomorrow the beach will be dirty again.” It is at times difficult to dismiss what they say, because the reality is that, litter does resurface the very next day. This is why we stress on the importance of public education and involvement, because it is not until you start picking up the rubbish one by one, that you appreciate the effort in cleaning it up. By doing that, hopefully you will not litter again. Our biggest clean up activity as of yet was on April this year, which involved nearly 400 volunteers, with 80% of the participants, students. We collected 1.2 tons of rubbish that day.
What is your vision for the Beach Bunch? Our vision is for Brunei’s beaches to be free from pollution by making them clean and enjoyable.
Hypothetically speaking, the whole mission of the Beach Bunch would have been accomplished, if one day we go to the beach and could not spot any rubbish. Of course, it will be nice to see it happen one day. However, having a clean beach is a continuous process. You can’t just sit on your laurels and expect miracles to happen. The challenge is about sustaining the cleanliness for the long term through reinforcing the message over and over and over again.
The Beach Bunch went from being a feel good activity by some circle of friends to an organization to be taken seriously in a brief period of two years. Major organisations in Brunei like Asia Inc Forum, HSBC, BAG Network, Brunei Tourism, STEP Centre of MOE, Brunei Shell Marketing, and the British High Commission have provided endorsement and shown tangible support; recently even the Minister of Development came to take part in cleaning up the beach.
What is the tipping point and how did it all happen?
I think it is crucial to note that the Beach Bunch was not created to win awards, nor was it for personal glorification, but we had a genuine passion to create a better environment at the beach. The general public in Brunei are well educated and intelligent, they could see through it if the motive was self-serving.
Overtime, we have walked the talk, and that was probably being appreciated and therefore supported. The ‘tipping point’was probably when we were recognized with an Environmental NGO Award in the National Environment Conference 2010 organized by Asia Inc Forum. The whole manifesto took momentum when the leaders in the government and private sector took an interest in the environment. The Beach Bunch is currently spearheading the Blue Flag Project and is signing up major corporations to support the initiative. Tell us about the Blue Flag Project. The Blue Flag is an award for eco friendly beaches presented by the Foundation for Environmental Education, with members in 49 countries. Some of it’s partners include EU, UNEP and WTO.
It is given to beaches that meet a specific set of criteria concerning environmental information and education, water quality, safety and services and environment management. Winning the Blue Flag award can potentially help Brunei’s tourism industry, as it is a recognized trademark by the tour agents and tourists for excellence for beaches. We realized this is a cause too great for any individual to accomplish, and are signing up organisations to support in actionable steps to win this for Brunei. We have currently the following organisations on board: Arkitek Rekajya, AsiaInc Forum, BAG Networks, Brunei Times, Brunei Tourism, HSBC, ISB, JIS and MadMilk.
Most SME owners will be intrigued by how you could manage P-EWI while running the Beach Bunch with such resounding success?
It is important to recognise that the success of Beach Bunch is a team effort. I just happen to be the guy on the front line. The commitment from the core of our members and the support from like-minded organisations is what makes it possible.
Personally, technology plays an important role for me. I am highly organized; with the amount of commitment, I need to be. Thanks to my iPad and my 3G phone, I can be working whenever I am on the go. I try to separate my work from the Beach Bunch activities as much as possible. It is really about striking a balance. For example, I would take my annual leave from work just to attend an environmental conference for the Beach Bunch publicity.
I think passion and a sense of anguish is important. We are still fueled with anger every time we see litter on the beach. I guess I am lucky to have the strong support of my wife, who shares the same passion about the environmentas I do. She has been an active participant of all our Beach Bunch activities. My parents’ embrace of my unusual interest makes it possible for my environmental endeavor.
Rizan has been instrumental in keeping a safe distance between his capacity at P-EWI from the Beach Bunch, because he does not want to be perceived as exploiting the NGO for his company’s publicity. This is why it took most people by surprise to learn that he also leads a successful local consulting firm.
If doing good for the community results in better business, we say why not? Therefore, we pressed on to connect the dots for our readers in revealing the other part of Rizan. Those who know you in the business capacity will inevitably know about your active involvement with the Beach Bunch.
How does championing an NGO affect your business?
It adds credibility when you are dealing with your clients. The society in general wants to do business with who are socially responsible. With all things
being equal, it is definitely a business advantage as a proposition for clients to choose you over your competitors because of what you do for the community. I have met countless numbers of people from all walks of life from the Beach Bunch activities. In terms of networking, it has opened doors to an array of possibilities both privately and in business. These are all the by products of doing good, people respond in kind when they could sense your authenticity.
What can the SMEs do to support the Beach Bunch?
Sign up to be a member, so you will be informed about our up coming beach activities (simply key in Beach Bunch on Facebook and you would be able to connect). Invite us to speak to your staff or students about environmental awareness. Last but not least, apply the 3R principle in your workplace and your home.
Recycle, Re-use, Reduce