In transition

This month I’ve changed offices: in June I was still mostly working from either meeting rooms in the VNO-NCW building (the Confederation of Netherlands Industry and Employers) or somewhere in the building of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs – conveniently located across from each other.

This month I’ve started commuting to the Amsterdam Zuidas, the financial center of the Netherlands where I’m working in an office with a great view across the city.

Talk about changing perspectives: from governmental The Hague to corporate Amsterdam.

I’ve not only changed physical locations but also type of work. From researching how six European countries have organized their trade promotional activities to support their SMEs to be successful on foreign markets, I am now interviewing Dutch companies on their goals for the Chinese market in preparation for a trade mission this autumn.

Even though I started working independently in 2013 it felt almost as if I was cheating a little with one regular assignment for the year, with smaller bits and pieces to do alongside of that while I worked on setting up the essentials of my business. This year has seen a big transition to smaller and shorter term projects, which means my work is (much) more diverse but at the same time also more complex to manage well.

So this year is throwing new challenges my way but at the same time I love the journey of discovery this is becoming. Can’t wait to find out what the second half of this year will include.

A recipe for a successful work trip

Whenever I travel for work, I try to fit in as many meetings with people or organizations I don’t know in that place, of course focusing on CSR, sustainability and/or business in Asia. This may vary a little with related topics: so in Shanghai I also spoke about social entrepreneurship or when I was in Tokyo I spoke about sustainable urban planning.

It’s a way to find out quickly what topics are relevant in that location or market: after just a few coffee’s the same things start popping up, the same names. Or when they don’t: clearly it’s a broad and diverse topic that I’m exploring.

But one question that comes up when I’m back home is always:

“But, who do you talk to?”

Since another trip is close – even if it’s only two days to London – let me take you along in how I do this.

The reason for next week’s trip is the Global Supply Chains Summit for which I happily received a delegate’s place. The summit focuses especially on how business can deal with trafficking and forced labour in their supply chain. Topics which are complicated, but also tie in nicely to some other things I’ve been doing over the last few weeks such as the SER conference on due diligence and a training on the UN Guiding Principles on Human Rights and Business.

London is also a city where there seem to be more things happening when it comes to CSR and sustainability in Asia, so I’m taking the opportunity to spend a little bit longer and fit in a few meetings on these topics.

But how do I find people to talk to, with a limited local network?

The recipe for putting together an interesting work trip consists of various ingredients, such as:

  • social media
    I let people know I’m there via Twitter or LinkedIn:

    Sometimes this works, this time I didn’t really. But social media can be very powerful so I always use it.

  • sensitivity to related news
    Once I know a trip like this is coming up, I automatically become more aware of any news or things that pop that connect to it. So, when a China-related post pops up on the CSR Chicks mailinglist that I’m on (which is very UK-centric and I don’t keep track closely) it gets bookmarked to follow up on when I have time.
  • network
    Of course, I use my existing network: so I contact the agency I met with in Guangzhou that also has a London office, I check with people I know whether they may have suggestions.
  • local events
    I have a look at events that are organized worldwide: Green Drinks, CSR MeetUp – chances are there’s something going on, or this gives leads into further contacts. Turns out: there’s a CSR MeetUp London the night I arrive. Unfortunately, I arrive too late to attend but next time this will definitely be part of my itinerary!
  • coincidence & luck
    Some things are just luck: remember the above UN Guiding Principles training? Two of the participants were from the UK and are based in London.

And really, whether I go to London or somewhere more exotic such as Bangkok, Shanghai or Tokyo: the recipe of pulling together an interesting schedule is always the same.

Added benefit in almost all of these places: being able to mix business and pleasure. I’m looking forward to dinner with a Japanese friend next week as well, of course!

Mijn ideale stad: dynamisch & creatief

‘machi’ – de naam van mijn bedrijf – is een Japans woord. Het betekent stad. Een van de redenen waarom ik voor dit woord heb gekozen is omdat ‘de stad’ voor mij symbool staat voor heel veel dingen die ik belangrijk vind in mijn werk (en daarbuiten): creativiteit, diversiteit, samenwerking, innovatie, dynamiek, onbegrensde mogelijkheden en zo verder.

En dan is het zo fijn om me af en toe te realiseren dat mijn werk op dit moment ook al die verschillende aspecten in zich heeft.

Na vorige week in redelijke afzondering onderzoeksresultaten analyseren en uitschrijven, is deze week volledig anders. Ik ga van het ene inspirerende gesprek naar de volgende boeiende afspraak. Soms gepland (tenminste, de gesprekken – niet de inhoud die vaak meer is dan ik had verwacht), maar soms ook niet. Serendipiteit,

Transitie & internationale ontwikkeling. Transitie in de textielsector. De textielsector in China en Pakistan. Inkooppraktijk & verantwoord ondernemerschap. Sociaal ondernemerschap. Strategie voor nieuwe markten.

Zo maar een paar onderwerpen die de afgelopen dagen over koffie voorbij kwamen.

En daarnaast vervolgplannen maken voor Absolute Asia, blogideeën die al maanden in mijn hoofd zitten nu echt in gang zetten (stay tuned voor gesprekken met experts uit mijn netwerk over de onderwerpen van dit blog), offertes op de post doen.

Morgen duik ik in de wereld van due diligence: hoe krijg je als internationaal ondernemend bedrijf inzicht op mogelijke risico’s die je loopt op mensenrechtenschendingen of milieuvervuiling en hoe ga je daarmee om? Een mooie opwarmer voor volgende week wanneer ik me twee dagen stort op hoe je binnen een bedrijf kunt omgaan met de UN Guiding Principles on Business & Human Rights.

Precies het type ‘stad’ waar ik in wil leven.

 

Projects in progress: Absolute Asia

Networking.

I consider it a pretty essential part of my work & business: building relationships with people I’ve worked with, with new people who work in similar fields as me and in general having access to a large and diverse network of professionals across industries, countries, etc to rely on when needed. Working as an independent advisor, having access to such a network is also essential to be able to provide clients with the expertise they are looking for if this goes beyond what I can offer on my own.

I’m not alone in thinking like this, of course, and in the Netherlands there are lots of networking clubs and events. Despite that, during lunch last summer, Eun-mi Postma and I concluded that we were missing something in the midst of all these different networking possibilities.

Many networking clubs for young and/or starting entrepreneurs bring together a broad group of people, from graphic designers to stylist and business consultants. Yet, we were looking for something a little more focused on our common theme: Asia.

Many of the Asia networking opportunities bring together a variety of people such as export managers, CEO’s, government representatives and while these are (for me) very valuable events to attend it can be hard to find younger, like-minded entrepreneurs in this group to share experiences with or to build a network on of professionals to collaborate with.

So this is when and why Absolute Asia was born. It intends to be a networking platform aiming to bring together (young/starting) entrepreneurs in the Netherlands with a focus on Asia. But within those broad parameters anyone is welcome, so our last event included people working on design, higher education, film, branding, sustainability, urban development and covering a large part of the Asian region.

Curious and interested to join? We are hosting another event next week, February 20th, in Amsterdam.

A new year: déjà-vu

For the past few days it’s almost felt as if I’m again making plans for a new year, and reflecting what I’ve done so far. And the last time I did that was only a few weeks ago at the end of 2013, preparing for my second year of entrepreneurship.

I guess the start of the year of the Horse is in a way for me a symbolic new start as well. Taking off straight at the start of 2014 for a few weeks here can also be interpreted as a bit of an escape: because properly being in the Netherlands also means finally having to get on with things and get all these ideas in my head going and financially executable. Leaving for Shanghai put off that moment for a bit. Or rather, it was a way to create more of those ideas, or strengthen the ones that are already in there without being in my regular surroundings.

So, while I’m at Shanghai’s Pudong International Airport waiting for my flight home I’m taking some time to put a bit more structure to those plans. I started a few days ago with contacting some people to set up a few meetings this week. Because, I’m back in business straight away with a lunch meeting a few hours after I arrive back. Best way to get started it feels.

This month has been good. Hopefully, the posts on this blog have given you some idea of what I’ve been spending my time on (the non-work things are put into visuals on my Flickr stream). I’ve also had to choose more clearly about what I want to focus on as an entrepreneur and the direction I want to go forward in. It reminded me again how scary this can be: how do I know whether saying no to a big potential assignment really is a smart decision? For the moment I have to trust my instincts which are telling me that I made the right choice.

I had three goals for this month:

  • Improve my Chinese
    I still have a long way to go but I feel as if I’m getting a bit of a grip on this language. Though I wish people in the real world would have the patience to allow me to put together a normal sentence
  • Get to know more about local developments on sustainability and CSR (and related topics)
    It’s been great to finally attend some of the network events I follow online in real life, and to meet people with interesting stories to share. Every single meeting and event has given me some new insights in to various topics, which I hope have gotten across here a little. It’s hard to summarize every discussion, and so many things have come up in bits and pieces and only start to make sense when looked at together (a good example of this is a post on entrepreneurship coming up on this blog which combines so many separate things I’ve heard across these weeks).
  • Strengthen my local network on CSR and business in China
    For the most part, this has worked though it has been focused more on the CSR-networks. Some of the people I have met this month who work in this field, I had already been in touch with for a while so it was good to finally be able to talk face to face. And while here I got the opportunity to be involved in a CSR project which the Dutch Consulate General is launching on CSR in the supply chain where I’ve been conducting interviews with CSR managers at a range of Dutch companies based in this region, so this has been a great boost to this third goal.

I guess one other thing I wanted to get out of this month is to get to know this city and its surroundings better. Because being here for only a few days each time doesn’t do that. So I’m happy to have visited so many places, to be wandering across the city (did I mention already that Shanghai is very walkable) and to play tourist in Suzhou and Hangzhou (and a very little bit in Nanjing).

So. Ready to go home.

I’m excited about being back in the Netherlands and continue with all these topics that have come up here. I’m taking home a few project ideas and collaborations (though still very undeveloped, so I won’t spill about them in detail here). But of course: I already have several things to continue working on.

That means that the following week has meetings on CSR in Myanmar, improving supply chains and – of course – some New Year celebrations. And this month also sees another edition of Absolute Asia. The postponed event on CSR in China will also be getting some renewed attention again.

Also, if you want to know more about the topics or projects I’ve been talking about here, please get in touch. Of course, also get in touch if your organisation wants to do something with CSR in Asia. I’m always happy to meet for a coffee to talk through ideas and possibilities.

One year ago today…

One year ago today, the first thing I did was to walk into the local Chamber of Commerce and register my business MACHI. A big moment that year, and possibly the biggest as that was the start of a year building, discovering, experimenting, and so on.

Sometimes a plan didn’t work, or it needed more time. But I’ve also been able to do a lot of things that have helped me to build my plans, such as travelling to the CSR Asia conference in September and trips to China & Japan. But also taking time to develop my services and to learn about the boring bits: administration and finances.

With all of those things ready and done, it also feels like this adventure is only now starting for real. Over the past year, I have been lucky enough to work on one major assignment for the National Contact Point for the OECD Guidelines, with a few other smaller projects on the side – most of which were initiated on my own. As I write this, I am seeing one of the major parts of that NCP assignment come online. It’s good to see that that is now ready for me successor to take over after the weekend.

It also means that I am on my way to something new. No more regular office to go to or colleagues to have lunch with. Instead, I’m flying to Shanghai for a few weeks tomorrow. These few weeks will be filled with Chinese classes, network meetings, possibly some projects to work on and a lot more. This will also get me started on this new year and should make some project ideas and possible collaborations more concrete to continue with when I’m back.

So, new year’s resolutions? I think I have only one ‘professional’ resolution: to make MACHI a success this year. Somehow… I am not too worried about this.

I hope that 2014 will also bring inspiration and energy for you to realize your goals: Happy 2014!

The makings of a business event: what next

Yesterday I listened to a speech on failure, and how failing is necessary to progress and make successful.

Today I feel I’m right in the middle of the message in that speech: we are postponing the event on CSR in China that I have been working on for the last few months. Failure?

I’m disappointed that we didn’t succeed in realizing this event in the way that we hoped. I can already identify several reasons for this, and it will mean that the next attempt to organize an event on CSR in Asia will have some different components, different communication, different partners possibly.

And yet, I guess this is all part of it. ‘It’ being the work that I need to do right now to gain success in this venture that is establishing my own business presence. Occasionally that will come quite easily, but often it takes a few times to get something right.

The main message in yesterday’s speech was to always do the things you want to do – even if they are hard, are scary, go way beyond your comfort zone: yes, of course you might fail. But if you don’t, you will have no opportunity to succeed either. This event is a case in point. Even if I’ve had an idea of what I wanted to achieve from the start, I didn’t know in what way this is best achieved. Clearly, the ideas we’ve put together this time didn’t work out well enough.

So, onwards and upwards. We’re looking at possibly changing the scope of next week’s afternoon to tailor it more to the group of people who have registered. And next year should see another event on the theme of Asia & CSR. Because I still believe this is a topic worth working on and talking about.

 

A regular Friday at the office

It’s been a bit quiet here lately, while I was trying to recover from a bad cold and just in general trying to keep up with a lot of different work things that are going on. Today was one of those days were some of those things come together.

Generally, I spend most of a week at my assignment for the National Contact Point for the OECD Guidelines. The past week has been a bit strange, as I’m starting to prepare for handing over my tasks to my successor. She is with us a few weeks right now, which is great as there’s a lot that I want to share before I finalize my work at the end of the year. But, that doesn’t mean the work is done: communicating effectively about the OECD Guidelines and what it means to (Dutch) businesses is of course continuous work. By the end of this year I will have put a lot of new things in place to do this, but my co-workers will need to continue with those things.

But at the same time I’m working on a few new projects. Friday is a day usually reserved for those other things. Today is a good example.

I spent much of the day in Utrecht. The first meeting of the day focused on responsible business practices in Myanmar, with a fellow independent consultant. It’s a topic that I’ve been meaning to explore following the CSR Asia Summit back in September. Since then, I’ve been curious about what Dutch organisations, government and companies are doing to ensure that business operations by Dutch companies are established while taking into account risks on social and environmental issues. So energizing to talk to someone who also wants to do more with this – so I’m confident that we’ll be able to collaborate on this topic in some way.

Following this, I continued on to a next meeting: to discuss a project of producing short corporate films for (Dutch) companies active in China to showcase the reality of how these companies do business – focusing on their CSR activities. This cooperation with CHFC has been in the making for a few months now, and we’re currently talking to different people to get this started. Excited to be working on this, which I hope will be a way for companies to show customers through a more effective medium in what way they work on responsible business practices.

My Friday finished back in The Hague, with my weekly hour of studying Chinese: working with my teacher on pronunciation, building sentences, figuring out new characters (and yes, my knowledge of Japanese helps SO much) and generally trying to make sense of this language.

Looking forward to another Friday (or Wednesday, which are often similar to this!)

Doelen.

Doelgericht. Wat betekent dat eigenlijk? Dat je precies weet waar je over vijf jaar wilt zijn, en de tijd daar naar toe hebt uitgedacht in stappen die je moet nemen om er te komen? Of ben je ook doelgericht als je een vage richting voor je ziet?

De laatste tijd hoor ik vaak van mensen in mijn omgeving – vrienden, collega’s, oud-collega’s – dat ze me zo doelgericht en daadkrachtig vinden in de stappen die ik neem om mijn bedrijf op te zetten. En dat vind ik dan bijzonder om te horen, omdat ik dat eigenlijk zelf niet zo ervaar. Ik doe op dit moment de dingen die op mijn pad komen en die mij goed lijken om te doen. Is dat daadkrachtig? Ik probeer in een nieuw avontuur mijn pad gaandeweg te vinden en te ontdekken wat daarin het beste werkt. Dat voelt in elk geval niet daadkrachtig. Wel voelt het alsof ik de juiste dingen doe en dat het de juiste richting op gaat.

En terwijl ik dit schrijf realiseer ik me dat dat dus juist is wat die mensen bedoelen. Want ook al voelt het allemaal niet daadkrachtig, gedisciplineerd, of ontzettend productief: natuurlijk doe ik de dingen die ik doe met een bepaald doel in gedachten.

Wat dat is? Professioneel succes. En dat is wat mij betreft mijn tijd volledig kunnen besteden aan boeiend en uitdagend werk op het gebied van verantwoord ondernemerschap in Azië, wat de komende tijd de vorm moet krijgen van een stabiele portfolio van interessante en leuke projecten en opdrachten.

Dat dat kan, weet ik zeker. Dat het tijd kost om tot die stabiele portfolio te komen, weet ik ook. Maar er is maar een manier om er achter te komen of ik dat snel genoeg kan.

Wat ik daar voor moet doen weet ik niet helemaal precies, maar het wordt steeds duidelijker. Over sommige dingen daarvan heb ik jarenlang getwijfeld en ga ik nu pas doen. Voor mijn omgeving lijkt dat misschien daadkrachtig, maar vijf jaar twijfelen over iets is dat toch bepaald niet, lijkt me. Ik ga er nu wel voor. Dus hoop ik het nieuwe jaar te starten in Shanghai om eindelijk een flinke basis te leggen in mijn Chinese taalvaardigheden: want dat ik vaker en langer in China moet zijn om het werk te kunnen doen wat ik wil doen was een van de belangrijkste conclusies van mijn afgelopen reis in september.

Hoe ik dát precies ga doen weet ik ook niet. Maar een aantal weken naar China in januari klinkt als een uitstekend begin.

En daarnaast: ik ben dus beschikbaar voor bovengenoemde interessante opdrachten rond verantwoord ondernemerschap in Azië. Heb je ideeën, leads, of wil je gewoon een keer koffie drinken om meer te weten wat ik precies voor je kan doen? Neem vooral contact met me op!

Destination #1: Bangkok

The smell of food on every corner you turn to.

That, for me, is mostly what Bangkok is about. Admittedly, I am not well-travelled across Southeast Asia but you just don’t get quite as many food stalls in Japan or China (but at least more common in China than in Japan). It makes a city feel completely different, with so many more people out on the streets.

Bangkok is my first stop on a bit of a whirlwind trip across Asia. I’ve come to realize that I’m a very very different business traveller than holiday traveller. In the latter, I’m happy staying somewhere cheap, figuring out everything myself, etc. But now, I feel my focus for the next two weeks is the work that I’ve come here to do: making the most of attending the CSR Asia Summit, and building my local networks in China stronger alongside gaining much more knowledge on CSR developments. And I don’t want the distraction of having to find a hotel, or realizing that I’m in a very crappy hotel, or lugging around a suitcase in search of a metro.

Another difference is that if I’d be travelling for a holiday, I’d never cross these distances and spend so little time in each place. At the same time, it also feels good to be doing this as I think I’ll get a much clearer idea of each city and be able to compare each of these four much better. This is, of course, slightly helped by the fact that I’ve been to all of these cities before (though ranging from 14 to 1 year ago) so that means I’m not totally lost in a new place.

It’s been good getting used a little to Bangkok again – which was, in fact, 14 years ago since my last visit. Finally meeting one of my LinkedIn contacts in person for drinks and dinner led to plenty of interesting CSR & Asia topics to talk about. And we tried out a pretty good example of I guess a social enterprise in Bangkok (though it seems to be doing quite well): Cabbages & Condoms. Good food, for a good cause: the man behind these projects is Mechai Viravaidya, a former minister and founder of the Population & Community Development Association (PDA). The association aims to promote family planning through innovative programs and approaches to make the use of contraceptive a less sensitive matter in Thailand. The restaurant is only one way of raising awareness, with proceeds from the restaurant going to PDA’s social projects. Daphne has some more extensive information about the man and his work.