Malaysia — The Changemaker Revolution Is Coming

Change is afoot. While the tech boom originating in San Francisco’s Silicon Valley and the spread of start-up culture across the world is well-documented, another big shift is taking place. As the cost of living rises but wages remain stagnant and as working hours continue to increase but job security in the corporate world is called into question, more and more people are beginning to question how they choose to live their lives and earn an income. Today’s high-flyer is driven by something more than money and status.

Living in London, I have been excited to witness and to be a part of this revolution. While the idea of building something from scratch excited me, buying into the culture of all-nighters in the pursuit of the next Facebook or Google did not. So finding and joining tribes of people dedicated to living purpose-driven and fulfilling lives was a revelation. Getting to know these people and call them friends has made me so excited about the future. While the need to make a sustainable living underpins everything that we do, it is not our sole focus or our prime motivator. We are excited about living our lives authentically, treating our communities and environment with respect, and about making a positive difference to the world we live in. We are the changemakers.

For the past couple of months, since I moved to KL, I’ve been keen to seek out existing communities and to find out more about the purpose-driven entrepreneurial scene here. While it’s easy to find meet ups for wannabe growth hackers or programmers, dig a little deeper and there are signs that the change maker revolution is beginning to take hold here too. There are whispers of dissatisfaction from ambitious graduates in corporate roles. Inspiring and playful co-working spaces are opening up.

For me, one of the most exciting signs is the new breed of coffee shop emerging throughout the Klang Valley. You might think ‘so what? It’s just fancy coffee with a price tag to match’ but bear with me. For years, the food and drink scene has slowly been invaded by the big chains where margins reign supreme. The idea of the artisan or of buying local looked like it might be trampled underfoot and left in the past. Now? Today’s artisan cares deeply about the quality of the goods they produce, be it coffee or bread or cake. Of course they want to make a living, but they believe that success, financial or otherwise, comes from being true to their artisanal vision, not by cutting costs and increasing prices. As a result they are able to build a loyal following of customers who will also be their biggest cheerleaders, helping to bring in more business. While these baristas, bakers or craftsmen might not be tackling social or environmental problems, they offer us a sign that more Malaysians are starting to embrace a values-driven mindset. Look more closely and you’ll spot sprouting organisations with a big vision for change.

Impact Hub KL, supporting social businesses, recently celebrated its first birthday. Sols 24/7 is bringing education to poor communities throughout Malaysia and South East Asia. Biji Biji is championing sustainable living. At the heart of these businesses is a desire to innovate, to lead by example and to tackle big problems head on. The changemaker revolution is taking hold of Malaysia and I can’t wait to be a part of it.