One Fish At A Time

Taiwan
By:: 
Wenjian Lin

[Traditional Chinese version below | 繁體中文] 

Asher Social Enterprise

Most people would not give up a good job to become a fish farmer. But then again, Michael Chen is not like most people. 

After a chance meeting that would completely transform his hitherto serene existence, Michael took the plunge and left his post as a manager at one of Taiwan’s biggest IT consulting firms, to begin his second career a fishery innovator.

“I met my pastor and his wife at a friend’s wedding in May 2012 and found out that they were selling fish. But as I spoke to them more, I realised it was not as incredulous as it seemed. They were promoting the consumption of fish reared in a way that does not involve the use of growth hormones and other drugs that could be harmful,” Michael, now 37, said. 

He was intrigued by what they were doing as he knew the prospective benefits it would bring to the Taiwanese public and the farmers. More significantly, that unexpected encounter also ignited a desire in him to do good for the society. 

“For a long time, I have always wanted to contribute to the world I live in. As a father to two young kids, I feel it is my responsibility to do something that will benefit the future generations,” Michael reflected, before adding cheekily: “My pastors are well, pastors, so it is probably better that they concentrate on bringing the word of God to more people and leave the job of developing a business to people like me.”

Michael decided to start an aquaculture social enterpriseSo, over the next six months, Michael dived enthusiastically into the tasks of doing market research and consulting experienced fish farmers. Along the way, he got wind of news that an ex-colleague he looks up to had left his job as a director with Acer Inc. and decided to rope him into the business. 

“During this time, I was always cognisant of the fact that there is a real risk of the business not taking off and this pressure was even greater for Frank [his co-founder] as he was older. But in the end, the encouragement and trust shown in me by my family convinced me to take the plunge and start our business, one fish at a time.” 

Asher International Eco-Health Social Enterprise

In November 2012, Asher International Eco-Health, a company that produces fishery products using advanced water engineering technology and aquaculture techniques was launched. Asher also conducts eco-education tours and other related advisory services. The name of the company holds special meaning for Michael. Asher means "blessed” in Hebrew, and the original passage goes: "Out of Asher his bread shall be fat, and he shall yield royal dainties".

 

Michael Chen - Founder of Asher Eco-Health International

"So whatever Asher does is always motivated by the desire to bless our country, society and loved ones,” Michael explained.  

Still, despite the numerous hours, the enterprising duo devoted to understanding the industry and all the potential pitfalls it entails, the company still got off to a rough start. 

“For about two and a half years, Frank and I went without a salary. The situation worsened when my wife got retrenched around a year after we started. But the bills for our loans did not stop coming and we still had to support our kids who were under three years old at that time, so I did harbour thoughts of giving up and returning to being a salaried worker,” he said, stoically. 

But Michael soldiered on, fuelled by his faith and sense of purpose. “I was convinced that we had a business model that is sustainable, and even though the sales figures were not great initially, there was at least still growth.”

As the saying goes, fortune favours the brave. Michael’s unwavering determination paid off eventually. In the past two years, Taiwanese, perhaps motivated by a desire to live more healthily, began to pay more attention to the offerings Asher brings to the dining table.  

Recently, the company was also picked by DBS Foundation as an awardee of the social enterprise grant programme, news that greatly cheered Michael and his team. 

“Getting the DBS Foundation Grant is the best encouragement that what we are doing is not in vain and that people are benefitting from our efforts,” Michael said.

The funds will be channelled into various initiatives to extend Asher’s outreach and improve more lives. “Firstly, we want to research for more ways to produce fishery products using methods that do not harm the environment or the people who consume these products,” adds Michael. “Marketing initiatives will also be increased so that when more people know about what we do, the benefits we bring will be greater”.

Yet, growing a commercially profitable business is never Michael’s biggest wish. Indeed, he reveals that his greater motivation is to reduce the number of hungry people in this world. “With more resources and a stable business model, we can hopefully develop new product lines that can be sold to some poorer African countries on a buy-one-get-one-free basis,” he said. 

Plenty of hard work lies ahead, but Michael remains undeterred.

He said: “I may not be able to achieve all the goals I have for Asher in my lifetime, but that is not going to stop me from doing my best and helping all those who need help.” 

For more about Asher International check out their website (Mandarin only) or view their listing in the Asia For Good social enterprise directory.

 

改變未來,從一條魚開始(台灣好漁

大多數人不會放棄一份優渥的工作,挑戰重新開始。但是,陳敬恆(Michael Chen )卻選擇了一條不一樣的道路。

在一次改變他生命旅程的邂逅之後,他決定拋下平穩的生活,來了個180度大轉彎,辭去了自己在台灣最大的IT資訊公司-鼎新電腦的專案經理職位,開始了創業這一條艱辛的旅程。

“我在2012年一個朋友的婚禮上遇到了我的牧師和他的妻子。他們提到目前在兼職賣魚,我感到非常訝異。但是,隨著我們談話的深入,我發現這個主意並不像聽起來的那麼遙不可及。牧師本身是水利工程的博士,更是學校的系主任,他提倡改善目前養殖的方式,加上水利工程技術,同時不投放任何生長激素和其他有害的藥品,不僅消費者可安心食用,亦將能為生態帶來巨大的貢獻,”現在37歲的敬恆說到。

當他了解到生態養殖業能為台灣環境、大眾和漁民帶來許多潛在效益的時候,他心動了。更重要的是,這次邂逅也點燃了他內心想要為社會貢獻的心願。

“一直以來,我都想為我所生活的世界做些貢獻。身為兩個孩子的父親,我認為我有責任為下一代做些有意義的事情,” 敬恆反思到,然後調皮地說,“我的牧師也是,但他們最好還是把心力放在傳道給更多的人,這種生意上的事還是讓我來吧!”

敬恆經過半年的熱情投入在市場調查和不斷諮詢專家、漁夫,他決定要創建一個水產方面的社會企業。碰巧,他得知以前相處融洽的老長官-榮龍(Frank) –現在的事業合夥人,被資遣,敬恆決定邀請他一起創業。

“事實上,創業不一定會成功。我還年輕有機會失敗,但榮龍年紀較長,有家庭、有三個小孩,對於他而言,壓力更大。但家人信任我並鼓勵、支持我去嘗試。於是,我們開始了創業之路,從一條魚開始。”

2012年十一月, 台灣好漁(康福得寶國際健康事業有限公司)成立了。這是一家販售魚產品的公司,強調運用水利工程結合養殖技術以保護生態環境,減緩地層下陷,同時提供生態環境教育體驗和相關的資訊服務。康福得寶的英文名Asher對於敬恆來說有特殊的意義。Asher是希伯來語,意為“有福”。聖經原文為“Asher之地必出肥美的糧食,且出君王的美味”。

“所以我們所做的一切都是為了將祝福帶給我們的國家,社會和所愛的人” 敬恆解釋道。

公司的草創初期困難重重,這對創始人搭檔花費了很多時間和精力去了解這個行業和可能存在的挑戰。

“剛開始的兩年半,榮龍和我都沒有工資。執行上也常常面對消費者的質疑,為什麼賣這麼貴,特別我們還是沒聽過的品牌,然而,一年之後,我的妻子失業了,情況變得更糟糕,我們的貸款依舊存在,帳單也沒停過,我們還要撫養兩個不到三歲的小孩。我當時曾想過放棄,回去成為一個領薪水的上班族。”他回想起。

但是,敬恆的信仰和堅定的信念讓他堅持了下來。 “我深信如果我們的商業模式是可行的,即便剛開始沒有穩定的收入,但最終公司一定能成長。”

有志者事竟成,敬恆絕不放棄的決心終於得到了回報。過去兩年,因為食安風暴,食品安全受到極大的重視,台灣人開始關注康福得寶所提供的生鮮產品,不少消費者反應我們的品質很好,紛紛回購,公司營業額也開始倍數成長。

最近,公司獲得星展基金會的認可和贊助,這個好消息鼓舞並振奮了敬恆和他的團隊。

“得到星展基金會的資金資助無疑是對我們最好的鼓勵。我們知道自己做的事情是有意義的,而消費者能從我們的努力中受益” 敬恆說到。

這筆資金會被用來開發康福得寶的新產品,進而讓更多消費者受益。“首先,我們會研發更多健康安全的漁類加工品,接著我們會透過生態教育體驗,讓更多人瞭解並重視環境保護的重要性。當消費者認同,市場擴增,就會鼓舞更多的漁民加入友善養殖的行列” 敬恆接著說,“透過市場營銷的影響力,讓更多的人會認同並支持我們的信念。”

然而,商業利潤從來就不是敬恆所追求的目標。他說,更大的動力是減少世界上的飢餓與貧窮。“如果有更多的資源和一個穩定的商業模式,我們將發展出新的產品供應鏈,為缺乏食物的地區提供免費食物的服務,接著再為貧窮的地區開創工作機會,最後希望能將商業模式擴展到教育,從根源上解決貧窮與飢餓的問題”

眼前還有很多的工作要做,敬恆不會停止腳步。

他說:“我可能沒辦法在有生之年完成所有的目標,但這樣的精神與志業將會永遠在這間公司傳承,我將會盡自己所能,幫助需要幫助的人。” 

康福德寶國際健康事股份限公司的網站或者瀏覽星展基金會社會企業目錄上的公司資料

 If you want to find more about socially conscious living in Asia, check out Asia For Good's social enterprise directory.

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