One Fish At A Time
[Traditional Chinese version below | 繁體中文]
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 enterprise. So, 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.”
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".
"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.”
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。
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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