Melisa Lim Siew Ming started her career in communications, with a major in broadcasting. "But I was burnt out within a couple of years, and sought out volunteering opportunities at a non-profit organisation instead," she said.
"When I was volunteering, I saw that Malaysia had parallel worlds. The urban world of broadcasting and communications is a long way from the world of subsistence farmers and rural communities. I started to think about how we might start to help these communities."
Melisa, together with three other non-profit colleagues, founded Langit Collective in 2015. The collective aims to improve the lives of Malaysian farmers.
"The farmers grow abundant, good-quality rice, but the supply chain is incomplete," explained Melisa. "They don't get high prices for their rice, and some of the rice is wasted because it doesn't reach the market."
"Langit was set up to be the connector between the farmers and the market. We recruit farmers, talk to them about crop quality and consistency, and encourage sustainable farming practices. And then we go to the market and sign up gourmet restaurants and luxury hotels to take the produce directly. A minimum of 35% of the retail proceeds go directly to the farmers."
Melisa says the model is working well. The number of farmers and buyers has expanded, especially over the last couple of years as the enterprise gained more exposure.
"We find that we share similar values to a lot of the brand owners we are selling to, and they are happy to have a way to support local people," said Melisa.
"Most of our sales are domestic, though we do find that some people buy the products as souvenirs and take them overseas. The products travel much further than the producers."
"It's great that word about the collective and about the lives of Malaysian farmers spreads in this way. In one of our programs, we organise trips for tourists to let them experience Malaysian rural life. I think this helps people to understand and appreciate the artistry that goes into the planting and production of these quality products."
Melisa found out about the Australia-ASEAN Emerging Leaders Program (A2ELP) through social media. Launched in 2016, A2ELP brings together 15 young professionals from throughout the region in an eight-day workshop to share their experiences, learn new skills and expand their networks.
Melisa had known other people who attended the program previously. "They had very good reports of the program. I thought it was be a great opportunity to seek out new learnings beyond Malaysia, and gain new perspectives on our work," she said.
She is also hoping she might set up links to other professionals who can help to expand the work.
"We are trying to grow, so I would like to give a shout out to any professionals who can offer solutions and insights that could help us to improve our business processes. I'm really looking forward to meeting the other participants, and I'm sure we'll learn a lot from each other."