Meaningful Business (MB:) Please tell us a bit about your background.
Neil Dejkraisak (ND:) I was born in Thailand and moved to Australia at the age of 14. It is there that I developed my connection with nature as I stayed in a small farm in Cootamundra, NSW. Being a curious child, I was always asking questions about the purpose and meaning of life. Graduating in Environmental Engineering and Economics and working in Investment Banking gave me the experience I needed to ultimately start a social enterprise, Jasberry, in 2011.
MB: What led you to start Jasberry?
ND: As a young child of around 12 years old, my idol was a Thai environmentalist and social activist Seub Nakhasathien. He was a national scholar who studied in England and came back to Thailand to work for the forest conservation area to protect the forest from illegal logging and preserving wildlife. Because of his excellent work, the people who were benefiting from extracting natural resources from the forest murdered one of his team members and threatened to kill his family if he would not stop protecting the forest. So one night, at the tender age of 40, he wrote a long letter and shot himself in the head. That letter would start the largest environmental movement in Thailand’s history and his Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary is now the largest conservation area in Mainland Southeast Asia and a world heritage property because of his sacrifice.
Seub inspired me to live a life of purpose. In the summer of 1998, I was 16 and on a school excursion to the Sydney Opera House. My best mate Duncan asked me, “Neil, what do you want to do when you grow up?”
“I want to go back to Thailand to help protect the forest,” I replied.
I asked him the same question. He said, “I want to open a school in Africa for underprivileged children.”
Ten years later, despite studying Environmental Engineering and Economics at the University of Melbourne, I found myself working in investment banking, giving financial advice to large corporate CEOs.
The work was challenging. I learnt a lot. Yet something was missing.
One day, I opened a newsletter from my high school – and saw a photo of Duncan surrounded by many young African children. My friend had followed his dream, moved to Africa and opened a school for underprivileged children.
The fire inside me was lit again. The very next day, I quit my job and started pursuing the journey of a lifetime which eventually led me to starting Jasberry in 2011.
MB: What is the problem you are trying to solve?
ND: Thailand was the world’s no. 1 rice exporter but our farmers were among the poorest in the world, earning just $0.40/day, 6 times below the poverty line. This is affecting 17 million people in Thailand or 25% of the entire population. This is the problem Jasberry are trying to solve, farmers poverty.
MB: What is your biggest challenge right now?
ND: For Jasberry the biggest challenge now is to scale our impact. The only way we can do that is by partnering with a global food company that want to create great food products in a sustainable manner, lifting farmers out of poverty in the process. It’s very hard for us as we are in Thailand and we don’t have the connections to the food and retail giants of the world.
MB: What is your vision for the future of your business?
ND: To become the first publicly-listed social enterprise in the world and lift millions of farmers out of poverty.
MB: What is your advice to other leaders who want to combine profit and purpose?
ND: Be innovative and clear about your business model and make sure financial sustainability comes before social impact, because without financial sustainability you can’t make sustainable social and environmental impact in the long term.
MB – What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
ND – If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.
MB – Who inspires you?
ND – See above, Seub Nakhasathien, Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela.
MB – How do you define success?
ND – How you impact other people’s life that you come into contact with.
MB – What is something you wish you were better at?
ND – I wish I could speak fluent Spanish, since I listen to Latin music all the time!
MB – What is the one book everyone should read?
ND – “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie
MB – What do you do to relax?
ND – I do Latin dancing, Salsa, Bachata, Kizomba, Brazilian Zouk, Merengue, etc. and I am still actively teaching Latin dances in my spare time.
Discover the other MB100 leaders recognised for their work combining profit and purpose to help achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals in 2020, here.