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A Harvard graduate´s yak business

06-11-2010 16:02 BJT

Yak business: money & conscience

Four years ago, Carol Chyau caught her first glimpse of a herd of yaks in northwest China's Qinghai province. She may have found them fun to look at, but she could have had no idea that they would later be the source of an amazing business idea.

Carol Chyau was born in 1982. After spending a part of her childhood with family in Taiwan Island, she returned to the US to pursue her Bachelor's degree in the University of Pennsylvania… before going on to earn her masters degree at Harvard Kennedy School.

The twenty-eight-year-old is now the proud owner of two lifestyle shops in Shanghai that sell item made from yak hair.

However, the products don't come cheap, with a pair of hand-knitted baby booties costing as much as 200 yuan. Yaks are a relatively rare species. Using their fur could put a curb on development in Carol's business. So she's partnering with major fashion labels to work with blended fabrics. Carol hopes their high-end products will help boost the image of “Made in China”.

Carol says she plans to open more stores in the next 5 years and expand the product categories. She hopes her stores will the first place where people choose to go when they want useful and unique gifts.

And if possible, as long as customers lend a willing ear, she'll be there to share the unusual story behind her quest to combine business with a social conscience.

A dream of social entrepreneur

While still in college, Carol was already planning ahead for her career.

Carol says, "I was inspired by various cases that social entrepreneurs who using business model to work on social problems."

To her surprise, she found a fellow-dreamer in Marie So, a friend and classmate at Harvard. With Marie having roots in the Hong Kong SAR , the two girls decided to look to the Chinese Mainland to make their dreams come true.

What is social enterprise?

Although understanding of the term varies, "social enterprise" is usually defined as a business that makes a social contribution while still remaining profitable.

One of the most well-known and successful examples of a social enterprise is Grameen Bank founded by Bangladeshi economist, Muhammad Yunus. Grameen Bank grants millions of small loans to poor people in Bangladesh with no collateral. And it is his pioneering work in the micro-credit movement that won Yunus the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006.

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