The Opportunity to Make a Difference - Video interview with Mark Monchek

I´m excited to share the first video interview with you. Mark Monchek and I met at the Center for Social Innovation, a very vibrant co-working space in the heart of New York. 
Mark is the founder of the Opportunity Lab, a strategy and leadership development firm focused on conscious businesses.

Throughout his career Mark has worked with a quite impressive list of clients but what was even more inspiring to me, than his professional credentials, was his humbleness and the depth of our conversation. Mark shared very openly his personal story on how a profound personal crisis had led him to found his company and why he is so passionated to support businesses to make a difference. Today he and his team work with leaders and organizations to shift in their thinking from a mindset of fear to a culture of opportunity, and in this video he shares some insights how they are doing it. 


For all that want to know more about Mark and the Opportunity Lab, here is an interesting Podcast, a link to his blog and for all that like regular insights, just follow him on twitter.

And as always, I´m looking forward to your feedback. 

Interview with David Yeung – how to start a movement and build a business that makes a difference.

If you hear the story of Green Monday, it sounds at first like a modern business fairytale. A startup that was founded by two vegetarian entrepreneurs, set out to tackle climate change and global food insecurity by promoting and enabling green, healthy and sustainable living – and against all odds this social enterprise is leading the way for others to come and showing that change through business is actually possible. 

Within less than 3 years the young startup reached millions of people, partnered with some of the world's largest corporations and has won numerous of awards. On top of that, Green Monday was recognized as one of  “Top 50 Most Innovative Companies in China by Fast Company .

I met with David Yeung, who is the co-founder of Green Monday in Hong Kong, to talk about how it all started, what’s the secret behind their success and what his vision is for the future.

Let’s start with a short introduction about yourself:

Sure, in a nutshell: I studied engineering at Columbia University and founded my first start-up in 1999. From this point on I became very passionate about building things from scratch. Today I´m serial entrepreneur, I have business in investments, in retail and I'm also heavily involved with a lot of charity and social causes. But the project I'm most focused on at the moment is Green Monday.

David you have been selected by Purpose Economy as “Asian 100 Pioneers”, along with Mike Bloomberg, Elon Musk, and Jack Ma. Before we dive deeper into Green Monday, I’m curious to know about your perspective on what needs to change in business in general?

I think businesses, whether they like it or not, need to understand they have a social responsibility. One of the biggest problems is that of the most crucial expenses are not factored in at the company's balance sheet - that are social cost or environmental cost. Actually, this is a complete loophole in the whole capitalistic world. When people think about maximizing profit, chances are something has to give. Oftentimes it's the social and environmental issues of consequence. So in general – that’s a key thing that needs to change in order build a sustainable economy.

With Green Monday you set out to build such a socially conscious business. What was the inspiration to start a new venture around food and living green?

I have been a vegetarian for 15 years and one of the things I notice is that most people have a lot of misperception about vegetarianism in general. They think there's a lack of nutrients, it's not healthy or they just have doubts from the old thought patterns that are ingrained in our culture. And because it’s not popular there aren't enough options – especially here in China. So I was confronted with that situation everyday.
Along the way I read reports from the UN, and other scientists that say that meat actually is the biggest reason for global warming which is the biggest threat to our planet.

Something struck me when I connect the dots. Well, I'm a vegetarian, are you telling me that I'm doing something that could help the world big time? That was the “Aha moment”.
Then I sat down with a good friend of mine Francis Ngai, who is vegetarian too. He is the co-founder and CEO of an organization called Social Ventures Hong Kong. When we both talked about the idea and it became clear to us we have to do something about it. So on Earth Day April 22, 2012, we launched Green Monday. That’s how it all started.

But instead of just running a campaign or starting an NGO on the side, both of you decided to establish a social enterprise, what was the reason for it.

Francis and I both come from a commercial background; he has been in advertising agencies and marketing departments of big corporations for many years. We both saw that in order to change people to green it cannot just be a campaign or a slogan. If there's an economy, there's obviously a demand and supply side. You cannot just change the awareness, which is the demand. You need to also change the supply side too, because demand is often influenced by supply.

So we knew from the beginning there has to be a business element to it for two reasons: One, we need to influence the supply side. Two, we ourselves need to be sustainable. We don't believe in a model that is purely on donation basis. We want to build and scale a business that has an impact--not spend our time fundraising.

And the impact to date is absolutely incredible. A recent study showed that before the Green Monday Movement, only 5% of people in Hong Kong adopted any sort of vegetarian habit. Only two years later, 23% of people in Hong Kong are practicing at least one day of vegetarianism a week. Within the last 3 years you reached millions of people, partnered with hundreds of restaurants including the biggest fast-food chain in China, Café de Coral, that serves over 330,000 customers per day. On top of that, national and international universities, schools and many Fortune 500 companies joined your movement to bring more green food to the table and promote a new sustainable lifestyle.
I mean, what is different, how can you explain such a success – because the idea about “living green” has been around for quite a while and there have been many attempts before to change people’s behavior. 

I think “living green” in the last 20 years has always remained on a very peripheral level. Maybe it’s because most of the traditional approaches to change something worked like a funnel.
The first step is science and research. "Let me get the numbers right." The second is advertising and promotion. "Let me get political leaders or let me get major celebrities to talk about it." The third one is to hope people will change their behavior. And like a funnel, you start at the top from 100% it end with maybe 5% at the bottom (at best).

We knew that this doesn’t work so Instead of going down the same path we flipped the funnel and tied the message into an existing behavior that people do everyday.
— David Yeung

In our case it's eating. Preparing and consuming food is a very social activity. Our goal was to lower the barrier to entry so everybody can participate. We call this "Baby Steps to go Green”. Because the beautiful thing of a baby step is once everyone is doing it, it becomes a trend. Once it becomes a trend, even more people will do it and want to be a part of it.

And what about the name, why did you choose “Green Monday”?

I think in the name is the real magic. We deliberately chose these two words to be so simple so that every three-year-old in the world would know.
Monday is a chance to welcome a change of pace in the mind and the body and you can do it 52 times a year. At the beginning of the week, when intentions, plans and expectations are set, having a Green Monday symbolizes a wholesome start.

Together with bundling the green education into the most viral and social activity in the world, which is eating – we had the right mix.
If I have to boil it down it would be these factors. Simple, viral, and actionable.

What role did branding and marketing play in this mix?

Branding and marketing are essential to the success of Green Monday. People are bombarded by information. That's why we needed excellent creative communication that makes the message stand out among the clutter.

But the movement is only one part of your company; you mentioned earlier that you are also working to change the supply side for green products.

Yes, the other crucial part we are innovating on is our enterprise model. Under Green Monday we have four arms. There's the public advocacy arm, which goes out and inspires people to life greener. The second one is the consulting arm. It's basically an agency that works with green companies.
The third element is the venture capital model. We actually invest in companies that want to go green because overall we need more solutions and through our network we are able to speed things up so much faster.

Last but not least, we have the retail model, where we want to help people to find choice. Basically whether you are trying to educate, to advise, to build or to serve, distribute, we have that solution. I like to call our model the Swiss Army Knife of green.

Ok so we are sitting in your “Green Common” store here in Hong Kong, can you tell me more about the concept behind it?

First of all, when we talk to a landlord the first thing we say is, "Don't treat us like tenant. Treat us as your community partner." We are here to build a green community. There are many social elements in this shop that are beyond just transactions. For example, there's a water machine there, so we ask people to bring their own bottle. Or we host classes here all the time. We want this to be a school. And of course, you see around the shop a lot of educational material, a climate change gallery. Telling people why we need the change. That's why we call it "common". It's a common space to learn, to eat, and to live green.

It’s really impressive what you have built in such a short amount of time. What is your vision for the future?

Again, it’s two-fold. One is no doubt from a green standpoint. We want to empower people and companies to become change makers themselves. That's on the green advocacy side.

On the business side, we want to let the world know that social entrepreneurship can be successful. You can balance the social side and the business side. As a matter of fact because when you combine those two, then you have a chance to create a green and responsible economy, which actually is the major engine behind a green and sustainable world.

Ok the last question would be for the young people out there that want to make a difference. What advice would you give them?

I have a very unsexy advice to give: I say work in the business world. Because if you haven’t  worked in the business world, how do you know which part is the problem? It's like if you are never sick, you don't understand the mindset of the patients. In our world, at the end of the day, it's still very much dominated by capitalism. We do need to learn the intricacy of how capitalism works. 
Of course I'm not saying you have to wait until 35 to start a business. Spending some years in the corporate world and understanding the problems with corporate is a good start.
After you accumulate experience, you have a very good foundation to found your own business to fix the world problems.
I know it's a little bit anti-climatic. People want me to give some very phenomenal advice like, "Okay, let's do this, and you can become successful." Actually, when it comes to execution there's no shortcut.

Thank you David for taking the time out of your busy day to share your vision and learning’s with us. For everybody who wants to know more about David and Green Monday click on the links below:

Green Monday
David's Ted Talk 
Fast Company 
The Purpose Economy


Food for thought – Interview with Simon Jongenotter about new earth cooking.

Before I went on my journey, a mentor of mine said to me that this endeavor will be as much an “inner” and as an “outer” journey. Since the last couple of months have been really intense I felt the need to give myself a little time to pause and reflect. That’s why I spontaneously booked a ticket from Singapore to Bali to go to a silent retreat center there. It is in a beautiful spot right in the middle of traditional Balinese rice fields, and besides time to think I also found some very inspiring people there.

One of them was Simon Jongenotter who has quite an unusual career path. After a degree from ELE business school and a job in the IT industry he decided to follow his dream and become a chef. In 2004, Simon became a qualified chef through City and Guilds of London and then worked the following years in some of the better restaurants around the world. But just cooking for people who have enough money to afford to go to high class places didn't give enough meaning to his life, so he decided to devote himself fully to his passion of reconnecting people with the origins of food and empowering them to change their lives though better eating habits.

Ok, let´s start straight away with a bold question: How can you be empowered by food?

There seems to be a lot wrong with the world and if you would watch the news or listen to the radio it's very easy to feel disempowered because it seems there isn’t much that you as an individual can do about it. However, as consumers we have tremendous power in the choices that we make. I've come to realize that human beings have very basic needs, which is food and shelter. But because It's been made so easy for us to fulfill those needs we somehow lost touch with their origins. Now we have given away a lot of our power to big corporations who are screwing around with our health in order to maximize their profits. Think about it, there is not a month passing without a major food scandal – and that is just the ones that got public.

What do you think is the biggest challenge in changing that situation?

Our diets have changed more in the last 50 years than in the entire history of humanity.
The biggest challenge is that people have become very lazy. Convenient mystery foods, marketed in clever ways have great appeal and caused people to lose touch with real ingredients. More and more people are waking up to it, some of them because they get sick from the food they put in their bodies, others because they hear about all these scandals and want to do something about it.

What could a solution to this challenge look like?

I believe that by getting in touch with the source of our food we're taking back a lot of our power, so we don't have to be victims, we can change something through the choices we make. I've become really passionate about creating awareness, exploring new solutions and still cooking great food. One way to get through to people is by inspiring them is with amazingly delicious food, it's very emotional. As long as food can be delicious then all the other things can fall into place. I believe the only way to inspire people is through fun, it has to be appealing, it has to be joyful. In my case I’ve taken it quiet far, reaching for ever higher purity standards which go beyond just organic, local ingredients. It includes eradicating all plastic packaging, and embracing sustainable cooking methods such as cast iron pans and charcoal cooking. It doesn’t only serve the entire web of life, it’s actually a lot of fun too, most chefs would love this stuff!  

So tell me more about the philosophy behind new earth cooking.

New Earth Cooking is not a diet, it’s an invitation to rethink your eating habits and see food differently. The philosophy is broken up into 5 questions and answering them will help you make better choices.

Here are the 5 P’s of the New Earth Cooking Philosophy:

Does it make sense to you to eat food which has been imported from far away places?

Are you willing to eat food that is proven to be less vital, fresh and nutritious than Mother Nature has intended? Are you willing to tolerate any amount of toxin and pollution in your food that are known to be a burden on your system? Do you think food should be of lesser quality just because it’s produced in modern ways and said to be ‘cheaper’?

When you choose affordable or cheap food, are you considering the real price you are paying? Are you thinking what you can afford today or what you can afford in life?

Would you be happy to eat food which has been produced by people who suffer emotionally or physically as a direct result of their work?

Are you willing to take more than you give back to planet earth? Do you feel we need to honor earth as our mother who has sustained us since the birth of our species? Is it possible to be a healthy individual whilst all life forms are under threat?

Note: you can read the full New Earth Cooking Philosophy here:

And here some impression how this philosophy looks in action:

What could people do to make a change for themselves today?

There's a wide range of things that you can do, and it will all depend on the level that you
can afford it. If you live in the city, it might be as simple as starting to visit farmers markets,
or buying a couple of seeds, perhaps starting a compost heap in your small backyard.
At all times show interest in ingredients that are in your food and how it is produced. You can find great amounts of information on the Internet. My favorite thing though is cooking for friends and creating a community around it. These are all very basic ways of getting in touch with the things we eat again. And every time you do that, praise yourself for that.
Never come from a place of I'm not good enough and I need to change, but see who could find joy in every little step you take.


Leading change – why transformation begins within. Interview with Darren Robson

Darren Robson - picture by

Darren Robson - picture by

If you meet Darren for the first time you wouldn't think that you are talking to an award-winning Leadership coach that helps to run one of the largest coaching professional bodies in the world. Nor that he is a serial social entrepreneur himself and has founded several business and charities. No, he is very humble; he listens with interest to what you have to say and engages with you in a deep conversation. I was very fortunate to spend an afternoon with him talking about entrepreneurship, leadership and personal transformation.

Ok, let´s start with the topic of social entrepreneurship. How do you define this term?

Basically it means that you have to build a business that's ethical and that's got real core values associated to it. It is about how do you combine your capitalist mindset on how to make money with your social mindset on how to provide meaning.

I like to call that “return on contribution” rather than “return on investment.”
Return on contribution is how do you contribute and at the same time make enough money to grow a sustainable organization.

Ok, that sounds like a great concept, but why should a leader of a company do it in today’s capitalistic driven business world?

Because the market will demand it. Increasingly customers, talent and employees want to see organizations that are making a meaningful contribution. I think whereas before corporate social responsibility was something that was ‘nice to have’, increasingly in our digital world it's crucial for your business.
What will happen is that consumers become more aware and more conscious and they'll start buying based on the ethical principles of companies. If you haven´t put any of these principles into practice, your customers will decide for a company that has – it´s that simple.
I don't think this is a short-term trend. This is a long-term trend and it will change the way we do business in the future.

Why are entrepreneurs so important for this change process?

For large organizations this transition is not easy because you need leaders that are really conscious and aware. But I see increasingly lots of entrepreneurs wanting to find this balance between making a sustainable business from a financial perspective, but also making a contribution. I think it's easier for them to do it than it is a large corporate because it takes time to change a culture and to convince all stakeholders. But entrepreneurs prove with their action that it is possible and they will lead the way into a new era of business.

Since you come from outsides the creative industries , I´m curious to hear your perspective on what you think the creative industry could do within this new paradigm?

The creative industry is locked into the same model. They are in survival mode as well and need to earn profit. It's difficult for, let´s say an agency, to convince their client to be really transparent, even if it is the right thing to do because these large organizations want to project a certain image.

What it will need is some brave brands that want to have a very honest conversation about the challenges they face and creatives who are able to help them engage in a meaningful dialogue with their customers to find solutions together. 

But how will these big companies be able to change?

If we look at large organizations I think that there's a number of ways. There can be a groundswell from within the ranks of an organization or from its customers.
Equally I think that what you need is the most senior leader, so the CEO, the Chairman, the Executive Leadership Team to really wake up to this and to become aware of the world around them. They need to look at themselves as not just good corporate citizens but good global citizens. 

When you start to think of yourself as a good global citizen, you start to realize that we have a responsibility to the planet. We have a responsibility to future generations. This changes the game and the prevailing mindset and culture of an organisation. It will become increasingly obvious that doing the right thing is good business through the financial returns and social equity it creates for great businesses and brands.

What motivates you personally to be one of these good global citizens?

 If we consume like people do in America we need four planets to survive right now. That's going to create real issues for us as a human species. Let's be conscious of that. I'm able to think on a very big picture perspective but then I come right down to the practical earth and go, so what can I do?

I've got two children. One of the things that motivate me is that when they come to me and ask, "What did you do, dad?" I can turn around and say to them, "Well look, these are the things that I've done to try to make your lives and the world slightly better."

What needs to shift in the mindset of people to become aware of their own responsibly?

What we all need to understand is that we're one human tribe. Just because I don't know you, because I didn't grow up with you, doesn´t mean that we are not connected. Just because you live in India doesn't mean I shouldn't care about you on some level. We need to bring humanity back into our mindset. 

What can coaching do to help people with that transformation?

It can help people to raise their consciousness and awareness. It is not about telling somebody, “This is the way to live your life” or “This is the way that you should be”, but you can give them the tools and skill-sets that they need to go on their own journey and discover the answers that are true to them.Coaching for me has been the best way to do that. That's why I contribute to that industry and also use it in my organisations.

You mentioned your charities – one of it is MOE foundation. It is dedicated to your mother and was set up to help young people from less privileged backgrounds. MOE stands for “Ministry of Entrepreneurship“, and since the start in 2012 you have already gifted out over 700,000 pounds worth of development to help them become entrepreneurs & better leaders. What drove you to start this social business?

When I was a kid my motivation was to get out of poverty. My sole purpose was to get out of this situation where I couldn't afford or have enough money for food or clothes or whatever. It wasn't abject poverty but it felt like poverty.
Back then I was desperate for support and mentorship and friendship and someone that could really help me. That wasn't there and I had to create it within myself.

I know that the only reason it changed was because I worked hard and I focused my energy to get myself out of that situation. My drive is to help people that are in that situation to get out of it too. And my way of helping other people is to use coaching to give them the ability to create a better future for themselves.

You have coached hundreds of entrepreneur: what would you say is the most important advice for somebody starting a business?

Dare to dream. At MOE we always talk about what's the dream...and then we focus on how to make it a reality. Don't let your fears, don't let your limitations, don't let other people stop you from trying it. Follow your intuition and do it, but think it through logically as well emotionally. 

For more information: visit, or watch his TED talk