I first met Kemariah (Kem for short) in November 2018 after exchanging several Whatsapp messages about organizing a trip to Kunyit7Lodge (K7) for my family who were on a visit.
It was a standard back and forth conversation, how much did it cost, how many people can the boat accomodate etc.
It was a rainy day on the day of our trip, I was already nervous that the trip might be cancelled as the waves at Kampung Ayer were too rough for the boat to pick us up. But the skies cleared up, and from afar we could see Isabella, a red colored boat run by a local Kg Ayer boatman, Saidi.
As we pulled up to the jetty (only 28 seconds away, as Kem told me via Whatspp - an indication of how detail oriented she is), there she was on hand to guide each of my family member out of the boat. I was last and she said 'You must be Shirley' and there began my introduction to Kem, a bundle of energy and joy!
As I write this, Kem is on training in Laos and has sent me videos of luscious waterfalls :)
There are several great articles about the background behind opening up her lodge so I will not cover it here. But what I wanted to hear are some of her reflections on what it takes to run and sustain a purpose driven business and how she pays it forward:
Q: Kem, how do you balance the purpose of starting Kunyit 7 Lodge and maintaining the profitability of your business?
Kunyit 7 Lodge (K7) was built to share the experience of a living heritage of Kampong Ayer not only to the international travellers but also for our local community to find their roots and understand our Malay culture. We introduce packages for tours and room accommodation to sustain and maintain our profitability and also to maintain the structure of K7.
In addition to being the founder of Kunyit 7 Lodge, I also co-founded BWNwomentrepreneurshipnetwork; am the Secretary General for South East Asia Tourist Guide Association Headquarters in Jakarta and the interim president of Brunei Darussalam Tourist guide to set up tourist guide constitution.
Q: What impact have you seen on Kampong Ayer since you started running your business?
Ever since we opened, we have seen some policies change slightly to opening a business in Kampong Ayer. It appears that we are the pilot model to some villagers as some have opened up the same concept house like ours.
Local boatmen now have more opportunity to serve visitors. Small businesses like stalls have mushroomed. The community themselves are more open and not shy to greet and share stories with visitors. City dwellers are asking about new opportunities to migrate to the village.
Q: What are you here to complete?
I would love to open a community centre with a start-up of local artisans, a facility to teach youth and leaders to run walks around the villages and exchange of crafts by local and expatriate community and a place where people can just share ideas on how to improve our living heritage. I want to share my passion to schools and various institutes of learning specifically on how to start up a business on travel and tourism.
Q: How did your experience in the corporate world help with sustaining the business?
I have a management background in training, marketing, auditing, food safety, running hospitality and managing people. These skills have helped when I engage and talk about building human capacity.
From all these experiences I also believe in collaboration. We recently partnered up with Tokyo University and UBD to monitor the tide in Kampong Ayer. A device has been placed outside Kunyit 7. On the other hand, with IBTE Agrometro, we are challenging the team towards building a green Kampong Ayer, encouraging folks to step outside of their comfort zone i.e. setting up hydroponics, some villagers have already started doing so using recycled plastic bottle! For gifts, we purchase from Tuan Zainal from Kain Batik Desa Mas and give these fabrics away during my trips to my host but also for selling in K7. I use his main batik to exchange knowledge of textile and motifs of Brunei heritage.
Q: What advice would you give to folks who are considering a path towards running social enterprises?
Do your due diligence.
Understand why that project
Check your finances
Ask yourself, is this the right entity that you want to support?