REHDA Youth with An Epic Mission

Focus Malaysia  |  August 8-14, 2015

Text by Yvonne Yoong

If ever there were a formidable dream team forging ahead collectively with a common mission, then this has to be it. It is no secret that REHDA Youth, the youth wing of the Real Estate and Housing Developers’ Association Malaysia representing the nations’ largest group of next generation developers, ascribes to the notion of strength in numbers.  Leveraging from this position of solidarity, they collectively take on challenges and issues facing the real estate industry and REHDA Youth’s CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) programme.

For starters, there are plans to build the first green-rated orphanage building in Kuala Lumpur. “The idea behind building a green-rated orphanage is in line with our vision to educate the public about sustainable living. By this, we are educating even those less fortunate about sustainable living. By using recycled water, improving air ventilation and allowing sunlight into the home, these green features will reduce the house’s operational costs,” says REHDA deputy chairwoman Carrie Fong.

Simultaneously, there are also plans to refurbish and renovate an existing orphanage in Petaling Jaya.

Secondly, in a collaboration with Epic (an abbreviation for “Extraordinary People Impacting Community”), 40 REHDA Youth members will be building a pilot housing project for an Orang Asli community under  the Epic Homes non-profit initiative. The third initiative is a Charity Treasure Hunt scheduled to take place from Kuala Lumpur to Penang (Sept 19 to 20) to raise funds to finance the CSR programme.

“The CSR initiative is a collective effort leveraging on our network. Everyone plays a role. REHDA Youth adviser Teo Chui Ping and deputy chairwoman Fong are very involved in the CSR orphanage section.  EXCO committee member Shaun Mok is heading the collaboration with Epic which is a big project in itself. Committee member Michael Fu will be organising the Charity Treasure Hunt. So herein, you can see the synergy,” says Sam Tan, chairman of REHDA Youth.

Fashioning this collective blueprint for doing good is something the group takes seriously.

“I’m very lucky to have a dream team. I’m very happy with what we’ve got at REHDA Youth. It’s quite amazing. I think we are the first youth developer association in the world. And the thing is, we are all very good friends. That makes such a big difference,” he says. Indeed, the next generation of developers are not only driven and savvy-they too know how to have a good time while doing good as apparent in the camaraderie present among themselves.

“With all the developers working together, it’s like a major, super joint venture that is unprecedented. I think the industry is very proud that we can do this. CSR is one of the pillars that REHDA Youth is founded upon so we’re giving back to society. The reality is that everyone is giving back. And, when everyone gets together, the efforts combined can become so pronounced that they become sustainable. That’s what we want because everything is about sustainability.”

Convinced of the benefits of associating with one another to bring the industry another level higher, the charismatic leader in Tan encourages his members to excel in their respective development undertakings while giving back to society:

“When someone develops an area, many people will want to go there and it will increase in value. So if I develop a piece of land, it enriches my neighbour. If they build on their land, they are enriching me. Therefore, if we synergise and build together, it enriches our entire community. As developers, we are the nation’s builders. When someone develops something, it builds up the place so those doing well will benefit me too,” he observes. Creating Collective Goodwill “Maybe in the old days, the seniors would treat each other like associates. They would meet at the association level and undertake their respective businesses in a ‘I will conduct my own business while you manage your own business manner’, but for us, we are starting this bond, this camaraderie between ourselves for this generation,” says Tan.

“We’re friends going forward in this property industry. The strength that we possess in the development industry – the collective powers that we have, is amazing. And, that’s our job. Our duty is to nation build. That’s the truth of the matter,” he says radiating a huge smile.

“I never believe in wishing ill of others.  If someone comes along and delivers something better, it benefits the rest. We’re very dependent on our consultants and people as we cannot be experts at everything. We’re literally on top of the food chain. We’re like the conductors of the orchestra.  There’s the bass, the violins and the cellos. Everyone has to do their collective part to achieve the right music,” he opines.

Tan’s good-natured demeanour and warm sense of humour go down well with the other members who agree that while their respective developments remain separate Blue Oceans, coming together ultimately benefits them all and only serves to enhance the good they wish to bring about for society.

“The knowledge that we share with each other is invaluable because it’s for the industry. By sharing with one another, we cut down on our learning curve so collectively, we can bring our prices down. When more and more developers use the same products,  they become cheaper to market so it’s a win-win situation as cost savings can be passed down to the buyers,” he reasons. Multiplying The Epic Blueprint. Mok, who is overseeing the REHDA Youth collaboration with Epic headed by its founder and CEO John-Son Oei, believes this pilot collaboration will give rise to a series of housing projects constructed for the Orang Asli community”

“Epic is a very marketable word so we would like to term this as an Epic collaboration with REHDA Youth. That’s the structure of how we see this collaboration with John­ Son happening. We’re working on various milestones and agreements with Epic in terms of the long-term plan and end product,” Mok says.

Epic has been making waves, having built 65 homes for the under­privileged and the Orang Asli community to date. Not a bad record considering Oei started out practically clueless, with zero construction background and nothing more than sheer determination and a vision to help the rural community by building houses for them.

“Ultimately, John-Sons main mission is to connect rural villages and provide the villagers with amenities to ensure sustainable communities. Essentially, the big picture of this collaboration  with REHDA Youth is that he would like to masterplan  a rural community  that people could almost liken to an urban village with all the necessary amenities but still maintain a very rural feel about it,” shares Mok.

“It’s a very, very grand plan and John-Son is currently constructing on a house-to-house basis. What’s unique about how this model works is that it is 90% done by volunteers.  So, when we heard about the grand plan at REHDA Youth, we thought it was right down our alley as well,” he enthuses.

Providing an avenue for people who wish to do good, Epic receives sponsorships from multinational corporations (MNCs) and organisations with a CSR budget.

Mok says each house costs about   RM40,000.   Epic also charges an additional fee ranging from around RM30,000 for  30  volunteers, depending on the consultative  process  and  the cost for housing the volunteers, transport logistics (buses, four-wheel drives or boats) and food.

“This is the equation that we’re trying to put together and why we’re working on this synergy. There are lots of mutual benefits for both parties. We believe many people want to do good but if there’s no avenue to do so, people shy away, whereas if you provide this avenue, people will pitch in. As you know, REHDA is the largest association of home builders in the country, full stop. And so, we believe that this is how the two organisations -REHDA and Epic can effectively come together.

“We’re going to achieve the built model with Epic, step by step. We’re envisioning a medium-term arrangement with Epic as what we’re trying to achieve can’t be just a one-off project. I believe Epic wants to reach a level where they have some economies of scale for long-term viability because currently, they are constructing from project to project, and going from one MNC to another, so there’s no big economic traction.”

REHDA Youth hopes to construct the pilot home with Epic in November.

“The whole REHDA Youth committee will be involved. The house has to be built cost-effectively and quickly within three days by volunteers. On our end, we will assist by sharing our expertise. We also hope to streamline the process,” says Mok.

Echoing his thoughts, REHDA Youth adviser Teo affirms that Epic’s method is quick because house parts have already been pre-fabricated and constructed at the Epic factory.

“It’s a bit like Lego-Epic uses the pre-fabricated items and basically sets-up camp for the volunteers. This is what they did when they built a house in Kelantan last month with 500 volunteers,” she shares.

An A-list of household brand names and organisations like Nestle, GE and Tetra Pak Malaysia have sponsored homes for the Orang Asli.

“The only difference is that these corporate companies are not builders so they contribute as part of their CSR programme. The difference with us, REHDA Youth, is that we are all developers. With all our expertise combined in terms of what we intend to do, we can add value to Epic. We have access to good engineers, architects, material suppliers and other resources.
“We can help Epic to improve on their production ca­pacity and also their design so that they can build better houses. The first step is to get our hands dirty by getting involved in the first project. Thereafter, we will see what more we can do for them.”

Mok agrees. “The idea was to do a pilot home and to understand the process from A to Z, and then go back to the drawing board to help determine the plan,” he says adding that there are many willing volunteers.

“I suppose now, generosity has evolved. People don’t just want to give a handout anymore. Instead, they want to know where their money goes and sometimes, they want to be involved, wanting to know that whatever they’ve given actually adds up,” he concludes.