Shangrila Farms, providing top quality, sustainably grown coffee, honey and cosmetics to SE Asia.  A social enterprise inspired cooperative of Yunnan farmers that helps low-income primary producers reach larger markets and build sustainable livelihoods.

What’s your story?
Shangrila Farms started when my family and I came across a co-op of farmers and roasting facility in Yunnan. We were enchanted by the delicious coffee and the possibility of buying coffee beans from farmers who care for the environment. Originally Shangrila Farms was set up as fund raiser for a local NGO run by my mother called the Yunnan Mountain Heritage Center, however soon after we realized the potential of this coffee project as well as a way to support rural communities in beautiful Yunnan. I quit my job in advertising to launch Shangrila Farms. Shangrila Farms is a natural products company that sells organic coffee, natural & pure exotic honeys, and hand crafted 100% natural cosmetics. The company is a social enterprise that helps low-income farmers have access to a larger market and sustainable livelihood.

What excites you most about your industry?
I love the opportunity to have a business where I can use my background in design to do something good rather than just help big brands make more money. As Shangrila Farms is a social enterprise we do rural training projects such as our beekeeping training project in Yunnan since 2008 and our drip irrigation project which launched last year in 2014. We work with farmers from the grass roots where real impact happens. Doing business in China is both challenging and exciting, there is opportunity and gaps in the market, but of course challenges in terms of the language and culture.  Natural foods and food safety is a growing market in China with a lot of buzz (no pun intended!) at the moment, so it is exciting to be a part of.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I am half Pakistani and half American. As my father works for the United Nations, we grew up living around the world. In Asia I have lived in Uzbekistan for 6 years and China for 12 years. My mother started an NGO in Shangri-La called the Yunnan Mountain Heritage foundation, which is in the Yunnan Province. We also have a home in Shangri-La, which we travel to often. I met my husband in Beijing and started my company, so you could say I am quite routed to China.

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Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
My favorite city in Asia is Bangkok! There is just so much to do and see that I always have a great time. I love the food, the markets, the people, nightlife and affordable massages and spas. The city really has a range of prices from luxury to super cheap accommodation, food, etc. It is really easy to get to the beach for the weekend or a short trip to Bangkok. Luckily living in China on a business visa you have to leave the country often, so I am lucky that I get to travel to Bangkok often.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
My husband has actually been my best mentor for my business. Several years earlier than founding my company he had his own travel business in China, which he launched and successfully fundraised and grew, in the local market. So he was my business encyclopedia as my background was more in design and art having gone to New York University for my BA and Central St. Martins in the UK for my MA. So I readily soaked up all the advice and business savvy from him in the past 6 years for running Shangrila Farms. I think if I have to pinpoint one piece of advice it would be being an entrepreneur is turning lemons into lemonade- finding the opportunity in every challenge.

Who inspires you?
My mother inspires me, she is a beautiful person, who is always so nice to people, non-judgmental and has given back to every community she has lived in. She has a passion for handicrafts, each place we have lived she has set up programs to support local artisans. She has many interests and passions, such as painting, yoga, playing guitar and is never idle. She is always level headed and takes the high road, which is a great example, of what characteristics one should aspire to have. I think you are missing out not having met her!

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
I recently watched 2 documentaries, which are very inspirational about health. One was highlighting the correlation between eating meat and the incidence of heart attacks and cancer. The documentary argued that if we eat a plant based diet you are much less likely to have life threatening diseases- and backed this up with a lot of convincing evidence! The second documentary looked at a man who was on heavy medication for skin rashes, had high blood pressure and severely overweight. He did a 60 day green juice cleanse, at the end cured himself completely and was off medication and lost around 100 pounds.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
Wow, well I think for the company if I had known all that it took from the beginning I probably wouldn’t do it again! However at the same time I am so happy I have built the company and wouldn’t want to be doing anything else… I guess I would go back and fix small mistakes we made along the way here and there.. However at the same time they were also learning experiences.

How do you unwind?
I love to travel to exotic places, one of my favorite trips was to Lamu Island. I went to visit my sister who was living in Nairobi at the time working for the MDG center. We took a side trip to Lamu island. It is an island, with no cars and settled by the Arabs in the 1800’s, so the people look like a mixture of African and Arab, all of a sudden you are in an oasis that is so unique. Other than travelling I love horses and horseback riding. I used to do competitive show jumping as a teenager, but I guess now I have become much more cautious and prefer dressage!

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
My now husband and I went to Sri Lanka where we got engaged. We spent 3 weeks travelling around the island. Sri Lanka is great because it has a bit of everything – interesting city life, beautiful beaches, mountains and safari. I think you can totally unwind and at the same time not get bored or run out of things to do and see. My favorite place in Sri Lanka is Galle. It is an old Dutch town, which is on the southern tip of Sri Lanka, particularly good for buying gemstones.

Everyone in business should read this book:
Well I think everyone in China doing business should read this book written by my father Khalid Malik,  “Why has China grown so fast for so long.” I think it has very insightful insights about the country and development here. It gives a good insider perspective of someone who had a 7-year career in China and knows Asia very well.

Shameless plug for your business:
Shangrila Farms is a social enterprise that brings you the finest in natural products. Our products range from gourmet coffee and honey to natural cosmetics. Our premium grade coffee is grown by a cooperative of farmers in the pristine environment at altitudes of 3000 to 4000 feet above sea level. Our honey is made by bees from wildflowers with strong health benefits. Our cosmetics line uses fresh natural ingredients with no synthetics, additives or preservatives.  We are committed to giving back to our community. We provide income generation by buying at fair trade prices and also offer new skills and training to local farmers.  We encourage organic farming in every way possible and choose products with minimal impact on local ecology.

How can people connect with you?
Our website: www.shangrilafarms.com or facebook Sahra Malik Riskind

This interview was part of the Callum Connect’s column found on The Asian Entrepreneur:

CallumConnects

Callum Laing invests and buys small businesses in a range of industries around Asia.  He has previously started, built and sold half a dozen businesses and is the founder & owner of Fitness-Buffet a company delivering employee wellness solutions in 12 countries.  He is a Director of, amongst others, Key Person of Influence.  A 40 week training program for business owners and executives.

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