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3 Inspiring Malaysian Changemakers Protecting Our Environment For The Greater Good

The 5th of June, 2023 marks a significant milestone—the 50th anniversary of World Environment Day, an extraordinary day that was born out of the visionary decision by the United Nations General Assembly in 1972. Over the course of five remarkable decades, this day has grown into a powerful global force for environmental advocacy, uniting tens of millions of people worldwide alongside governments, companies, cities, and community organizations.

To honour and celebrate this historical event, we proudly shine a spotlight on three extraordinary who have devoted their entire lives to the noble cause of safeguarding our nation’s fragile ecosystems and empowering others to follow in their footsteps.

Adrian Banie Lasimbang: Orang Asal Advocate, Eco Warrior and Innovator 

Adrian Banie Lasimbang, a farmer-turned-activist, has been at the forefront of the sustainable development movement in Malaysia for over two decades. As a member of the Kadazan tribe, Adrian holds a deep connection to the challenges faced by the Orang Asal.

I began advocating for environmental and indigenous peoples’ rights in high school, following in the footsteps of my older sisters who are activists themselves. Having been exposed to environmental issues at a young age, I started to pick up on issues related to biodiversity conservation and later, climate change. – Adrian Banie Lasimbang[1]

In 1998, he founded TObpinai NIngkokoton koBUruon KampuNG – TONIBUNG (Friends of Village Development), an indigenous-led non-profit group with a mission to develop sustainable alternatives to rural electrification while advocating for native rights and supporting local entrepreneurship and innovation across Southeast Asia. 

Before being appointed as a senator in 2018, the self-taught innovator with 20 years of experience worked tirelessly to empower rural indigenous communities in Sabah, developing technological innovations such as micro-hydro systems installed in indigenous villages across Malaysia and training community groups in resource management and customary rights protection.

Indigenous communities hold the key to climate solutions. Most of the Western solutions might not be appropriate for Malaysia, hence it is important to consult the indigenous communities on how to face and mitigate climate change. – Adrian Banie Lasimbang[2]

At the height of the pandemic, Adrian, as the head of the Center for Renewable Energy & Appropriate Technology (CREATE) Borneo, focused on installing solar-powered water pumps in villages. In his quest to bring electricity to more Sabahans, he even built a prototype of a solar-powered buggy.

The 2022 Acumen fellow has been recognised for his grassroots activism over the years, becoming the first Malaysian to be awarded the Seacology Prize for his success in organising indigenous communities against the unsustainable exploitation of Borneo’s forests and his leadership on alternative energy projects. In 2022, he was awarded the IVLP Alumni Award for Social Innovation and Change[3].

Even after stepping away from mainstream politics, Adrian continues to raise awareness about the rights of Sabahans. He actively leads Pertubuhan Suara Anak Sabah, an organization dedicated to advocating the rights of Sabahans. 

With his recent appointment as Executive Director of Rights Energy Partnership in 2023, which advocates for more access to clean energy through renewable energy, he is driving transformative initiatives to benefit the indigenous Malaysian community with energy-related projects.

I hope to provide indigenous people with a platform to speak on issues that affect them on renewable energy projects while facilitating access to affordable and community-managed renewable energy projects. – Adrian Banie Lasimbang[4]

Cher Chua-Lassalvy: Founder Of Batu Batu Resort & Tengah Island Conservation 

During her teenage years, Cher Chua-Lassalvy would explore Pulau Tengah in Johor alongside her father, Dato Chua Jui Leng, envisioning what a resort on the island would look like. However, it wasn’t until a trip back to Malaysia for her wedding in 2009 that she and her husband Laurent made the decision to turn her childhood dream into reality[5].

Friends in Europe would ask me where to stay in Malaysia and I would always talk about these beautiful islands in our backyard. But I never knew where to recommend them to stay. – Cher Chua-Lassalvy[5]

Motivated to put Malaysia’s beautiful island on the map, Cher and Laurent left their careers in London’s financial district the following year and returned to Malaysia. They devoted themselves fully to bringing Batu Batu to life – a remarkable ecotourism resort that champions conservation and biodiversity.

Our vision is to be a leader in regenerative tourism, providing restorative thought-provoking retreats, and showcasing authentic Malaysian hospitality, whilst creating positive impacts on local biodiversity and communities. – Cher Chua-Lassalvy[6]

Their dedication paid off when Batu Batu received the prestigious Silver Award in the Best for Wildlife & Nature Conservation category at the World Responsible Tourism Awards in 2019. 

In the same year, the Acumen Fellow and her team established Tengah Island Conservation (TIC), which aims to protect and preserve marine and terrestrial biodiversity through scientific research, management, training and outreach. Today, TIC has evolved into a non-governmental organisation operating across seven areas, including Pulau Tengah and Mersing. The organisation partially funded from Batu Batu Resort earnings contributes to the education of local tourism operators. By empowering local communities through education and engagement in conservation projects TIC hopes to safeguard the environment for future generations.

The beauty of the island, the reefs, and marine life are our biggest assets. Protecting the natural environment is absolutely key for the tourism industry and key to the continuation of both our business and the sustainability of the local economy. – Cher Chua-Lassalvy[5]

In addition to their efforts on Pulau Tengah, the founders established KakakTua—a guesthouse and community space near Mersing. Despite the 2020 pandemic’s impact on the pace and scale of this project, Cher and her team are dedicated to making a lasting impact on the community and environment.

Syazwan Rahimy: Humanitarian And Political Secretary of the Ministry of Natural Resources, Environment, and Climate Change 

With a strong desire to make a positive impact, Mohd Syazwan Rahimy Mohd Mokhtar made a significant shift in his career path. Leaving behind his flying corporate job, he entered politics debuting as the Selangor State Exco for Education, Human Capital Development, Science, Technology, and Innovation.

When I left my lucrative corporate job and moved into politics, I willingly took a huge pay cut because I thought that was a great platform to contribute positively. – Mohd Syazwan Rahimy Mohd Mokhtar[8]

During his tenure, he played an active role in various Selangor government initiatives, policies, and programs. He also participated in Smart Selangor’s comprehensive branding and communication efforts.

However, in 2020, an opportunity presented itself that resonated deeply with Syazwan. He was offered the position of General Manager at The Lost Food Project (TLFP), an NGO dedicated to rescuing high-quality food that would otherwise go to waste and redistributing it. Having volunteered with the organization since its inception, he eagerly accepted the role.

Joining The Lost Food Project (TLFP) seems like coming full circle for me. TLFP need more companies to get on board and do the right thing with their surplus food and help charities feed people. – Mohd Syazwan Rahimy Mohd Mokhtar[8]

At the height of the pandemic, Syazwan was on the ground, ensuring sufficient food for the underprivileged. TLFP has rescued a whopping 4,592,349 kg of food, prevented 11,480,873 kg of greenhouse gases from entering the atmosphere and provided 14,319,341 meals to the hungry.

The food that has been rescued, amounting to several tonnes, has provided thousands of meals to people who would otherwise struggle to put food on the table. It’s about creating opportunities for individuals to nourish their families. – Mohd Syazwan Rahimy Mohd Mokhtar[8]

In January 2023, the Acumen Fellow was appointed as the Political Secretary of the Ministry of Natural Resources, Environment, and Climate Change, allowing him to drive larger-scale changes through policymaking. Whether through politics or NGO work, Syazwan is committed to fostering positive change in our environment and communities around us.

This post is a collaboration with Malaysia Acumen Academy. The Acumen Fellowship brings together exceptional leaders from Malaysia, who ultimately become members of a global community that rebuilds lives and restores dignity. For more information, visit their website .

Explore our sources:

  1. Global Ties. (2022). Q&A with Adrian Lasimbang. Link.
  2. A.Mardhiah. (2022). Govt urged to declare climate emergency.  The Malaysian Reserve. Link.
  3. J. Timbuong. (2019). Yearstarter2019: Empowering Sabah’s rural indigenous communities. The Star. Link.
  4. Right Energy Partnership. (2023). Introducing Mr Adrian Lasimbang: Our New Executive Director Leading The Way For Indigenous Energy Solutions. Link. 
  5. Batu-Batu Story. (n.d.). Link.
  6. K.N.Kumar. (2022). Putting sustainability first in tourism – lessons from a Malaysian SME. The Vibes. Link.
  7. V. Ong. (n.d.) ‘Authenticity is looking into the soul of a place’. The Better Traveller. Link.
  8. E. Koshy. (2020). The Lost Food Project is determined to put nutritious food on needy Malaysians’ tables. New Straits Times. Link.

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