As CEO of INNOV8 Group and a staunch advocate for animal rights and rescue, Yulia Khouri has been recruited to the ranks of Wildlife Alliance as the NGOs first ambassador. AsiaLIFE finds out more. Photography by Charles Fox.
How did you become involved with WA?
I have been a supporter of WA for about four years. I first learned about them when I rescued an orphaned infant macaque while vacationing on Koh Rong. Charlie lost his mum and the troop when loggers killed them for meat. While fostering Charlie for over eight months, we were looking for a more permanent solution for this gorgeous macaque. We teamed up with WA and donated the funds we raised at fashion shows Glamazon 2 and 3, and went on to raise funds to build a large enclosure for Charlie at Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Centre, where Charlie and other macaques – some of which we rescued later – now live. My relationship with WA grew stronger exponentially. I have been a huge admirer of their bravery and tenacity in such difficult, and often unappreciated, work.
What does your role as WA ambassador involve?
This year, I officially teamed up with WA as their ambassador and spokesperson in order to use my role as a businesswoman in Cambodia to raise awareness, and hopefully get support from my fellow business leaders. I will be the voice and the eyes of WA to those who might not hear or see the impact of their work on a daily basis. As I travel to witness WA projects and follow the heroes into the jungle and forests, I will recount what I personally see. I would like to be able to tell the story of the brave work they do daily and also show the real tangible results to the business and civil community. I hope to create an interest in supporting WA so that, in strong partnership with the government, civil society, business sector and youth, we can build a better, stronger, greener Cambodia.
What are the main issues that WA faces in Cambodia?
The primary issue is on-going natural habitat loss and thus, the alarming rates of disappearance of many endangered species, such as Asian elephants, beautiful clouded leopards, Langurs, Asian palm civets, pangolins, slow loris and sunbears. While certainly, Cambodia is not the only country to face environmental devastation, it is one of the leading countries in the loss of natural forests. Slowing down the rates of deforestation is not an easy task, but WA is working closely with the government in preventing further environmental damage. I personally applaud this effort of cooperation as I believe the cooperation of all key actors is vital. I do not think pointing the fingers or blame-game is constructive; the only way to success is cooperation and transparent dialogue and action.
As a businesswoman, how do these two worlds come together?
In my “previous life” I had a career in the NGO secto. As such, I personally have seen that business and non-profit are intricately interdependent, especially when long-term sustainability of both is analysed; without the important work of NGOs, a country’s development is slow and business operations are either short-lived or often difficult. Likewise, without the backing of businesses, NGOs often cannot continue their projects. All businesses must have strong and well-developed social corporate responsibility programmes. I also feel that as expats, we must actively participate in building the country where we operate, building positive relationships with all the key actors and empowering those who work in development, nurturing the community effort and creating an atmosphere of strong cooperation. Being a spokeswoman for WA is another aspect of the unique marriage between my own passion for animals, the environment and INNOV8’s business strategy in the country.
What role can businesses play in the aid world?
Of course, financial support is the key. Without necessary funding, development programmes cannot be sustained; no NGO can run on goodwill alone. However, let me remind my colleagues in the business sector that if your company’s budgets are tight, there is a tangible alternative: businesses can always lend their skills, expertise, vision and products to the NGO sector. For instance, INNOV8 offers in-kind support to development projects, such as building IT systems and mobile apps, running awareness campaigns or data-gathering and analysis to assist our beneficiaries. I believe if there is a will, there are always creative ways to offer support in many forms, not just cash.
What do you hope to achieve with WA in the next year?
My goal is to create stronger business participation and increase the awareness of WA and its projects. Supporting the rescue and rehabilitation of endangered species, habitat restoration, re-forestation – these are very important “noncontroversial” projects that play a vital role in preserving the beauty of Cambodian flora and fauna. I hope that by the end of 2016 we have achieved some level of increased awareness and cooperation with the business community. I am also teaching a graduate class at university this term and as a spokesperson for WA, I plan to help students design a set of positive media campaigns to showcase the beauty of Cambodia and the importance of preserving its environment and wildlife.