September 3, 2020

Starting Small for a Big Outcome


Exchange Alumnus Aushim Merchant delivers his presentation, “Never Too Young to Lead,” at the 2019 Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI) Summit in Phuket, Thailand.
YSEALI Professional Fellows Program Alumnus (2015) and Cultural Vistas’s Alumni Impact Award winner (2019) Aushim Merchant’s passions of youth advocacy and environmental protection converge with the Mekong River, one of the most biodiverse ecosystems in the world.

Inspired by his experiences on the YSEALI Professional Fellows Program, which featured a four-week fellowship with King County’s (State of Washington) Department of Natural Resources and Parks, the Bangkok-native founded the Mintra Foundation with the goal of promoting more inclusion, economic development, and better conditions for the environment with a particular focus on water management, conservation and drip irrigation with farmers in local villages. Aushim’s subsequent contributions to the Mekong River Project in March 2016, which was an Alumni Engagement Innovation Fund (AEIF) finalist that year, and his participation in the 2016 YSEALI Generation: Oceans regional exchange workshop in Jakarta, Indonesia, fostered collaboration between leaders from Laos, Myanmar, and Thailand.

He thinks it’s important to get the youth in particular to think about the issues at hand so that there will be solutions within their lifetimes and that cooperation starts with one person doing something small locally.

“All you need to do is start something in a small way in your own time and make sure that it is feasible, viable, sustainable, and that the outcome of what you do is to promote the conservation of the Mekong River,” he says.

The river itself, which runs for 2,703 miles through six countries, is at the center of agriculture, transportation, energy, fisheries, as well as drinking water and the effects of saltwater intrusion have a cascading threat effect on multiple industries, livelihoods, and wellbeing.

That is why conserving the river is so crucial, and as Merchant points out, it is not just a job source, but a way of life for the communities around it.

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