A doctor for the people, an eco-warrior making waves with his luxury resort, a baker who puts his heart into every loaf and a businessman with a love of nature — these men have inspired with their substance and style. In this special focus, they talk to Options about
what drives them and the causes that are close to their heart.

SINGAPORE (Nov 25): As regional managing director (Indonesia and the Philippines) for Asia- Pacific’s leading luxury retail distributor, Luxasia, Alwyn Chong has a lot on his plate. Luxasia has a stable of iconic brands — Bvlgari, Guerlain, Hermès, La Prairie, Peter Thomas Roth, Prada, Salvatore Ferragamo and SK-II to name a few. In fact, this phone interview was done in between his meetings in Los Angeles.

Despite his busy schedule, Chong is an avid photographer. Laughing, he tells Options a former housemate “forced” him to take up photography but he eventually found a passion and knack for it. “[My housemate] did photography and wanted me to join him, and that’s how I started. But I found that photography was a way for me to express myself and share moments, so I slowly grew into it and it helped me relax,” he says.

When he visited Africa about 11 years ago, photography turned into something much more than a hobby. Chong has been going back to Africa — in particular, Botswana — every year since, to take photographs, and two years ago, he held an exhibition in collaboration with Leica. The exhibition documented his expedition to the Okavango Delta in Botswana, and all proceeds from the sale of books and photos went to aid for children in Africa.

“I’ve always wanted to do more for the community, to give back to it,” he says. “My mother is an eye surgeon, and so I started thinking about a mission, with her, to Botswana where we will bring villagers from the community to receive eye care. I approached the Maun Hospital in Botswana directly, and well, it has been a bit of a process. I’m going next year with my mother to talk to them again, explain to them what we plan to do.” He is hoping it will materialise by 2021.

“Visiting Africa really changed my perspective of life. It used to be about, what do you want to do or what do you want to be, but now I think, what can I truly experience, what’s really important in life and career, and how can [I] contribute,” he says.

Moreover, it’s a place for Chong to detox digitally, away from the chaos of his busy city life. “In places like that, you need so little to be happy, and it grounds you against the hustle and bustle of city life,” he adds. “The thing I understand, in the end, is that a person can be so happy with so little in one place, and another can be discontented with so much at another place. Happiness, I learnt, is a function of choice and one needs to strike that balance.”

He is proud of the fact that Luxasia runs the Luxasia Foundation, which aims to make a sustainable difference to the community, in particular, improving the lives of women. “The company focuses on helping women, especially in respect of education. For the last eight years or so, the foundation has participated in the Yellow Ribbon Project, which helps educate female ex-offenders and help them seek employment after training.”

Chong is also in talks with WWF Singapore about a collaboration for the conservation of the Bukit Timah reserve, but it is still early days yet. “I do want to participate a bit more in conservation, and contribute more in that direction, so I’m definitely happy to collaborate.”

In the end, what drives Chong is his eagerness to learn. “I think life is really about learning new things, and it is at the core of what gets you up every morning. By nature, I like to challenge the status quo. And I think through this discourse and disruption, you always come up with great new ideas on how to do things.”