Hayley Yu | Alumni Profile | Rising Stars Series #2

‘To change the world let’s start with food!’

Hayley has a real passion for providing access to fresh, healthy food.. that and Pandas

It’s not very often you meet young men or women as intent on changing the world as Hayley Yu. Two years after graduating from Diocesan School for Girls in Auckland where she founded and ran the Young Enterprise Company RICE, Hayley has gone to build non-for-profit organisations for a range of social causes. She’s also off to the UK at the end of the year to work with some of the leading groups working to solve some of the world’s most challenging food issues!

For a humorous video of Hayley jumping around in a Panda suit to support the cause you can head to http://sparkmypotential.co.nz/project/letseat

We sat down with Hayley to hear more about her view on social issues and business, the love of food and how to truly change the world for the better!


First off, what was your YES team at Diocesan called and what did you guys sell?

We started a YES team in Year 13 called RICE (we were super bad at thinking of creative names). We sold  bracelets, which contained a grain of rice in them with the word ‘Love’, ‘Hope’ or ‘Change’, inside a glass tube. All the profits went to help the famine in West Africa and Niger. We wanted to develop another take on the traditional charity wristbands. The bracelets proved to be popular with people so my friend and I developed it into Grains for Change and kept it going for another year.


 You are a huge supporter of a number of social issues and were involved in starting a social innovation club at the University of Auckland as well as your own start-up Fresh Eats. What issues in particular do you, the Club and Fresh Eats support?

Yes my interest for all of this started really when I was 15 years old and I helped out with the inaugural Global Poverty Project. From there, I was always wanted to contribute something to help eradicate extreme poverty.

When I came into University and discovered the Social Enterprise Club, I was hooked! Our club is all about developing sustainable frameworks that empower and further the wellbeing of communities. I think that’s having a concept like social enterprise is so awesome because you’re challenged to think and act innovatively – to change how we think about the charity and business model. For us, it’s always about a hand up not a hand out!

Fresh Eats is all about increasing access to healthy food for low-income areas. I’m a HUGE food lover (who isn’t really?) and it bewilders me how people don’t have access to 3 meals a day let alone a variety of food options. Fresh Eats is focused on providing low-income families with affordable, easy and delicious meal options through a sustainable business model.


How critical are positive social and ethical values to business (by extension, is it businesses job to look after social issues or is it the role of non for profits or government)?

I think both the public and private sector can learn from each other and that’s why social enterprise is begun to emerge in NZ. For businesses, I think they understand the next generation of consumers is increasingly socially conscious and aware of the ethical and environmental impact of their purchasing decision (hence the upsurge of free-range, sustainable fish sources, organic products etc).

For businesses, I think it would be a no-brainer to start measuring their ROI based not only on a financial return, but the social impact of their business. I don’t necessarily think their sole responsibility is to “look after” social wellbeing, but the model is inherently innovative so when you plug social responsibility in the equation (beyond CSR), I think you’d find a much more empowering and meaningful solution to some of the world’s problems, than what’s currently offered.

At the same time I think the Government has a significant role to play in developing policy for a more equitable society. In addition from policy, I think they should be looking at fostering social innovation in the private sector because that’s where I see that major sustainable frameworks to tackle some of the world’s biggest problems emerging.

Hayley Yu (L) signing up new members to the Social Innovation Club

You’re also off to the UK at the end of the year, do you blog or is there somewhere we can read more about the awesome work you do?

Yes! So I’ll be in the UK for 2 months working to some of the leading social enterprises in urban farming, food accessibility and sustainability. The aim to take my findings and develop a sustainable, scalable model which eliminates the barriers preventing people from accessing local, sustainable and fresh produce/food. If you’d like to keep my journey, I’ll be blog on http://hayleyfinds.wordpress.com/ (it’s not live yet – but watch this space!)


As a successful young women in business, do you have any role models that motivate you to do what you do?

Strangely enough, the people I consider role models aren’t necessarily directly related to what I do, but they inspire me through the courage and honesty expressed through their work.  I’ve tired so hard to think of people who are more relevant but these are the 2 which I consider my role models

  1. Primo Levi- I had to read his autobiography for year 13 English, called If This is a Man and I was just blown away. It was the first time I experienced how powerful a novel could be in such a minimalist way. So he inspires me through his honesty and ability to present life just as it is-without colored distractions.
  2. Elia Suleiman- he’s a Palestinian director and I’m just so in awe of his films (if I ever meet him in real life, I would seriously geek out) Again, I just think his films are so honest and courageous in their representation of real life and the way he puts forward his work in such boldness.

I think these two people are my role models because they’ve just let their work speak for itself. In a world so cluttered with personalities and frenzy- it’s easy to get distracted from the facts and what actually matters. Both these people inspire me to let what I do speak for itself and just to be honest/bold in what I do.

Other than that, I’m honestly just so inspired by the people I’ve been lucky enough to work with through Social Innovation. I think there’s often a lot of emphasis on the role of the individual, but a great team can achieve things beyond anything that individual could dream up!


For the future world changers like yourself out there – what’s your key nugget(s) of advice?

I really believe the biggest favor you can do for yourself and the biggest positive impact you can have on the world would be to follow your passions. I know this is so clichéd and overused, but you’d be surprised at easy it is to follow this pre-determined path that’s been set by “society”. If so you have a social enterprise idea or business, just get started on it! Just by starting you’re already leaps and bounds ahead. Don’t be afraid because you won’t fail-you’ll only learn more about yourself and how you can improve your model.

Validate your assumptions – this is something that I’ve found to be a great concrete piece of advice when developing any business model. Test it out, go talk to your customers, get out there and get the research going. Your idea is only an idea until you’ve actually validated a need for it. Only then, will you begin developing a model.

Genuine networking – networking is a word thrown around a lot at university and in the business world and I think most people know how important it is. I was never really good at networking or interested in it because I always felt like I was not being genuine. Not that I’m any expert on networking, but I think people respond a lot better when you show a genuine interest in what they do and actually want to learn more – not just for the sake of just “networking” – showing up but not really being present. For me, I liked it a lot more when I got into the social enterprise space and networking just became a chance to have an awesome conversation with people that had similar passions and want work with you to bettering the world.

Just do it – there’s so much talk out there of what could be done or what should be done but no one’s really doing it.  Let your actions speak for themselves.

Be Sociable, Share!
This entry was posted in news. Bookmark the permalink.