Lawrence Lau FCPA has set up a social enterprise that drives eco-tourism while providing much-needed business support to remote rural communities.
By Katie Langmore
Since the pandemic-induced rise in videoconferencing, most of us have spent countless hours looking into other people’s studies, makeshift offices or, at best, images of exotic but unmoving virtual backgrounds. For Lawrence Lau FCPA, however, his meeting backdrops are truly breathtaking.
Lau’s current “office” is a small wooden hut that looks out onto the high mountains of north-west Yunnan province in Mainland China, shrouded in low-lying cloud and covered in dense, lush foliage.
“We’re sitting at close to 3000 metres high, near the border of Myanmar and Tibet,” says Lau.
Dressed in activewear, which Lau jokingly calls his “business attire”, the former finance head of multinational companies such as Owens Corning, L’Oréal China and General Motors looks in his element – far happier than he might be in his study or an office.
“I stepped down from my corporate role as a CFO a few years ago. Since then, I’ve been gradually increasing my time building my companies,” he explains.
Lau’s social enterprise, which he set up when living in Australia prior to the pandemic, is called Pathfinder, with Pathfinder Travel+ as a division that specialises in offering immersive travel experiences alongside community service.
His vision is to provide financial and practical support to remote rural communities, and then draw eco-tourists to their villages.
At the moment, Lau is helping some Tibetan villagers carry out a feasibility study into expanding a small trout fish farm with a tiny eatery into a nine-room bed and breakfast, offering unique travel experiences in the region.
“These communities need business support,” he explains. “What I’m doing is what CPAs do best – I’m helping people to use simple tools like spreadsheets to capture income, expenses, risks and long-term projections. I’m encouraging them to consider best and worst-case scenarios, build solid business plans with contingencies, and I’m also talking about ethical and transparent business models.”
Lau supports the villagers free of charge, and most of his work so far has been self-funded. He plans to grow the eco-tourism side of the business and has already led some small groups of friends and tourists into rural regions.
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One group helped refurbish an old library at a school located in a remote part of Guizhou. “With the help of the school community, we created a beautiful, open-plan, interactive space with computers and books. The students and teachers were so happy.”
Lau gives back to the community in other ways besides eco tourism. In 2018, before leaving the corporate world, he became a Justice of the Peace (JP). “Being a JP gives me the chance to serve the community and also gives me fantastic exposure to people from all walks of life,” he says.
He joined the voluntary program JPs in the Community, and spends half a day each week and some weekends sitting at a shopping centre helping members of the public certify their documents. “I even used the service when I was younger,” he laughs.
Lau is also a member of the Lions Club, has actively supported rural school education programs and has arranged medical outreach in Mainland China and South-East Asia.
He also served for two years as president of CPA Australia’s Shanghai Committee, having helped to establish the regional office in 2006.
“I’ve known in my heart for a long time that I want to serve people in need,” says Lau. “I come from a very humble background, and I feel so blessed that I got to study in Australia under a program sponsored by the Australian Government.
“Now that my family is well cared for, I am so happy to be able to do this meaningful work, travel to untouched paradises, to meet all these amazing people and do my best for these communities.”
About Pathfinder Travel+
Lawrence Lau’s Pathfinder Travel+ is a social enterprise that aims to support rural communities in Mainland China and other Asian countries through sustainable business support and education in financial literacy, while giving eco-travellers an unforgettable, immersive cultural experience.