In late October Yihua sent a team, including Mr. Steel and Mr. Shoer, to southwestern China's Yunnan province. They did a site survey for the Linden Centre, an American-owned lodge dedicated to preserving local cultures and architecture. Linden hopes to expand in an environmentally responsible way that also preserves the heritage of nearby people groups.
Yihua is also exchanging leads with lawyers, accountants and other service providers. They will feed into its network, which will remain at the core of the business even as it grows.
“As this network evolves ... the amount of skills and strategies that we can implement keeps growing," Mr. Steel said. Already, the group has worked to address challenges in the solar and semiconductor industries and has helped companies that clean up waste water, a major problem in China.
In its 12th five-year plan enacted this year, the Chinese Communist Party has highlighted clean energy as a strategic industry, both to meet its ravenous appetite for power and to fuel its export engine, said Johnny Browaeys, a veteran environmental consultant who has lived and worked in China for eight years.
Yihua hopes to be a connecting point for foreign firms looking to tap a market Mr. Browaeys believes will eventually lead in green innovation out of necessity. To deal with its huge environmental problems, China is “opening its arms” to new technologies while demand is slinking along in the U.S. and Europe is mired in financial woes, he told GlobalAtlanta by phone.
“A lot of solutions for problems in the old markets will be found in China,” and foreign companies that thrive will be those who make connections with trusted local partners now, said Mr. Browaeys, who recently left construction and services firm CH2M Hill's China office.
The 42-year-old Belgium native developed Yihua's social business model on a sixth-month sabbatical and is serving as its unpaid chairman while transitioning in his career.
He noted that the network is becoming a conduit for finding qualified employees in China. While the difficulty protecting intellectual property tends to grab headlines, foreign companies rate hiring and retaining employees as the top challenge to their China operations, according to an annual survey by the US-China Business Council.
“We don't mind to be an employment pipeline,” Mr. Browaeys said.
After all, it fits with the group's overarching purpose.
“Our philosophy is that everyone who engages or links with us should benefit from doing so,” he said.
For Mr. Shoer, that was reason enough to move across the Pacific.
“I just really believe in it,” he said.