Many people ask what is the main difference between Millennials of the West and of the South East, and I always state Entrepreneurship. Whilst there has been a growing entrepreneurship push in many Western countries, nothing compares to the do it yourself culture of Asia. With little to no social security in many Asian countries most likely the main cause.

The well-told story of a young man starting his noodle soup cart on the streets of downtown Bangkok, working hard and 50 years later his grandchildren running a multinational eatery chain is what many consider the South East dream.

With this mindeset, the explosion of social media has allowed for a new entrepreneurial segment that many of South East Asia’s Millenials are adopting at a rapid and sometime unthought through pace. I have been alarmed at the growing prevalence of online pyramid schemes in the region. Reading the same stories repeated on popular online forums and hearing the first-hand account through a young Cambodian. Many trying to make some ‘money on the side’ to support the cost of living and family pressures are being targeted.

The official business term given is multi-level marketing (MLM), a business strategy where revenue is generated from both product sales and the recruitment of new distributors. However, in real-world examples, most will leave the venture financially worse than when they started, with many never even recovering the initial investment made.

The story sounds like this:

A young South East Asian Millineial struggling with the cost of living and family pressures decides he/she needs to make some extra money. Google searches on this very subject will result in Behavioral advertisement targeting. A technique used by online publishers and advertisers to increase the effectiveness of their campaigns through information collected on an individual’s Web-browsing behavior, such as the pages they have visited or the searches they have made, to select which advertisements to display to that individual.

Advertisements will then propose MLM scheme’s that involve the selling of everything from makeup to diet shakes and life coaching to lingerie, with most being spruiked through Facebook lives and webinars. Once involved potential recruits are lured to an isolated place by a friend or family member, and for the next week recruiters will psychologically break them down, emphasising the benevolent nature of the business, promising wealth, and appealing to personal ambition and their responsibility to provide for their family.

The initial deposit involved to start these businesses often run into the thousands, with many borrowing the full amount at well above market rates, and from sometimes very unscrutable lenders. Once the deposit has been made and the initial products purchased the commission-based model is somewhat similar to Avon, the 133-year-old company that recruited “Avon ladies” to sell beauty products door-to-door. However, in 2019, presenters buy and sell through social media – usually Facebook. The commission structure is based on different presenter statuses – with the people at the bottom, earning a 20% commission from their sales, then next up in the scale, earning 25%. With monthly membership fees being distributed in a similar fashion.

As the amount of members selling products is uncapped, bottom based sellers will almost always far outnumber potential buyers. Hence leading to very little to no actual sales, however, top tier members still make money from initial investments and memebrship fees. As membership fees must continue to be made regardless of any product sold each month.

The scheme mostly ends with the young millennial running out of funds to continue their monthly membership fees and once the failure of payment, will have their account permanently closed, many still convinced their next big sale was only moments away.

As always the reasons for people falling for these scams are the same that dupe even the most well educated and savvy investor. When people ‘want’ something to be true, they become blind to all logical reasons it is not. With the real issue stemming from the lack of genuine opportunities and intense family pressures that heaped on the youth of South East Asia today.


The never-ending political turmoil in Thailand continues as Thailand’s Future Forward Party leader and democracy poster boy Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit nominated an alliance of seven parties as their candidate for prime minister a day ahead of a parliamentary vote to fill the post following disputed elections in March.

The consensus reached by the country’s “democratic front” pitches him against current prime minister and junta chief Prayuth Chan-ocha, who has ruled since the military came to power in a 2014 coup.

Amnesty International announced Wednesday it had “new evidence” that Myanmar’s military is now “committing war crimes and other human rights violations” against the ethnic Rakhine, listing extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrests, torture and enforced disappearances.

However with access to the conflict area being heavily restricted details of civilian deaths are near impossible to confirm.

Western push back against the Chinese Telecommunication giant Huawei has not been followed from South East Asia with Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad offering support towards Huawei in his keynote address during The Future of Asia conference held in Japan.

The second-time PM assured that Malaysia will continue using Huawei’s tech “as much as possible” because its research efforts are “far bigger than the whole of Malaysia’s research equivalent.”

The Week That Was:

The big news this week was the Filipinos Prime Minister Rodrigo Duterte push back against Western rubbish being shipped to the Philippines, threatening as he does with usual overstated bluster that he would “sail to Canada and dump their garbage there”.

Well, either Duterte’s threats of literally sailing over 11,000km have actually scared his Canadian counterpart Justin Trudeau or the left-leaning PM understands the terrible PR this story was receiving for his ‘environmental agenda’. This commentator would have his money on the later, as now the roughly 1,500 tonnes of repatriated rubbish will be shipped to the Canadian city of Vancouver, and Canada agreeing to cover the full cost of its transfer and disposal.

The countries Minister for Environment Yeo Bee Yin has been making multiple media appearance over the week, stating the Philippines has become a dumping ground of the wealthy. After China stopped importing foreign waste, many Western nations have been caught with literally thousands of tonnes of low-grade recyclables and lack of storage facilities.

As much as I would like to applaud the Filipino government for their environmental considerations, nationalistic dog-whistling is more likely the real reasons behind this. For anyone who has visited the Philippines or anywhere in South East Asia for the matter, responsible rubbish collection and deposit are not high on their agenda.

With the timing most likely to coincide with the countries midterm elections and Duterte continuing to tap into strong anti-western sentiment, that worked well for him during his own presidential campaign. Although not without due cause, blaming all the countries ills on colonialist western agenda has plagued South East Asian politics for almost a century.

The Week Ahead:

Keeping my ear to the ground, regular readers will know of my first-hand accounts of the now Chinse dominated port of Sihanoukville in Cambodia and any long term readers of mine will know the town has always had a seedy side.

Well, news from the ground is that Kampot has taken the lion share of the wheelers and dealers that once called Sihanoukville home. Next week I will be offering further insights into what that means for both Kampot and Cambodia as a whole.

Photo of the week will return next and I will have the result of the poll published over the past two weeks. Keep the emails coming as always and I will ensure if one I receive a timely and thoughtful response.


Harrison White can be contacted at