Many residents of Vientiane will be familiar with ‘LOCA’ the taxi app and the convenience it has brought to many in their daily transport needs – but few will be familiar with the story behind its creator. Souliyo Vongdala was a 2017 participant in the Australia-ASEAN Emerging Leaders Program held in Melbourne and Sydney. He remembers well the opportunity he had to pitch the business plan for LOCA and LOCA Gro from Bizgital, a local digital marketing company formed in 2016 by Souliyo and a few friends.
The Australia-ASEAN Emerging Leaders Program (A2ELP) is an Australian Government initiative designed to build scalable business models and regional networks leading to long term positive social impact. Souliyo, full of business ideas, was encouraged through the Program to focus on developing only one initiative first and the suggestion was for LOCA to be considered as a priority given the difficulty in getting a taxi in Vientiane, experienced by one of the ‘pitch’ assessment panel judges. Souliyo followed this advice but a subsequent market survey questioned this advice when the results revealed that 95% of respondents indicated they wouldn’t use the service. Broadening the survey later to include foreign visitors to Vientiane, a very encouraging result was recorded and from that point forward the LOCA story took off, slowly at first but to a point today where Bizgital has a team of 30 staff and 300 cars providing not only safe and reliable taxis to Vientiane residents and visitors, but also a range of other services including LOCA Gro, an on-line grocery shopping platform.
Bringing carefully selected individuals together through the Australia-ASEAN Emerging Leaders Program is an investment by the Government of Australia in the next generation, to lead the private and public sectors across the region. Personal and professional networks across ASEAN are strengthened and ideas are exchanged leading to stability and improved livelihoods for millions.
Building upon the experiences and successes of the Program’s alumni is a feature and Souliyo was invited to participate in 2018 to the emerging leaders’ roundtable A2ELP part of the historic ASEAN-Australia Special Summit held again in Australia. This Roundtable hosted by the Australian Prime Minister engaged the next generation of leaders from across Australia and SE Asia in their shared vision and priorities for the region.
“I loved the way the program participants were selected – all participants were the same kind and lots of bonding took place – we’re still thinking about where and when to have a reunion”.
A question that Souliyo often gets asked is how you can start a business without a lot of personal wealth and contacts behind you, and his reply is simple: “these people don’t know where I came from – I looked for opportunities to get to know people in business and I joined an excellent program (A2ELP) to further build my networks and connections”.
There is no doubt that the success of Bizgital today is also due to the energy and huge satisfaction that Souliyo finds in problem solving, being a change maker and his love for the work that he does, adding that “during the country lockdown due to COVID-19 it was the loneliest moment in my working life”.
But it is the Australia-ASEAN Emerging Leaders Program that Souliyo credits with the impetus needed to forge ahead with what has resulted in Bizgital – a Laos private sector success story.