Harley Seyedin: Promoting Sustainability and Social Inclusiveness in South China

1st of March 2023

Written by Ingrid Moshuus, Intern at Business for Peace Foundation

Dr Harley Seyedin is the President of the American Chamber of Commerce in South China and of Allelon Energy Systems and has spent the last three decades in South China, building a multi-national electricity and low carbon infrastructure development business. The promotion of a sustainable development model that will benefit the people and future generations have always been at the core of his work. In 2017 he was recognized with the Oslo Business for Peace Award. We had a chat with him about his work and how he implements sustainability into the core of his business operations and investments.

From Power Plant to Industrial Park

When Mr Seyedin first started in China, the country was under major development. Harley traveled around China and witnessed poverty in the different villages, which prompted him to get involved in the country’s development and contribute to the growth of the local communities. One of his first projects was the construction of a power plant in the city of Dongguan, which the local community was eager to be included in. Mr Seyedin engaged the local community by providing them with 40 percent of the interests of the power plant, he trained members of the local community to operate the project, and he implemented only one expatriate in the project for the first three years. After the three years, no foreigners operated the project and it became a locally-owned business. The power plant was a success because of the centrality of the local community in the project. Harley emphasises that when a project is over, the local community should grow and prosper as a result. They have today shut down the power plant to reduce their carbon footprint, but the land has been kept and protected, providing new opportunities for the local community. Currently, they are developing the land into a massive industrial park to manufacture high technology products and medical equipment. The project also holds developmental components, including the building of a K-12 school system, a firehouse, an underground bus station, and creating thousands of jobs. In this way, his business operations are contributing to a positive and sustainable development of the local community.  An essential aspect in all of Harley’s work is sustainability. For him, sustainability is about ensuring a better future for our future generations. A sustainable business will raise the living standards of the people and communities affected by the business operations and investments and include them in the entire process, as Harley demonstrated in the development of the power plant and its transformation to a industrial park.

Promoting Sustainable Investments and Social Inclusiveness

In his work, Harley has a strong commitment to the promotion of sustainable investments: “my legacy in business will be long-term sources of sustainable revenue for the local communities in which I have undertaken development projects”. In the American Chamber of Commerce in South China, he works to help other companies make sustainable investments while simultaneously making profit, helping them overcome any adversities or difficulties they may face. In September 2022, he led a delegation of 116 business executives to the China International Fair for Investment and Trade, where the members of his delegation linked 2 billion USD in new sustainable investment deals. He also continues to lead the Chamber’s charitable events and projects. One project helps impoverished villages and raises money to pay for poor and orphaned children’s immediate life-saving medical procedures. The efforts they have put in place so far have directly contributed to saving the lives of 225 children. “I strongly believe that one of these children will make a massive difference in the world someday”, thus the saving of these children’s lives is an investment in the future and the development of a better world. 

Adapting to Uncertantity

We are living in unprecedented times affected by uncertainty. Harley Seyedin always keeps the threats of uncertainty in mind when developing business ideas, as one can never know what the future holds. Back in 2006, Harley had read an article, written by Keith Bradsher, about whether businesses are prepared in the case of an outbreak of a flu pandemic, which prompted him to conduct a survey of his businesses’ preparedness. They discovered that the companies were not prepared, and as a result developed and implemented a crisis plan in the case of such events. When the pandemic hit China in January 2020, Harley’s companies were some of the least hit in China due to the years devoted to preparing their crisis management plans. Mr Seyedin emphasises that although we have returned back to normal after the Covid-19 pandemic, businesses always have to be prepared for new crisis situations, seen with the devastating war in Ukraine. Businesses have to be adaptable and flexible, plan forward and be prepared for unexpected events.

A Businessworthy Leader

We asked Harley Seyedin what makes a good business leader. Money is a core measure for a successful business and can enable the creation of positive change, but that alone cannot measure success and define a good business leader, he answered. A good business leader strives to do good for society such as engaging the local community affected by the business operations, create positive effects for the community, and help accelerate processes that will create positive change. For a business leader this might require different and unconventional ideas, but it will produce results in the long-term. A businessworthy leader contributes to society in a unique way, such as Harley Seyedin have demonstrated through his business operations in China. 

Harley Seyedin won the Oslo Business for Peace Award in  2017 for his businessworthy entrepreneurship, promoting social inclusiveness and opportunities for the dispossessed as systemic features of development. You can read more about him here