July 03, 2024 •

5 min reading

Social impact: From global ventures to local initiatives

Written by

Irvan Sutiono’s insatiable curiosity has led him on a fascinating journey across continents. As a young student, he was drawn to the idea of fostering human progress through technology, and initially wanted to pursue bioengineering with a focus on human evolutionary biology.

However, after a chance encounter with someone in the hospitality industry, he made a surprise pivot towards a degree in hospitality management—a decision for Irvan driven by its “human touch”, untapped business and growth opportunities in the region, and the allure of exploring the world through work. And it was while at EHL Hospitality Business School that he discovered a hidden talent for real estate, and a passion for social ventures.

Since graduating, his ventures have taken him on a global odyssey from Switzerland to France, the UK, Thailand, and full circle back to his hometown, Jakarta. Now, as the Head of Innovation and Asset Management at his family business, Irvan is leveraging his overseas experience to prototype affordable, sustainable housing to enhance the well-being of his fellow Indonesians.


The analytical thinker's path in hotel real estate

As a high school student at a boarding school in China, Irvan wasn’t initially considering the hospitality industry. That changed when a family member who worked at a luxury hotel chain in Shanghai took him to visit numerous properties across the city, opening his eyes to one of the most mobile and fastest-growing industries in the world.

“It was then that I decided to apply to the first and best hospitality school in the world, EHL,” recalls Irvan, who thrived in the campus’ international environment. Academically, his analytical mind was drawn to finance-related courses such as Financial Analysis, Managerial Accounting, Real Estate Finance, and Portfolio Management. These deeply interested him.

I could explore different ways to arrive at a precise answer.

This in turn led to his interest in hotel real estate, prompting him to pursue an internship in 2015 with HVS’s Singapore team (Hospitality Valuation Services), renowned for its specialisation in hotel valuation, consulting, asset management, and investment advisory. Building on this experience, Irvan launched his professional career with the hotel brokerage team at CBRE Hotels in London after graduation.

Entrepreneurship with a positive impact

Inspired by his father who founded a successful construction business, Irvan also dabbled in various entrepreneurial ventures while at EHL. These included everything from side hustles such as selling sandwiches to dormmates on the weekends, and launching significant, personal projects such as Isara, a Deaf community-centred platform.

Isara soon blossomed into a community platform for individuals with hearing loss, complete with a sign language learning application and online interpreter services. As Isara grew, Irvan maintained the role of co-founder, and the project was later handpicked by the French Government to be part of 70 global startups in the French Tech Ticket program.

For a time after graduation, Irvan regularly commuted between Paris, where he was actively building Isara, and London, where he was working for CBRE Hotels in hotel real estate.


Empowering communities

While Irvan was working in Europe, Southeast Asia was experiencing a surge in tourism, with ASEAN’s regional economies growing significantly faster than the global average.

That’s when Irvan seized the opportunity to work with Bangkok-based hotel owner-operator Compass in 2018. He says, “I decided to exit Isara, and made a shift to the buy-side in hotel investments, and relocated to Thailand.” Within just a year there, he rose to the role of manager in investments and compliance.

However, it wasn’t long before he felt something was missing. “Isara had ignited a passion in me,” he said. “I missed the social impact aspect of what I do.”

This realisation led him to join the Global Shapers Community (GSC) in Bangkok, working on numerous projects such as career consulting, gamifying financial literacy for Thai university students, rolling out global humanitarian aid, as well as organising local blood donations, to name a few. Affiliated with the World Economic Forum, GSC is a network of young individuals working together to address social challenges across the globe.


Back home to family business

After 13 years of living and working abroad, Irvan’s now returned home to Indonesia to apply his global expertise to his family business, Anantagraha, which specialises in bespoke design and build services for high-end residential and industrial projects.


“Growing up in a family of architects, I’ve seen how a few simple sketches can turn into solid structures that provide shelter, create a sense of community, and bring business.”

Discover his profile

However, he also acknowledges that the construction industry is “notoriously bad for the environment, and painfully slow to embrace new technologies.”

Understanding those opposing realities, Irvan wanted to lead his family business into sustainable ventures and position it as a catalyst for Indonesia's smart city initiatives. This move combines his years of experience in real estate, as well as his passion for social impact.

I'm currently working on a prototype for a smart and green townhouse that balances quality, affordability, and sustainability

The idea is ambitious, but if financially viable, he wants to expand it to Indonesia’s new “capital of the future”: Nusantara.


Work hard, play hard, stay curious

In addition to working at Anantagraha, Irvan’s also consulting pro-bono to make small medium enterprises (SMEs) in hospitality and tourism in Jakarta more sustainable, with plans to teach primary school students about UN Sustainable Development Goals through a board game. He truly embodies the spirit of EHL: work hard, play hard, stay curious.

EHL’s alumni community is full of people with passion – who are driven by grit, who enjoy life, and who aspire to innovate. As Irvan recounts: “A prime example is one of my closest friends at EHL, who pivoted from project managing the pre-opening of one of the world's 50 best bars in Singapore to leading the rollout of award-winning video games at one of the largest independent video game development companies.”

So what’s Irvan’s advice for those wanting to make a positive change in the world? Start small. Explore different projects and initiatives, and see where your skills – and passions – can make a real difference. It’s summed up by one of Irvan’s favourite sayings:

We learn who we are in practice, not in theory.”


Start your international career at EHL

Our Bachelor in Hospitality will prepare you to lead and launch businesses using a dual-excellence approach that develops the perfect balance of hospitality know-how and soft skills in an international setting.