Manager Ronney Ngan Hon-pong is used to operating in new and different settings at Cathay Pacific, where he supports change and development. But he never expected to find himself working in a small hut surrounded by chickens, dogs, spiders and children. Nor did the 34-year-old executive imagine his corporate skills would be useful to farmers seeking to make a better living from sustainable organic rice. But that was all part of last month's Young Leaders Programme field project in Cambodia. 'The programme is unique in the sense that it is real - real work, real challenge, real contribution to community development, real environment and real people. It's action-based learning. That's very important for leadership development,' said Mr Ngan. Twenty participants from seven countries plus Hong Kong spent a week in areas where some of the world's best rice is grown, near Phnom Penh. Demand for premium grade and organic rice is soaring, along with export prices. The executives were asked to produce a business plan to establish a profitable social enterprise for trading organic rice at top prices. They worked alongside the Cambodian Centre for Study and Development in Agriculture (Cedac) and local villagers. 'I started to see a connection between the challenges of rural communities and those of the world at large,' said Mr Ngan. 'I also realised that some of the most complex situations could occur in a less economically advanced country and the solutions are not simple.' Mr Ngan said he also became aware that some well-meaning interventions could have a long-term negative impact. 'A typical example in Cambodia was that some NGOs' intention and mindset of helping the poor was enforcing self-deficiency and dependency among the poor. I'm glad to see that some Cambodian people, for example Cedac's management, understand this and are committed to influencing change, and that I'm working with them to start making the change happen.' Mr Ngan said he gained a valuable personal insight from his Cambodian experience. 'I used to think I was quite good at communicating with people. But my meetings with local farmers revealed an important blind spot. I made too many assumptions and I could be much more flexible in communicating.' He said that to overcome misunderstandings between translators, farmers and himself, he learned to sharpen his questions, pay extra attention to non-verbal messages and to exaggerate his body language.