If there’s one thing we know at Project Everest, it’s that personal development and career success can go hand in hand with positive global impact. That’s what this blog post, in a series of many, is all about – sharing, learning and inspiring others to find out how they can be part of something bigger than us all combined.
I am currently in my second year of studying a Bachelor of Commerce Liberal Studies at USYD. In July 2016, I took the opportunity to work with Project Everest as a Trekker – initially when I signed up the concept of social entrepreneurship was quite foreign to me but I was so intrigued and excited about tackling social issues in a new way. That month in Cambodia changed my perspective on how business can be used to empower others whilst learning the reality of how to go about creating that business from the ground up. I valued my experience so much that I wanted to continue my work with Project Everest and train to be able to lead a team. In January and February this year I went back to Siem Reap to lead two teams – being able to drive progress and build stakeholder relationships from a new angle was an invaluable experience. Now I am excited to embark on the next chapter, senior leadership training, to be able to facilitate and support the projects, trekkers and team leaders in the field.
What was a ‘typical’ day in the life of a trekker on Project?
A day in the life of a trekker involves working as a team to develop a socially beneficial product or service idea. No two days in this team are the same. On assessment projects, you are conducting surveys and finding out the root of the problem from the people who experience it the most and use the dynamic skills of the team to define the issue and start coming up with possible solutions. Once you are happy with an idea you have assessed the process begins of co-testing with the user the product or service, taking on board feedback and going back to the drawing board to create the best idea possible.
In a day we could be engaging in group discussions, creating business model canvasses and using Stanford Design Thinking exercises to turn thoughts and observations into constellations. Outside of the workspace, we could be talking business owners, going out to rural villages, having meetings with government officials, conducting urban surveys and talking to other stakeholders.
What Project were you involved in? Did you see a direct impact of your project to either the community, individual or cross-cultural links?
In July, the Project Everest Education Resource project I worked on aimed to provide secondary school aged children with an online desktop platform that would help teach Cambodians English. We identified a huge inherent demand for English education as it is a sought after skill in the Cambodian market and the current schooling systems were not equipped to teach English past an intermediate level. This prototype was in the design stages however through the individuals we spoke to in schools we could gauge enthusiasm for the idea and genuinely see it’s potential for impact.
The Energy Assessment project is in early stages however it has the potential to provide a clean, reliable and constant source of electricity for rural households in the Siem Reap province through the prototype of the thermo-electric generator array, which uses heat to generate electricity. Because our team only started in the prototype we can only see the potential impact of creating a sustainable renewable energy source for those who don’t have access. The Water Assessment project was similarly in early stages however the planned prototype of a rainwater tank filtration system could have the ability to significantly improve the health of those in rural villages as the product plans to address water supply and quality issues.
What did you personally learn about yourself, the organisation and/or the country to travelled to? Biggest challenge?
The biggest challenge for me was getting around people’s different ways of thinking and trying to embrace these differences to prevent clashes within teams. I think we all learned to value each other’s opinions and not shy away from a healthy argument – in fact, no one learns anything if you agree on every decision.
Cambodians have a strong sense of community and family and this transcends all aspects of life. The support that they have for each other and the kindness that they extend to strangers is amazing. The number of times I would encounter a sick parent in a village who made sure their child had access to clean water even if they couldn’t or seeing the community came together in times of strife was astounding.
The transparent nature of the organisation is different from any other I have worked with – they genuinely care and go above and beyond any job description. They are always open and honest and value feedback to always move the organisation forward in a positive direction. The way that Project Everest is conducted is inspiring and facilitates personal growth.
For me personally, I learnt just how hard it is to make that leap outside your comfort zone, but as cheesy as it sounds, you can’t even see the potential of what you can learn from inside it.
Moving forward, do you think social enterprise is the answer to solving the world’s issues?
Social enterprise goes above and beyond what any philanthropic activity can achieve because, unlike charity, creating social value and economic value are synonymous. Creating shared value ensures a long-term, sustainable solution that empowers users to break out of the poverty cycle. A person’s quality of life can be improved by purchasing a product or service that enables them to gain knowledge to enhance their source of income, improve their basic health or even provide the intangible benefit of convenience that gives someone more time to work or receive an education. Being able to have a constant and reliable solution drives both social progress and simultaneously boosts economic growth – something that aid falls short of.
If we are really going to tackle world issues, is it sustainable for organisations driving change to be reliant on goodwill and funding? On the other side, is it sustainable for communities to depend on philanthropists for primary resources?