Project Everest


This is our blog


Hi all!

We’ve been busy at PEV working out how we can create more impact on the projects we are working on and create more tangible results. Traditionally it takes entrepreneurs about 18 months and $250k to start a business and we’ve realised that by ideating our own projects, we are increasing the risk that they will not succeed. 

Taking this into account, we believe that if we are able to take existing technologies or business models that are proven in developed countries and replicate (and tailor) the business models to suit the developing world, we will have a better chance of success. 

What we know - we are great at fostering leaders, accessing multiple markets in the developing world, validating business ideas through the FOCUS framework and commercialising businesses. If we can pair that with individuals, companies or university research teams who are as passionate as we are about creating impact globally and need their product ideas validated (and/or commercialised), we have a much greater chance of achieving our vision. 

Cue Impact Partners! 

We know how hard you all work when you’re in-country and how brilliant you are at working through FOCUS to validate ideas and concepts. Nothing will change on this front, except moving forward we aim to be working with deeper technologies and proven business models to speed up the validation process.

So it is with great excitement that we announce Diversity Arrays Technology (DArT) as our first impact partner! DArT is a genetics company based in Canberra that is breaking new ground in agriculture biodiversity and genetic analytics-lead cropping systems. DArT’s three core areas of operation are: genetic testing of seeds, analysis to determine optimal farming conditions and data management to connect this analysis with seed breeders and ecologists. DArT has a pretty incredible vision of designing, developing and using modern technologies to ensure our planet’s abundant biodiversity is not only protected for the wellbeing of mankind but used to advance social, agricultural and environmental prosperity worldwide. Which goes without being said, has a lot of alignment with Project Everest’s own vision of enabling 1 billion people. 

The field of genetics may seem daunting to those not scientifically inclined, but here’s the breakdown of the opportunities. The low cost of DArT technology has significant scalability and hence the potential to be commercialised in developing markets. Using DArT technology, tailored agricultural advice and resilient biodiverse seeds could be provided to subsistence farmers across developing countries. Increased agriculture biodiversity means higher yields, crop resilience, heightened nutritional variety, reduced reliance on chemicals and overall a healthier environment and ecosystem. 

The potential for impact doesn’t stop there. DArT’s data management system would allow seed breeders to access the developing market, test and track the success of their seeds and secure their IP globally. Further, this management technology could be extended to connecting stakeholders across the agriculture supply chain. This would reduce inefficiencies such as poor infrastructure, prevent unfair middlemen practices and better educate the market on modern sustainable farming practices. 

Over summer our teams in Fiji, Timor-Leste and India will be working to validate DArT’s commercial viability. If validated, this project would pave the way for Project Everest validating future impact partner technologies in developing markets and hence a new model for creating high impact social enterprises. It goes without saying that the goals of the DArT project build on those of the FarmEd project and for this reason, the DArT project will temporarily replace FarmEd over summer. The valuable research conducted by prior Project Everest teams in the agriculture and nutrition space has been fundamental for setting the direction of the DArT project and will be used in its validation. As those of you who have worked on FarmEd would know, FarmEd has made many (often frustrating) technological iterations ranging from drones to the infamous FarmEd app. Using the established DArT technology frees up our teams to do what they do best - proving product-market fit in developing countries.

We could not be more excited to be working towards this incredible vision of increasing food security, improving nutrition and ensuring sustainable incomes for the 475 million smallholder farmers around the world while safeguarding environmental sustainability. 

As always, you're welcome to reach out to me to ask any questions, have a mental sparring match over whether this a good model and if there is a better way. There is always room for improvement and I would love to hear it. 


Andrew, Fiona - Project Development and Commercialisation Team

I want to start this post by saying this project is an oversight. An oversight that we haven't run something like this a long time ago. The nature of this project coming into play is almost unintentional and that is the craziest thing about this. It shouldn't have been unintentional.

There is absolutely no question at all by anyone you speak to in the office, within our leadership cohort, or otherwise, as to the importance of a project like this. 

Biannually, we run a leadership training that is for those committed to pursuing the challenge and journey of leadership, of social enterprise and of going back to work in a space filled with inspirational, motivated, intelligent and wonderful people. This year, we trained 48 young Australians, Mexicans, British, Germans, Indians and countless other nationalities. This presented us with a wonderful problem, what project topics do we give them to work on over our training period? We had eight teams and we only really work in seven areas in our work overseas.

A few of our senior leaders thought up the option of using sanitation as project topic, the idea flew under the radar and it wasn't brought to my attention until it was too late to reverse the decision. I will be honest, I didn't see how we could apply social enterprise concepts to female sanitation. Reluctantly, the topic went ahead and over the week I saw one of the most incredible project ideas we've ever seen come through our training environment evolve into being. The team were so passionate, they treated the topic of menstruation, periods, reusable pads as they would anything else and blew everyone else away. 

I walked away from our leadership training inspired and determined that this is was something that we have an obligation to try and make happen. My plan that we would run it in India at the end of the year...

What especially motivated me was when I realised how significant this topic was in enabling girls and women to go to school, continue tertiary education, maintain a job and be respected ALL days of the month. How can we talk about social enterprise, impact, empowering communities and individuals if half of the population in India or Africa won't leave the house for roughly a week a month? 

Project Everest was hosting a Sydney University Business School Case Competition, the top three teams came to our office to present their work and their ideas on the major social issues in India. Last minute, one of the three teams pulled out and left two. The winning team had presented some amazing work on the importance of sanitation in India and the opportunities it looked to achieve through something as simple as ensuring women and girls could safely and confidently engage with the world during menstruation.


That was it, we had seen this topic pop up enough in the space of two weeks that it couldn't be ignored. With the support of our project development team and the women in the office, we wrote the initial brief and made space to run this project in Malawi this July. Record turn around time!

So, to the point of the post, the three reasons why it is our duty to ensure female hygiene and sanitation is a project focus at Project Everest:

1. Half the population in developing communities are made to feel like leaving the house 25% of the time is inappropriate or doesn't have the means to practically do so. This impacts girl's and women's ability to go to school, maintain a job and sets bad habits for the rest of their life. Could you imagine completing your university degree if you were absent every 4th week?

2. Women and girls often have no choice other than to rely on men to provide them with sanitation resources. This can result in limited access, over-reliance on males, unsafe sex, unwanted teen pregnancy and early marriage, affecting education and work opportunities.

3. 70% of reproductive diseases in females in the developing context are the result of poor sanitation practices due to costly or non-existent resources and little to no education of the importance of female hygiene. Women may resort to plastic, leaves, newspaper, rags or corn husks as a means to manage menstruation. 

Imagine reusable sanitation products, good for female health, the environment and ensuring equal opportunities for all. This isn't a novel idea, in fact, it exists. What we need is a scalable model. A model where women are employed to manufacture sanitation products, to be distributed by a semi-informal female network, allowing education, employment and empowerment. 


Want to know more? See our plan for starting this project here:

- Idea point values will be reduced by 2/3 and extra points assigned to labels provided by moderators
- Labels and high point values are assigned to business model components
- Labels and high point values are assigned to experiments
- Labels and high point values are assigned to proposed projects and proposed operational improvements
- Labels and low point values are assigned to work updates and the lowest to banter
- Posts may be removed/sent back to those who posted for fixing/improvement
- All points will be reset to zero
- More moderators have been added to the system

Basecamp has evolved at PEV since it was implemented over 12 months ago. It’s purpose is to provide a transparent repository for project information and to, in time, harness the PEV community and external collaborators to achieve the companies purpose.

To enable this we have developed the next round of changes in how Basecamp is to be utilised:

1. Idea point values: upon posting an idea on basecamp a user will be immediately given 5 points versus the current 15. Once a moderator has assigned a status label the post will be given additional points in line with it’s value.

2. Project Repository: to provide information about projects so that community members can immediately get an in-depth understanding of the proposed business model and current activities.

To support this: moderators will assign the following post status in line with the lean canvas and the BMC: customer segment, problem, revenue stream, cost structure, customer relationships, channels, value proposition, Solution, key metrics, unfair advantage, key partners, key activities, key resources. These status labels are coloured black and it is envisaged that there will be one of each label for each project. As an improved post is created for that label it will replace the existing.

These types of labels are valued at 15 points each.

3. Outline experimentation (proposed/adopted/results): experimentation is a key component of Lean and PEV methodology. Quality posts shall outline what is to be learned from conducting the experiment and what assumption in the business model is to be validated. It will then describe how the learning is to be measured and finally how the experiment is to be built to enable the measurement and learning.

Moderators will assign the following status labels: proposed experiment, experiment adopted, experiment results.

4. Proposed projects and operational improvements: we value the input of the community to proposed projects and these ideas are reviewed and then put forward to R&D and Commercialisation. Should they be adopted they earn significant point values. In the same manner improvements to operations are valued and receive high point loadings. For an example of a quality “proposed operational improvement” post see:

5. Work updates: are valued significantly less than core validated learning through the prescribed methodology. Work updates include ‘weekly updates’ and ‘goals for the month’. By comparison they are assigned approx 12% of the value of posts on validated learning. They are also likely to be moved by moderators to knowledge hub or removed if they do not add value.

Posts with community value but little project value may have the ‘Banter’ label applied with the lowest number of points and may be removed or placed in knowledge hub.

6. Removal/editing of posts: moderators have the ability to edit posts or remove them entirely for which they may request that the post be re-constructed in a different format or for a specific purpose. User’s can then re-post post changes or check with the moderator before reposting.

7. Points reset: in line with the changes and the commencement of a new focus of Basecamp. This is to occur at the start of July projects.

8. Increased moderators: each SL for July, core staff and those involved in R&D/Commercialisation are moderators which has increased the overall number of moderators 4 fold. This is to increase response in the system.


Pausing ERS in Cambodia

Posted by Andrew Vild (Admin) Apr 30, 2018

Coming out of summer, we have had some fantastic achievements across countries and projects. Naturally, we’ve also encountered multiple roadblocks. One of the projects that experienced particular difficulties was Everest Recycling Solutions in Cambodia. 

Our work there was looking to improve waste management services with a focus on recyclable materials, such as plastics, cardboard, metals and even glass. For a period of time, we had a workable model that allowed us to provide waste collection services to a large portion of our area of operation who were not able to be serviced by the main provider. The main provider within the area is well established in the recycling of plastics, metals and cardboard and we were having troubles with impeding on areas they already service (it doesn’t make sense for overlap when there is already so much unserviced). 

In the attempt to implement our waste collection service, errors were made by Project Everest in terms of what was communicated and where we worked, errors that are in no way critical, but a reminder of the importance of our decisions on the ground – something we as an organisation will own and take full responsibility for. 

Towards the end of summer, our focus turned to glass, and either washing to reuse in breweries or to crush and use as an aggregate in construction materials. The problems associated with this approach include the capped price of bottle collection (2c/bottle), the lack of capital infrastructure to process the bottles, the cost of labour, a location to store the bottles and the cost of transport. Additional to this, we were required to process 100,000 bottles/week, minimum, to gain a strategic business partner. 

These challenges are too great, now, to justify continuing ERS in the short-term. 

Instead, we require resources to do work back here in Australia. Our focus will be to manage relationships with key stakeholders, overcome red-tape and create a more financially viable business model before we can return with a viable direction. 

Please note, if you have worked on ERS Cambodia, your efforts were by no means a waste (pun-intended). This has raised our awareness of the region, the opportunities that may exist in the near future and how much impact each action can make, especially in tight-knit areas. We fully intend to resume projects in Cambodia, when we are in a better position to implement a viable business that promises to deliver impact in line with our social enterprise definition. 

As always, our phone lines and office doors are open to talking to anyone who is particularly concerned about this and we're happy to talk it through in more depth. 

- Andrew Vild, Project Everest Ventures

Week 1 for the Energy Assessment team here in Dili, Timor-Leste has been incredibly productive. The nine person team has been able to accomplish multitudes of work due to their positive attitudes and solid work ethics. We have been able to build substantially upon the hard work done by the July team and in just one week have made an incredible amount of progress. There was one obvious highlight though: our meeting with Heineken.

Heineken is the first and currently the largest manufacturing company in Dili, producing 18,000 cans per minute (take a second to let that sink in), including Tiger, Bintang, Strongbow as well as Sprite, Pepsi and Fanta. When team member, Ben Disher received an enthusiastic email with an expression of interest in solar and invitation to visit the factory on a Friday afternoon, the celebratory high-fiving was unlike anything we have ever seen.

At 1530 on Friday, our team met with Jemmy, the Supply Chain Manager for the Heineken Factory here in Dili, about half an hour away from our accommodation. Safe to say, Jemmy was super prepared. We very quickly realised that Jemmy was ready to install solar panels immediately, he had just one question: how long it would take us to get the system up and running, because he’s ready to get on board. Now the key thing is, we had allocated an hour to this meeting, however we were done in just over five minutes. This left us with a remaining fifty-five minutes to give the Heineken products a quick test, perhaps the ideal way to spend a Friday afternoon and build a (very) strategic customer relationship.

So, following the team’s most efficient meeting ever, we walked downstairs to the office canteen to the self-serve beer tap (yeah, I said self-serve). Never have I seen so many faces light up as when Jemmy told us we could help ourselves to the beer (we did so in moderation of course). We then sat around a table and just had a chat; about how Jemmy got to this point, about the factory itself, about PE, and just about anything else. It was without a doubt the best meeting I have ever been to, and I think all meetings would benefit from this structure.

This obvious expression of interest from Heineken, along with a number of other medium-to-large businesses around Dili will definitely factor into week two and the rest of the month. Having just set our goals for the upcoming week, the team is focused on sourcing the materials necessary to implement a solar system as soon as we can. This means contacting the solar panel companies, importing companies and installation companies that we have identified as being the most suitable for our project and getting some solar panels into Dili.

All in all, Week 1 was very exciting, and hopefully the rate at which we have smashed through our goals carries on throughout the month. We’ve got a quality group of boys in this team, and I have no doubts that there are good things to come.

Project Everest Discontinued Projects

Posted by Andrew Vild (Admin) Aug 14, 2017

For those who have been on Project Everest or even those who are planning to come this summer and have been through our interview process, you know that we live by our values. Whenever we make a decision, we make it in line with the values. Why? Because whether it is Bob (Trekker), Jane (Team Leader), Sam (Group Leader) or George (Core Staff Member) making the decision, the outcome should be more or less the same if they use the values as guidance.

One of those values, Make The Hard Decisions – Always, as suggested in the name, is one of the hardest values to constantly live by. It also means that some of the decisions we make aren’t always popular, at least initially.

After completing July operations across 5 countries, our EIGHTH month of in-country operation, we had to have a hard look at our projects, new and old. We needed to look at several factors:

-         How far projects have progressed in their lifetime?

-         What community value and social benefit do they offer?

-         What community drawbacks or social detriment could occur?

-         What barriers to business within a country exist? (in terms of government legislation, registering as a business, competition in the space – from both NGOs, government and businesses).

-         What resources does the project require to ensure success (human, financial and physical resources)?

There are of course many smaller factors, but the above is the gist.

In line with the response to those factors, we have made the hard decision to discontinue several projects. Remember that only 1/10 businesses survive their first 1-2 years of operation. A good entrepreneur needs to be optimistic and push past barriers, but also cannot ignore feedback or signs that the odds are against the business idea. Fortune reported the “top reason” that startups fail: “They make products no one wants.” A careful survey of failed startups determined that 42% of them identified the “lack of a market need for their product” as the single biggest reason for their failure.

If you’re going to spend your time making a product, then spend your time making sure it’s the right product for the right market.

This doesn’t mean they are gone, dead, finished and never to be considered again. They are simply not viable in that location in this point in time due to the circumstances on the ground or the resources we have available to us to move forward.


Discontinued projects:

WISI (Water Infrastructure Sustainability Initiative) – Timor-Leste

Energy Assessment – Cambodia

Health Assessment – Cambodia

Agriculture Assessment – Vietnam

Water Assessment – Vietnam


Projects we were planning to run and have decided not to:

Social Consulting – Cambodia

Social Consulting – Timor-Leste

Social Consulting – Malawi

Health Assessment – Fiji



WISI (Timor) –

The water infrastructure team over July hit several large roadblocks in their pursuit of providing insurance for parts and water infrastructure in the greater Dili region. An excerpt of the WISI July 2017 team’s handover best explains their self-identified reasoning for discontinuing the project, of which I recommend you read the full handover on Crowdicity.


“In Theory, Theory and Practice are the Same Thing...

The July 2017 team sees the value in the idea behind WISI Insurance. The concept of being able to make a monthly payment and then make a claim to get household water infrastructure fixed when it breaks, is something that the team felt was a viable and sustainable way of meeting the #6 UN Sustainable Development goal.

...In Practice, they are Not

When the team went to practically implement the insurance model within Timor there were several challenges that were found that ultimately resulted in the decision that is was no longer viable pursue the insurance model.

The customer is always right

When in Timor, it is easy to lull yourself into believing that what you see at your accommodation is the standard for residents in Dili. Sadly, residents of Dili, in general, lack simple water infrastructure. In the surveyed areas (Santa Cruz and Motael), it is commonplace to have only a single collection point that fills up a large container or bath. This water is then used for bathing, drinking, cleaning etc. Since our scheme focused on insuring against breakages of household water infrastructure (toilets, showers, pipes etc), the team realised our customer base was not as we expected. This led us to an ultimatum; do we look to insure against different infrastructure (for example, common electric pumps), or find an area within Dili that does have common household infrastructure? This was not the only major issue we were facing at the time.

It’s Not Your Average Licence

In addition to confirming our consumer base, the team also ran into trouble regarding the business operation. While consulting with our legal advisor Christine (of CC Business Solutions), we were made aware that gaining an insurance licence is very difficult. These licences are issued by Banco Central (the central bank), who requires a large amount of capital investment and legitimacy. Most insurance providers are backed by a much larger capital provider (such as Western Union) and have operated overseas for many years. Even for these companies, the least time taken to gain a licence was 2 years. Many have tried for over 5 years with no success. The team agreed this was too long-a-period to invest on a project that still has not confirmed its consumer base.”


Energy and health assessments (Cambodia) –

The findings for Energy and Health were both good, but the market need and opportunities were limited. Cambodia as a whole is a very difficult country, as there is a saturation of NGOs with budgets of millions of dollars to provide services for free. We have been in Cambodia since January 2016 without major success, our focus needs to be bringing the high potential projects, ERS and FarmEd, to fruition and ensuring it has the resources it needs. Once we have done so successfully, we can consider new or assessment-based projects to branch out and piggy-back off the success of the more established ventures.


Vietnam -  

The assessments conducted in July lead us to believe that there is a lack of perceived need for the community, a difficulty in a socialist environment with restrictions around business set up, and the difficulty of operating in a CBD. Urban operations is something we have limited experience in and have a lot more complications than first thought. Eg. A suggestion moving forward is aquaponics in the CBD. The aim to provide food to the urban population, however, this would compete with the lower classes who have micro-enterprises with household farms or transport food in from the rural areas.

To move out rural would require us to go further than one hour out of the city and thus outside of our safety tolerance of being within an hour from a reputable hospital.

Operating in Vietnam also draws experienced personnel resources away from other countries with established and high potential ventures, and our priority is making them successful.


Projects we were planning to run and have decided not to –

for similar reasoning as the above, our priority of human, trekker, financial and physical resources is focused on the projects with the most potential and that need the most attention. Starting new projects takes a lot of training of our personnel and resources. Again, this doesn’t mean they will never be run, it is just not the best use of our resources at this point in time. We also don’t want to run projects for the sake of running projects, in line with our number one priority being the well being and service to the communities we operate in.



For those who have worked on a discontinued project

Please know that your work and contributions have not been in vain. Your work may be utilised in future when we are in a better position to continue that line of work and/or it has increased our understanding of the situation on the ground in that focus area and/or has eliminated a sphere in which we can work. All of which has contributed to our positive relationships and presence in the area, as well as built great leaders who have returned with us to make other amazing work happen.


Discontinued Projects Update Session

We will be running a few sessions to allow people who are invested in understanding this further and having their thoughts and opinions heard on the relevant project fields.


The project times and dates are as follows. For those who cannot physically make it, we will have the option to join on Google Hangouts:

WISI (Timor-Leste) - 1000-1045 23/08/2017

Health and Energy Assessments (Cambodia) - 10.45-11.15 23/08/2017

Vietnam Operations - 11.15-12.00 23/08/2017

Projects we were planning to run and have decided not to (focus on future Trekkers who have been displaced) - 12.00-12.45 23/08/2017

The plane doors swing open and the humidity of ‘Bodia swiftly slaps me in the face. My dehydrated hair from the plane trip quickly becomes damp with sweat and my drying throat begs me to smash a can of Aquarius. As time goes on, I start to find that Siem Reap is absolutely chockers with culture and the sweat gradually stopped bothering me. This beautiful country, with mesmerising farmlands and friendly people, begins to show its true colours and the work that needs to be done becomes clear.

Project commencing on a classic Cambodian scorching day filled with sweat galore Everest Recyclable Solutions (ERS) kicked off the month with a successful first round of waste collection, with most villages wanting a second round. The testing model confirmed the limited options to sell waste., which led the team to knuckle down and ideate new solutions for waste. They did, however re-establish relationships with GAEA, Siem Reap’s only waste disposal service, opening potential options for partnerships.

Our fresh off the block, Health Assessment team, have been smashing goals and sprinting through the design thinking process. The first two weeks were spent with clinics and hospitals empathising and understanding common issues, in order to define a problem in areas such as foreign influence, low Socio-Economic Status, young Infrastructure, transmission and education on health literacy. From this, the team has begun ideating solutions to the defined problem areas. This has involved strenuous research and creative brainstorming.

Our resident agricultural enthusiasts had split into 2 separate yet synonymous sections. Firstly, FarmEd Drones have been hustling and bustling finding local farmers to increase their understanding of issues faced in Siem Reap agriculture. The team have been utilising their drone, affectionately named “Lexi”, to collate aerial data of farmland, as well as, collecting soil samples across unstable terrain that have even given their 2IC PTSD.

The Proof of Concept team was tasked with testing the viability of the consultancy reports in Cambodia. Following up on a rudimentary report given in February resulted in the first sale in Cambodia!!

The most ENERGetic team spent time early in the month ideating solutions from the empathising that had been done by previous groups. They are currently considering two solar options, one being a small solar light that could provide light to less affluent communities in rural communities. The other is a larger solar panel and battery kit with the intention of replacing the unreliable, unsafe and overpriced grid power that is apparent here in Cambodia.


“I have a personal philosophy in life: If somebody else can do something that I’m doing, they should do it”.

-        Neil DeGrasse Tyson

This philosophy bleeds into the Project Everest team in Cambodia as trekkers work within their teams and with local NGO’s to create a sustainable positive impact. They have learned to ballroom dance through regulations and cultural barriers without stepping on the toes of the top dog organisations in Siem Reap, being sure to provide something beneficial and new that isn’t causing competition in the local area.

Just Keep Swimming

Posted by (Account removed) (Banned) Jul 19, 2017

The ERS Cambodian team has been absolutely smashing the last couple of weeks on project. Morale is high and work ethic is higher still.

Despite having to tackle some big road blocks from the get go, not being registered as a business or qualified waste collection service being one, the team remained passionate and determined to push through and find alternate ways to prove concept using small scale tests. With the hustle in the first week resulting in ERS’ first 54 prototypes being implemented, the team was feeling good. The collection on Friday of week two using a local trailer driver and with the help of our ‘Village Champion’, Sophea, the team was able to gain some invaluable feedback. Off the back of this, the prototype will be refined to hold more waste and be more durable, as the colour coded rice bags were too easily accessible to animals and weathered quickly.

The testing of the ‘back-end’ of the collection service proved somewhat more challenging. Due to all valuable waste being pre-sold by local Adjay's, the waste collected by ERS is largely un-sellable. The realisation of this, in conjunction with the team exhausting all possible opportunities to sell off the waste we do collect, threw a spanner in the works. It is the team's attitude in the face of these challenges that has been most impressive and made working with them an incredible expercine.

Being a group of individuals that don't give up easily, the team gears up each day to a positive message that sits above their daily goals, a personal favourite being “YOU GOTTA BELIEVE IT TO ACHIEVE IT”.

The power of this positive thinking and desire to make ERS work, has resulted in some key project pivots that aim to solve our current pickle.

Having re-established relations with GAEA, the only collection service operating in Siem-Reap, the team are looking to partner with their service. Utilising pre-existing waste infrastructure, ERS can still access the non-urban communities that GAEA can’t access, significantly reducing the costs of renting a sorting yard, hiring labour and making almost no profit on the limited saleable waste. The team is currently brainstorming a second revenue stream to support the small free charged to villages for a collection, things are looking up.

Creating a handover along the line of ‘ERS for Dummies’ is also on the team’s radar at the moment, with the goal to create a simple step by step process that anyone could follow in order to implement the service. The team is off the stubborn opinion that with just a little more hard work December teams will be able to set up ERS as a fully functioning waste collection service, preventing communities from suffering the effects of burning waste.

TLing for the first time with such a driven, passionate and upbeat group of individuals has been incredibly inspiring. Their willingness to work past dinner time just to ensure that daily goals are met and their supportive and encouraging attitude towards each other has created and positive environment where people and projects are built each day.

TEAMor Takes Timor

Posted by Lily Partridge (Admin) Jul 14, 2017

The world’s favourite basketballer, Michael Jordan, was reported saying “earn your leadership everyday”. Now, even though none of our Timor-Leste trekkers have dreams of basketball greatness, this quote is uncannily reflective of the determination, tenacity and finesse with which each team has seized the first half of project this month. At this stage I’m fairly convinced that the Timor crew is 90% passion, 8% sweat, and 2% coconuts.


With Everest Recycling Solutions (ERS) and Water Infrastructure Sustainability Initiative (WISI) taking over from the February ‘17 teams, and Energy Assessment building upon insights from the Fuel Assessment in December ’16, all projects have managed to hit the ground running. Whilst each team has hit their fair share of obstacles, the team’s adaptability and positivity in facing these challenges is inspiring and motivating to say the least.  


The Energy Assessment initially started with residential consumers at the heart of the project, however by the end of week 1 their investigation into the issue proved that a shift was in order. Realising that public education around solar energy was integral for successful uptake, the team refocused on engaging medium to large institutions instead, as they have more to gain from consistent, clean energy alternatives. Since this shift, the team rapidly established strong relationships with the three universities in Dili and collaborated with numerous Australian Army personnel. Looking forward, the team is investigating the viability of importing solar panels and applying their findings to a sustainable and scalable business model.   


Since day one, WISI has been carefully lining up all their puzzle pieces in preparation for roll out into a sample community within Dili. In only two weeks, WISI has established an agreement with the mobile network operator, Telkomsel, involving an automated SMS system that connects customers to insurers and plumbers when repairs are required. With a signed MOU from the Directorate of Water (DNSA), a reliable source of plumbers, and negotiations with National Insurance of Timor-Leste (NITL) under their belts, WISI is looking forward to securing a customer base to test the viability of the model over the rest of the month and into summer.


Last but certainly not least, ERS has been kicking down doors and preaching the importance of integrating separation and recycling processes within local businesses and institutions. In order to understand the “bin culture” of Dili, the team has been out and about talking to the public, business owners, and setting out an afternoon each week to run a public clean up at various locations around town. Securing relationships with a number of businesses to implement recycling programs, including Burger King and Gloria Jeans, the team has gone full-speed-ahead with strategising the collection, separation, movement, and storage of recyclables. Not only this, but the team is thrilled to announce their potential first “sale” and ensuing trial with the owner of Hotel Esplanada, an iconic beachside hotel and restaurant that has been frequented by the PE crew since the beginning (nothing to do with the garlic bread and cocktails…!). All things going to plan, ERS will take this huge win and start selling the model to more and more customers across Dili.


Timor-Leste didn't know what hit it - in the most socially beneficial, impactful way - when PE rolled in this July. We’ve certainly proven that tough times don’t last, but tough teams do, and that there's definitely no “I” in TEAMor.

Project Everest Strategy- from 0 to 1

Posted by Wade Tink (Admin) Jul 14, 2017

You may have seen me contributing on Basecamp with opportunities for ventures to enter accelerator programs. This forms part of Project Everest’s strategic direction in realising successful ventures- the top half of the carrot. If you have no idea what the carrot is refer to the short video on the front page of our website.

There was a young entrepreneur in the 1860’s who entered into the oil game when it was just starting out. Instead of competing in exploration where lots of people were becoming incredibly wealthy overnight he went into an adjacent but key area; refinery. His attention to detail led him to be very successful at this involved process and, with external backers, in 1870 he incorporated the Standard Oil Company. His laser like focus on one small part of the oil business initially enabled him to dominate refinery and in time he monopolised the entire industry and became the richest person in history. Mobil Exxon, Chevron, BP are some of the companies resulting from his work. This is of course John D. Rockefeller, someone we can learn from not for his environmental impact, but rather, in creating tremendous focus and ultimate business success.

In aiming to solve social issues through business the challenge can very much become focus. The extent of the Sustainable Development Goals combined with the breadth of countries and populations within the targeted demographic (4 billion people) is akin to the oil exploration game- the opportunities are endless. How we seek to focus considering this is to concentrate on one stage of the process. Project Everest strategically is seeking to own the space of creating social enterprise start-ups and getting them from 0 to 1.

What this looks like is successfully walking through the Design Thinking process to gain product market fit and then progressing through the Business Model Canvas and Lean start-up to experiment and learn in order to prove the business model. Once an enterprise has proven traction and a solid team can be built around it the venture must ‘graduate’ from Project Everest and into the realms of external accelerators, incubators, grants and direct venture capital. This is where it goes from 1 to ∞.

This is already in action with FarmEd earning a pitch opportunity at the SEFA & Macquarie Bank Kickstarter Program as the latest development. Project Everest is engaged with Investible on funnelling ventures through their Angel investment program. On 10 August, the ventures here will have the chance to pitch to VCs, advisers and mentors from Rough Diamonds. Rough Diamonds seeks very early stage businesses for which University students can execute on. Successful ventures will have the chance to enter their accelerator program over 6 months alongside investment. They will also seek to develop the most advantageous student generated team around it.

In conclusion, externalising the acceleration of ventures is a key part of the strategic direction Project Everest is taking as it moves to drive focus on the creation of ventures out of projects. The top half of the carrot. Building a strong process to develop socially focused enterprises from 0 to 1 is where we seek to be the best in the world. In this way, we can maintain the breadth of the challenge across the SDGs but remained focus on our role in solving them.

Any thoughts, challenges or improvements on this I would greatly appreciate.

These keywords represent a summation of our first week for the Fiji Fuel Assessment team.

The week began with an intense few days of hustling, preparation and organisation for our two night stay in the Keiyasi village. From Keiysasi, our intention was to visit five inland villages within the Noikoro and Nasikawa districts. What better way to empathise than to fully immerse ourselves in the Fijian inland village culture!

The villages we selected to visit were Nawairabe, Korolevu, Nubuyanitu, Korovou and Draubuta.

Over the wet season, flooding of bridges reduced accessibility to these villages, meaning the previous project group was unable to visit and empathise with these villages. Furthermore, close proximity of the villages to Keiysasi village, coupled with a previously established affiliation with Project Everest, our group to base ourselves from this village for the duration of the village visits.

In alignment with cultural mandate, visits to these villages requires the offering of kava to the village chief or headman and the participation in a kava ceremony. Having participated in multiple kava ceremonies over the course of 2 days, we can honestly say that we all have established strong opinions about kava. Some love it; others, not so much!



The first village we visited was Nawairabe village; population of approximately 100 people. The primary crops grown by this village are cabbage, melon, corn, cassava, kava. Cooking is generally performed in a hut structure separate from the house as the smoke is a concern for children. Firewood is the main source of cooking fuel in this village as it is readily available and gives the food a smoky taste which is preferred by the Fijians. Men are responsible for the weekly collection within this village. Kerosene is primarily used during the rainy season when the firewood is difficult to light and costs approximately $2 per litre which is considered expensive. Three diesel generators are used for lighting and charging electronics such as phones.



Korolevu, being  one of the biggest villages visited, is inhabited by approximately 700 people. At the beginning of 2017, construction of a seawall commenced with the intention to protect the village against seasonal flooding due to it's geographic location. Farming is the primary source of income, with villagers selling surplus produce in order to buy rice, sugar and kerosene (as an alternative to firewood). Kerosene costs $50 per month for 20L and is not considered expensive. Apart from firewood and kerosene for cooking, solar panels are present for phone charging and lighting.



Village population of Nubuyanitu is around 250 to 300 and comprised of primarily youths. Farmers from this village cultivate a wide range of produce such as kava, cassava, watermelon, peanuts, corn, taro and bananas. In contrast to Korolevu, Nubuyanitu has it's own electricity generator, power from which is available from 6 to 9pm. The overarching sentiment regarding electricity is that access will be enabled within 5 to 10 years.

In addition, we were surprised to see two gas stoves in this village. A retired school teacher explained that gas stoves were only used when there’s a party i.e. where food is required for a larger group. In such instances, kerosene acts as a backup for firewood.



Korovou is a relatively small village consisting of 100 people and had limited English speakers. Similar to the other villages, Korovou villagers also love cooking with firewood; however they believe it is faster than kerosene. Kerosene is considered to be fairly expensive at $4/L and is perceived as an appropriate marriage gift. Compared to the other villages, Korovou was the only village that expressed real concern of the health risks associated with smoke inhalation. Diesel generators and solar panels were present for electricity generation.


We had initially planned to visit Draubuta on the final day; however, after speaking to the Keiyasi villagers, they mentioned that the journey would take 3 hours by car due to the steep incline of the road and a 15 minute hike to the village due to restricted vehicle access. The group reached a consensus to cancel our visit. This decision arose from consideration of resources such as time as well as the opportunity cost associated with 7 hours of travel in addition of engaging with the village.

We felt that at that point of the week it was important that we utilised our time to collate our data and document our findings in order to direct our future efforts for the prototyping phase of the project.


Friday morning the team got into the clown car one last time and headed back to Sigatoka. What started off as three people in the boot, turned into an optimistic five and created some good quality banter amongst the group. Upon arrival at the cottage, we plunged into preparation for week 2. Having further clarification on our four avenues and data from our visits, we were all eager to begin prototyping in the following weeks.



Written by Larissa Steele, Vicky Ye and Krystal Kenndy



Serendipity in Cambodia

Posted by Ryan White Jul 11, 2017

Ineffable (adj), too great to be expressed in words. A somewhat contradicting word (cheers BuzzFeed) but wow it describes Cambodia and the current month.

Where to even begin, with just so many standout events of the week. On Sunday night, the leadership group ate at a Crocodile Dundee esque restaurant where we debriefed regarding the week and just how fantastic it was while smashing a chicken shnitty, listening to an old man in a pink sequins shirt playing his guitar and staring longingly at the owner's adorable doggo who definitely wanted a pat. As we were walking out of the restaurant I took a step back and just observed us all walking to the car. The energy, banter and family vibes were astounding and reminded me what it is that makes these projects so incredibly amazing in my eyes. It’s the people. The people who embrace the hot, 4 pm monsoonal rains and exhausting days through their own blood, sweat and tears. The people who have come from around Australia to be here creating an impact when they could be at Splendour in the Grass. The people that share the same passion for their projects and development for themselves. It’s these people that make it impossible to ever stop smiling.

Naturally, there is a huge focus on the progression of projects and ensuring their success into creating positive impact. But the main driver for why I’m here is the people. And sweet Agatha Christie have I been blown away by them. There is no greater feeling than watching a room of people who have never really met each other, each with their own but very similar passions sit in a room and instantaneously become a family. Ahhhh, love love love.

The strength and passion of these fresh trekkers is astounding. You can hear it in their voice and see it in their actions that they want to be here to create impact in their projects and will kick down any doors to do so. Whenever I enter either house the energy that’s emitted from everyone is contagious. It drives me day in and day out to be the best Group Leader I can be for them, to give them the best possible experience they can have. Because at the end of the day that’s what they are giving me.

The reason why I have touched so heavily on this topic rather than all the massive project success we have had this week (and trust me there was a lot) is that often we can get trapped in our own heads. We can focus too much on the task we have set to achieve and not the people around us that are working with us to achieve that task.

We are all part of a new generation that gives us endless opportunities. There are emerging technologies that will change the way life is operated day to day, whether it be through stalking your friends on Snapchat to see which pub on Pub Street they are at or driving in a car run solely on electricity. Regardless of all these amazing uses of technology, it’s the application in a developing nation and the desire for these trekkers to dedicate their time and money to it that restores my faith in humanity. I want to give a big thank you to all those operating in the other countries, to those who are back home working in this field and most importantly to my squad. You all inspire me day in day out and serve as a constant reminder why this is the best job in the world.

So stay tuned, grab a puppy and watch us put some keys on key rings.   

Flying in, its 9pm local time on a half full Vietnam Airways plane. Flying over Hanoi there are lights and you can see that it is expansive, but there is something different that flying over Sydney or Melbourne. Very little height. It's all flat. Walking through the airport, it is absolutely huge. Masses of space which seems to go unused. Truly vast. Getting through customs is all a blur and then i walk outside and i get hit by a blast of warm, wet air, truly like a sauna.


Uber, the ridesharing powerhouse holds a strong market share in Hanoi so I order one and in minutes a small Hyundai i10 rolls up, I jump in and say hello. From that moment it is obvious that the language barrier is going to be significant. Post ride I look at my bank account to “check the damage”... 8 bucks! I was in the car for at least 40 minutes and I was charged 8 dollars. Thinking about this, I know that instantly Uber has that 2 of those 8 dollars, for the 50km travelled thats a dollar or two of petrol, then there is maintenance of the car so all in all the driver can’t have made more that $1.50 profit from my 40 minutes. Is this representative of business in Vietnam in general or is Uber just really screwing its Vietnamese drivers?


This really provokes thought about the economy of Vietnam and in particular what state is it in to be a hub for startups and entrepreneurial work. The truth I have been discovering throughout this journey and work, is that the world is built on money. The delivery of social impact rides on the back of being able to develop an economically viable, sustainable and scalable business. With this being said, Vietnam is well and truly primed for social business.This is evidenced by the huge startup culture here, with more co-working startup spaces in a single city than I have ever seen.

The trick is going to be finding our niche that we can create impact in. Of course we are looking into that of water and agriculture at the moment which piggybacks off our continued success with FarmEd in Fiji. An interesting study which is currently underway will be investigating the viability of a ‘FarmEd type’ system in Vietnam and then from there pulling out the bits that work, the bits that don’t work and altering the system so it is fitted to the particular sphere that we are in. Personally I am hypothesising that we will find a PMF for the product particularly in the Rice industry, which accounts for 7.4% of global rice exports. So far the research indicates that there are many smaller holdings and the industry is disjointed.


With our Water assessment aswell there are a number of paths to go down. Currently the team is looking into water pollution and supply of potable water which is clearly an issue as you still can’t drink the tap water safely in Vietnam. But there is also the potential to look into agricultural water management in a much deeper scope.


The game is truly afoot here in Vietnam. The teams are excited. I’m excited. And Vietnam is ready for us to shake up the game a bit.


Over the last few years, Project Everest has experimented with a number of different ways to ensure that organisational knowledge is retained within the business and to ensure that that knowledge is passed from team to team. 

When the majority of the projects were assessment projects, this was conducted with "handover documents"; large documents detailing research findings and suggested next actions. 

This moved on to handover videos when the complexity of the conversations was too great for a single handover document and a lot of Trekkers were simply not engaging in the documents. The caveat of this system is that, as many of the projects approach a time where they need to be prepared for the acquisition of debt or equity finance, written business plans need to be written and developed for prospective creditors and investors and the handover videos simply aren't appropriate for these audiences. 

To prepare for the acquisition of this finance and to minimise the amount of time required by teams to write handover documents, a new system is being trialed. This system is the creation of business plans for each project and the editing of these plans by teams as they work on the development of the projects. 

The advantages of this system are as follows:

  • Following editing by Trekkers, these documents can be shared with prospective creditors and investors for the acquisition of finance.
  • They allow for Trekkers to understand what developments are required on a project, helping to avoid duplication of effort. 
  • For multinational ventures, such as FarmEd, a single business plan allows for economies of scale to be achieved in the writing of these plans. 
  • They allow for staff, Trekkers and external stakeholders to understand each project with greater transparency and greater consistency in internal communications pertaining to and understanding of each project. 

At the commencement of each project, Trekkers need to read and understand the business plan. This will help them to understand what the project is, how the businesses have been developed, and what the next steps are. 

At the conclusion of each project, Trekkers need to amend the existing business plan to reflect their developments and their research. 

There is no requirement to make significant changes to these business plans from team-to-team and if there are no valuable changes to be made, the plan should be left as is. This is because Project Everest is not an assessment exercise. Rather it is an exercise in collaboration and contribution towards a shared goal; the alleviation of poverty through the development of social businesses that address the Sustainable Development Goals. As such, there is no requirement to amend documents for the purpose of mere addition of meaningless words. What is more important is that valuable and viable conntributions are committed to the record. 

The first teams writing these business plans will bear a greater load in their writing than teams in the future. They will have to review the past handover documents and collaborate with their Team Leaders, Group Leaders and Project Everest Staff to ensure that the content is correct and that the structure is appropriate. This burden will be greatest for teams working on more established projects, such as FarmEd and Everest Recycling Solutions. 

These teams have some respite though as there are multiple teams working on these projects. This means that the individual contributions need not be lengthy or burdensome. However, there will be some Team Leaders who will need to show initiative and organise for international and inter-team communication and collaboration on these business plans. 

In order to help you on your way in writing these documents, a basic template for a business plan is found below. There will be specific sections that may need to be added, ammended or removed as per the nature of the project, however this should serve as a suitable foundation for all projects. 


Section 1: Executive Summary (1-2 pages). 

  • Business name.
  • Business summary (what, how and why),
  • Business aims (a concise summary of the goals),
  • Financial summary (the most important numbers).
  • Include a business model canvas as an extra page.
  • Include any critical information.  

Section 2: Ownership structure (length as required).

  • Who owns the business (default is Project Everest),
  • Main shareholder profiles (profiles on shareholders who own more than 5% equity).
  • Education, experience, what they bring to the table, their role as major shareholders. 

Section 3: Products and Services (length as required). 

  • What does the business sell. 
  • Details about the product/services. 
  • If there are different goods and services being sold at different stages of growth, explain this. 

Section 4: The Market (length as required). 

  • Who are your customers,
  • Different market segments being targeted at different stages of growth. 
  • How do your consumers or will your consumers interact with your goods/services and how would they choose your goods/services? 
  • Have you sold your products/services to your customers, if so, detail these sales or the nature of them. 
  • Are people waiting to buy your goods/services?

Section 5: Market Research (length as required).

  • Relevant secondary research,
  • Empathise breakdown (pains, gains, jobs to be done),
  • Define breakdown (what are the needs/wants of your customers and consumers).
  • Nature of the needs your business is/will satisfy. 
  • Relevant field research,
  • SWOT analysis.

Section 6: Marketing strategy (length as required).

  • Brand,
  • Channels of communication, 
  • Costs,
  • Past, current and planned campaigns. 

Seciton 7: Competitor Analysis (length as requried). 

  • How are your customers currently being served,
  • If near identical competitors exist, detail them,
  • Unique value proposition. 

Section 8: Operations and Logistics (length as required). 

  • Means of production,
  • Supplies and suppliers, 
  • Method of delivery of products and services, 
  • Overheads,
  • Legal requirements,
  • Insurance requirements, 
  • Employees, 
  • Organisational structure. 

Section 9: Cost and Pricing Strategy (length as required). 

  • Cost breakdown of each service
  • Price points and justifications. 
  • Competitor price points. 
  • Net and gross profit margin for each good/service.
  • Be sure to allocate the appropriate proportions of overheads to the net profit calculation. If in doubt, be conservative. 

Section 10: Financial Analysis and Reporting (length as required). 

  • Balance sheet,
  • Cash flow statement,
  • Breakeven analysis,
  • Profit and Loss statement. 

Section 11: Contingency planning (length as required). 

  • Major risks to the current model. 
  • Actions on these risks eventuating. 


As always, if there are any questions regarding this, please email me at 

All the best and good luck with your projects, 



In Timor-Leste like many developing nations, it is incredibly difficult to start a business. As foreigners it is especially difficult, for instance as foreigners you cannot buy land as it is banned for foreigners to do so in their constitution. It is also very difficult to get government support even if your business is incredibly socially beneficial and you have a viable model. However, they are very supportive of the business ventures of local Timorese often regardless of how viable their plans may be. For many more reasons as well as the consultation of several knowledgeable professionals in Timor, our projects in Timor once they reach a prototype or roll out stage should potentially be paired with a local Timorese entrepreneur. Pairing them at these stages of the project will ensure they have a deep understanding of the business and will be able to develop the vision and knowledge necessary to run and grow the business without us. This local individual may receive a stake of the business and the longer they stay with the business as well as the more they contribute with us the larger the stake becomes. Even to the point of a majority to almost entire ownership of the business if that is the avenue we want to pursue. It will also be an effective way to make sure our businesses continue to grow, as it will then be in their best interest to continue to expand the business as it is theirs and by growing the business they provide more social benefit to communities. This is necessary in order for our businesses to truly empower the community by continuing to grow and succeed once Project Everest is no longer associated, allowing us to work on other complex issues.


There are a few avenues we can explore here in Timor-Leste to find the right local entrepreneur, one of the best I have found would be through the National University of Timor-Leste. We could integrate a graduate program or have another type of program where we interview potential entrepreneurs who have just graduated or are soon to graduate who want to join the Project Everest businesses we are trying to build at that time. Based on the current high unemployment rate of students here after graduation, as well as the opportunity for these students to work on a business which can not only benefit their community but they can have a potential stake in, I have no doubt interest and support will be very high. This will allow us to interview and assess many potential applicants to find the right young entrepreneurs for our businesses and give a local student an incredible opportunity.


At the moment we do have many amazing Timorese interns working on our projects who have contributed a lot and some may argue this is a good enough system to find and integrate Timorese students in our projects. I argue to solely rely on this will vastly limit our projects overall development and is quite foolish. All the interns I have had contact with are very willing to help in any way on the project however the vast majority have other ambitions and come from degrees and skills which usually have no correlation with the abilities we need from an entrepreneur who can grow our businesses without us. As great a business's idea and vision may be it is the people who carry it to success, thus we must be very vigilant about the individual we pair with our businesses as their success will depend on it. With such a huge pool of young ambitious driven individuals who want to better their nation graduating without employment, it would be a mistake to not to try to leverage this and integrate them into our businesses.


Another avenue I have pursued to attain local entrepreneurs is through the United Nations Development program (UNDP) who are well set up in Timor. I have been in contact with the head of their incubator hub which gives guidance and financial support to local entrepreneurs working on socially beneficial businesses and projects. After a lot of discussions and after I pitched the potential relationship between their incubator hub and Project Everest, they are interested in a potential partnership between us. Due to the size and reputation of an organisation like UNDP they must do a complete background check of Project Everest and their risk committee must assess the partnership before anything is confirmed which could take a few months.


This partnership between Project Everest and local entrepreneurs is something I envision for the long term. It can provide us with many talented Timorese who could take our businesses to greater heights as they will simultaneously bring greater community and government support than Project Everest could ever muster on its own. Also, they have a strong grasp on the culture in Timor and the various nuances that a foreigner entrepreneur would not have. This is also a scheme which could be deployed in all the countries Project Everest currently and intends to work in. This is obviously a very long-term strategy and completely dependent on the type of business Project Everest is developing at the time and the country it is in. Let me know your thoughts and any other ways this concept can be further developed

Based on feedback and experiences with trekkers, Week 1 is often a go to point to sieve through the communications drive or contact log with previous teams and organise a meet up with stakeholders to touch base. Often we may find solace in organising these meetings to assist in the direction of a project or even to reassure us of the direction. This is important to maintain the contact.

 However, when organising a meeting it should be carefully planned out as to the purpose and aim of the meet up after understanding all information that has previously been obtained. Often meetings may be time and resource consuming for both parties, therefore documentation of every encounter including positive impact, negative impact and mitigations ensures that with every meet up there is new information obtained that will enable further progression through the design thinking process. Repetition of questions and meetings with a stakeholder or village may convey inconsistencies with the handing over of work between teams and indicates an inefficient use of time and resources on project that detracts from allocating those resources and time working with the community and individuals.


Setting up for success:

 With new teams of trekkers continually picking up the work of previous teams, detailed handover of the work and organisation for the next team is essential.

Organisation of the Drive is important for providing all supporting documents to the handover document and handover video; this means setting future projects up for success. By establishing a folder of important documents, this saves time for the next group searching for information that provide a much more comprehensive understanding of a specific aspect of the project that may not have been incorporated in the handover.

For future TL’s, this resource should be made available ASAP and passed on to trekkers. It should also be ensured that everyone is reading and understanding project specific Base Camp posts, as this provides an updated account of some of the barriers, ideas and summaries of the project so far. 

Plastic for Purpose is currently at a very different stage to where we expected to be at the start of the month. The most promising idea from last month, the Precious Plastics machine, was quickly deemed to be unsuitable for this project due to its small scale nature and relative expensiveness for its output. However, with the define stage now complete and a problem identified, we are exploring a few different options. One potential idea, is the thermodecomposition of plastic to produce oil, known as pyrolysis. We have made a prototype pyrolysis machine and are now ready to start experiments to assess if pyrolysis can be successful at a small scale.    

Another potential avenue is turning plastic bags into pellets which are then used as an aggregate to make concrete bricks. There is a company called ConCERT making these in Siem Reap. We have met with them, and they are interested in working with us as they need a more efficient way of melting the plastic bags and then cutting up the melted product, a more effective process for testing the strength of the bricks, publicity in Australia, and potential marketing assistance for bricks further down the track. The bricks could prove to be a successful product for Plastic for Purpose, though I believe a formal partnership with ConCERT is not be ideal. Therefore, short term cooperation leading to Project Everest independently establishing a business to produce the bricks would be preferable. However, it is important to consider how influential ConCERT is in Siem Reap and, consequently, to maintain good relations.

A third potential option is working with a Thai company who are producing biodegradable ‘plastic’ products, such as bags, food packaging, and disposable cutlery who are looking into moving into the Cambodian market. Whilst they have the technical knowledge required to manufacture these items, they lack the business knowledge and market insight required to establish themselves here. The future direction will be assessing the viability of each of these three options, through further research, testing, and stakeholder meetings.

This December, a team of 9 Trekkers began the Empathy and define stages of the Plastics for Purpose project in Cambodia. They empathised to develope a fundamental understanding of the the people of Siem Reap, their daily lives and how they interact with plastic and plastic waste. In addition to this, the team undertook data collection to verify and substantiate these identified issues within the Siem Reap province.

Discussion was then had about what the defined plastic waste management issues actually are, all ideas being substantiated by this preliminary empathising and data collection. The four key issues were identified as:

  • The inefficient and ineffective existing systems for plastic waste management,
  • The excessive use of single use plastic products,
  • The pronounced divide between urban and rural areas in relation to waste management, and
  • The paucity of financial incentives for sustainable plastic waste management.

These culminate to form the team's problems statement. 

"How might we create financial incentive for the city and rural people of Siem Reap to dispose of their plastic waste responsibly in order to navigate the piecemeal and unsustainable landscape of existing half solutions?"

To the teams coming who will ideate based on the findings of the assessment projects, remember that only 1 in 10 startups succeed. Do not let this dishearten you, let it inspire you. As arguably one of the world’s first Social Entrepreneurs, Florence Nightingale, puts it: “Rather, ten times, die in the surf, heralding the way to a new world, than stand idly on the shore.”

Venture on.

Social enterprise is a term that has broadly been used to describe the interaction between charitable or humanitarian practices with business practices. Broadly, social enterprise seeks to incorporate the financial sustainability inherent in business with the promise social impact provided by charitable organisations. 

The new wave of social enterprise has led to a plethora of new “social enterprises” delivering impact in a range of issue areas across the globe. 

For organisations and entrepreneurs looking to maximise their social impact over an extended time horizon, I offer a new definition.

Social enterprise: a business that sells socially beneficial goods or services.

At the heart of this definition is what I believe to be a natural order of human incentives, specifically external moral versus financial incentives. I postulate that when circumstances play extreme financial and moral incentives against each other, that people and organisations, by and large, will eventually react to their financial incentives above their external moral incentives. 

For example, many traditional businesses have a “Corporate Social Responsibility” (CSR) fund or a series of CSR initiatives aimed at achieving positive social impact. A frequent criticism of CSR platforms is that they solely exist to improve the company’s public relations. However for this discussion, let us assume that these companies seek to deliver real impact and lasting benefit. After all, this manifesto is intended for organisations looking to maximise their social benefit over an extended, nearly infinite, time horizon.

Imagine a typical large corporation, a manufacturing firm perhaps, that operates a series of CSR initiatives aimed at providing funds to build schools in a small African nation. At the time of creation of the CSR initiatives, individuals throughout this organisation could understandably be proud of the work the company is doing with respect to CSR. They would be, in some fashion, fulfilling their moral incentive to help their fellow man.

Assume now that this company undergoes extreme financial pressures. Its sales are being undercut by foreign competitors using cheap labour, its costs are rising due to the burden of excessive regulations, and financial anxiety is rife throughout the ranks of upper management. The extent of the financial pressures is so severe that layoffs are soon to commence and shareholders are becoming increasingly nervous. With people’s jobs and the future of the firm on the line, how might the internal accountants and financial controllers likely act when reviewing the proportion of funds to send to build schools in the aforementioned African country?

If your guess was that they would severely cut the CSR budget, that they would respond to their financial incentives above their external moral incentives, you were right. The extent to your correctness? In the US following the Global Financial Crisis (GFC), Fortune 500 companies cut their CSR budgets by approximately 54.4% with firms in Europe and the rest of the world cutting their 28.5% and 23.3% respectively.

What does this mean for firms trying to maximise their social benefit over the long run? That financial and external moral incentives should be intertwined if they want to continue their impact in times of financial difficulty.

In short, if a company were to mix their external moral and financial incentives, they would get financial benefit from what fulfills this external moral incentive and thus increase the likelihood that they can fulfill their moral incentives over a longer time horizon. 

Put differently, they would be a business that sells socially beneficial goods or servicesor as we define it at Project Everest, they would be a social business.

This concept can be applied to donation financing that supports the operation of charities. Individuals, like companies, face a variety of financial and moral incentives. Research has shown that, like companies, individuals donate less to charities during times of economic hardship. What this in turn means is that charities’ funding is independent of their work.

In terms of social impact, for a wide variety of areas of need, e.g. education, provision of drinking water, etc, the transactional nature of social enterprise helps to ensure that solutions to problems are valued and needed by the prospective beneficiaries. In other words, if people value solutions enough to pay for them, albeit very little in absolute terms as they are required to do with social enterprise, the solutions themselves can be considered to solve social issues that beneficiaries actually want to be solved. 

This contrasts to charity models of humanitarian relief whereby prospective beneficiaries are given goods and services free of charge. The practice of giving freely, as altruistic and fulfilling as it may be, is inherently vulnerable to solving solutions to issues that are only perceived by Western charitable organisations and donors; often termed “White-man problems”.

So in an effort to sustainably solve problems that the people in the disadvantaged communities we work in recognise, we develop social businesses that aim to solve a variety of development issues; each by selling socially beneficial goods and services.

"If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants." - Isaac Newton, 1676
(though earliest records attribute the concept to Bernard de Chartres).

Given the necessity for social enterprise as the future of impact when it comes to international development, I think it is important to clarify what this means for NGOs, and our interactions with them.

To be clear, Project Everest does not exist because no good work has been done in this space; rather, it exists because there was no way to guarantee good work would continue to be forthcoming. Sustainability, scale, and interest vs. impact are three of the weaknesses inherent to charity that we cover in our core story, so it is not surprising that people sometimes come away with the view "social enterprise good, charity bad".

A more accurate appraisal would be "charity good, social enterprise better in the long run".

Charities such as Red Cross do incredible work, and are responsible for a significant amount of impact. There is no nobility or moral superiority gained by refusing to acknowledge this simply because they went about it in an unsustainable manner.

As such, the most efficient way for projects to operate is to use NGOs wherever possible to dodge major road blocks. They have all laid incredible ground work with communities, have extensive databanks of test results, and some will have contact lists bigger than all our handovers combined. Part of the problem we are trying to solve is that much of their collective impact has been knee-capped, because they have all individually started from scratch. 

There is no need for Project Everest to fall into this same trap.

Two short examples to substantiate the above, both taken from December's Water Assessment:

  • Water Test Results: the team was able to source significant water quality results despite lacking a lab, test kits, or sufficient chemical knowledge. Simply because they called some NGOs and asked.
  • Community Entry: the team spent 3 weeks trying to arrange rural visits to no avail. Their breakthrough came when an NGO offered to facilitate a community meeting, providing free translation and unfettered access to an enormous commune.

Ultimately, we should be building on the work of these NGOs and translating it into sustainable solutions. The NGOs are the metaphorical giants, though there is nothing metaphorical about the size of their giant budgets.

Stand on their shoulders, or risk being forever overshadowed.

- Alex Martin


The Social Enterprise

Project Everest is an organisation dedicated to implementing sustainable solutions to some of the world’s most complex issues by designing and developing social enterprises. Social enterprise is a term that has broadly been used to describe the interaction between charitable or humanitarian practices with business practices. Project Everest offers its own definition of social enterprise;

A social enterprise is a business that sells socially beneficial goods or services.

Project Everest is further dedicated to helping realise the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). We are a social business geared towards bringing about social change rather than working solely for profit, although financial sustainability is vital to providing and scaling businesses.

The Water Infrastructure Sustainability Initiative is aimed at providing maintenance to existing water systems, such as pumps and pipes, in communities. This is working towards Goal 6 of the SDG’s, clean water and sanitation. Our idea for the project has two interconnected parts, an insurance business and an interactive platform.

The insurance business will take monthly or yearly premiums to provide cover for the communities  infrastructure. This payout is similar to what is already given to the Group Maintenance Funds (GMF), where the community holds the money to then pay for repairs. However these are not efficient or are unable to provide enough cash to pay for maintenance. Our insurance will allow higher cost repairs without having to collect that amount, and also run more efficiently than the GMFs.

The interactive platform, nicknamed ‘Pluber’, is theorised as an online platform where the communities requiring maintenance can place an ad or job for plumbers to then compete to perform. This is hoped to create a competitive market while at the same time produce a group of technical professionals who work on water infrastructure. The professional aspect is important as currently Timor-Leste lacks what we would consider ‘plumbers’. By introducing them the quality of repair, and therefore the longevity of systems, will improve ensuring that communities will continually have access to water. This is also important for our insurance business as it will allow that brand to be linked to higher quality, and better value for money.

Design Thinking Cycle


Connecting with communities throughout Timor-Leste and meeting with NGOs and Government was conducted in February 2016 to understand the state of water resources. Again in July 2016 with it then localised in Dili and Ermera with two separate teams. The Dili team focused on furthering the project while the Ermera team also did water testing and examined water systems.


The identification of the problem was conducted over February 2016. The February team found various issues regarding the state of water resources of Timor-Leste defined the problem  as that of maintenance of existing infrastructure. This was due to the extensive work being completed by NGOs, but the lack of follow up programs.


Solutions to the defined problem were formed over July 2016. This was with the help of the further empathising the two teams conducted that month. They came up with both the insurance business and interactive platform. 


This is the current stage of the Project. The December 2016 team has been gathering information to check the viability of the proposed business’. A business model canvas, marketing plan and cost analysis have been started, but further prototyping of the business models is required before finalising the prototype and move on to the test stage.


Water Infrastructure Sustainability Initiative

The December team has been working mainly towards gathering information based around three data gaps; which part of infrastructure is failing, the frequency of those failures, and how much do those parts cost.

In the earlier weeks the team had numerous meetings with NGOs, hardware stores and insurance companies. Through much of this we were simply engaging the organisations or confirming the information from previous months. Successes from these meetings was the contact made with Don Bosco, a training school similar to Tafe. from them we can access qualified workers for our interactive platform. From the Don Bosco meeting and other meetings we also were given the lead to other training schools in the districts, such as in Tibar, Liquica.

In the later weeks surveys were conducted to answer the data gaps. These were conducted in communities in Colmera and Comoro, subdistricts of Dili. From these we found that most people do their own repairs, or have them done by a neighbour or local handyman. This reinforced what we knew, that their is a lack of technical professionals.

From the information we were gathering the cost analysis and a marketing plan were started. We also began to cement the business model canvas from the ideated models. Both the cost analysis and marketing plan will need further work as only partial information could be gained within December.

Proposed Nature of Operations

In January, trekkers will be continuing to gather information to finalise the cost analysis and marketing plan. This will enable the viability of the prototype to be tested before the model itself is tested in a possible ‘incubation community’. The gathering of this information will likely see further surveying of communities and, of course, meetings. Additional to gathering of information, January will begin creating a network of plumbers.

An example of a typical day as a trekker in Timor-Leste:

Morning meetings starts at 8:02am sharp. The work day will commence as soon as the meeting is over, running until 6pm with a 1.5hr lunch break. Depending on the size of your team and the stage of your project, you may spend most of your day at the Cove working on the handover report and doing research. Usually the team will split up with some trekkers attending numerous meetings in a day (they can range from 10 minutes to 1.5 hours) or surveying locals usually going door-to-door. The trekkers that attend meetings/surveys are usually out from 10am - 4pm. Ideally, everyone debriefs the team on what they have done during the day (5:30pm). Working day finishes at 6pm and Recap and Review goes from 6:05pm - 6:20pm where each team debriefs the whole group on their achievements during the day. This example day, including all timings, are subject to change for future projects.

Desirable prior learning

The points below will be necessary to enable you to launch into the Project from day one. Points 1, 2 and 3 are re-stated from the project brief you received at Trekker Training so you should be ¾ of the way there already.

  1. Culture and nuances of Timor-Leste - This will help to ease you into the environment, simple language will also improve your experience.
  2. Common methods of water supply - This is to help you build the cost analysis and assist with getting the right information during surveys and meetings.
  3. Basics of insurance function - Here, function, is relating mostly towards how it interacts with the customer, such as premiums and excess. Also how insurance businesses gain, store and spend money will assist with modelling.
  4. Current state of the Project - Can be achieved by reading the handout report. This will also help with completing the other three points above.

Further from these you should also;

-              Prepare your stomach

-              Expect the unexpected

-              Prepare for an incredible month

The Social Enterprise

A social enterprise is a business that sells socially beneficial goods or services.

Project Everest is an Australian based company dedicated to the design and development of sustainable solutions through lean social enterprise, to help solve some of the world’s most complex social issues. Through these enterprises, Project Everest aims to address the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

The Fuel Assessment Team in Dili, Timor-Leste was tasked with investigating the viability of a social venture focusing on the supply and consumption of combustible fuels within Dili. Combustible fuels refer to a fuel source that releases heat through a burning process. This project was aimed at addressing Goal Twelve of the Sustainable Development Goals: Responsible consumption of fuels and generation of CO2 within the home. In order to achieve the goal, greater social awareness would need to be increased about the negative environmental impact of combustible and the potential benefits of biofuel alternatives which would reduce social reliance on unsustainable fuel sources.

Design Thinking Cycle

Empathise and Define Stages

December Trekkers were tasked with beginning and completing the Empathise and Define stages of the Design Thinking Process.

The Fuel Assessment Team sought to understand what good or service the Dili community wants, needs and can afford in regards to a sustainable and appropriate fuel source.

This was initiated by establishing as many meetings as possible with potential stakeholders, NGOs in the Dili region, fuel supply companies as well as local businesses and community members in order to gauge an understanding of the types of combustible fuels consumed in the Dili region.

The Fuel Assessment team’s specific ‘mission’ was to understand, in a number of different localities, the situation around fuels, their quality, their supply and cost with specific focus on combustible fuels used in within the home

This stage of the Design Thinking Process was undertaken within the Dili region in order to ensure that there was an underlying social issue around combustible fuels within the home, prior to expanding into the regions and rural areas.

The main questions addressed in the research were;

-       What fuels are used domestically?

-       Who supplies the fuels and where do they source the fuel?

-       How much does fuel cost for the suppliers to source and the consumers to purchase?

-       Are there any supply and demand issues around the availability of particular fuels in the Dili region?

-       Are consumers happy with their current fuel options?

-       Does seasonality affect the supply of particular fuels?

-       What is the relationship between urban and rural areas in regards the supply of particular fuel sources such as wood?

Following this process definable problems began to emerge. These problems are as follows;

-      Communities in Dili need a low cost sustainable fuel alternative that is not seasonally affected. Communities do not have an alternative which meet their economic needs and personal need for a cooking fuel which does not negatively impact the flavour of the food or produce excessive smoke and odours whilst in use. They also desire a convenient fuel that is safe and approved by the government.

Fuel Assessment

During the month the Fuel Assessment team met with NGOs, fuel supply companies, businesses and community members. Through this process an indepth understanding of the local community and their use of different domestic fuels was gained. It research enabled us to develop insights into the key problem areas stated above.

The result of the research is listed in the conclusions below;

The development of a social business around providing or supporting an alternative combustible fuel for consumers in Dili is a highly viable venture. It is apparent that culture and traditional practices that utilise wood prevent a full eradication of the use of firewood, however; there is a clear opening in the market to provide an alternative fuel source at a low cost price and of equal convenience to current options. This fuel source does not necessarily have to be combustible. Whist the Haburas Foundations bio briquettes are a product worth looking into, they are not necessarily the option to pursue, as the demand is for something cheap, easy to use and safe.

It has consistently been found that the most commonly used daily fuel sources in Dili; Kerosene and wood, do not fully meet consumers demands. Wood, whilst cheap in the short term, is expensive for large amounts of people, creates unpleasant smoke and is often only used for cultural traditions. Similarly, Kerosene, the most common daily fuel source, has an unpleasant odour and consumers who use this product have expressed a willingness to try alternatives.

The Fuel Assessment team has further identified that consumers in Dili are receptive to change and alternative fuels; however, they will discontinue using an alternative if it does not exceed the qualities of their current fuel.

It is also apparent that there is a high general awareness of the negative environmental impact that wood has. This can be attributed in part to government awareness programs, general school education and personal observations made of deforestation in areas throughout Dili such as Comoro. It is apparent that consumers would therefore consider a daily fuel alternative that was environmentally friendly if the product met their cost and convenience needs, and their adoption was supported with education around the use of the product.

Proposed Nature of Operations

Future Trekkers will be undertaking the ideate and prototyping stages of the design thinking process.

Trekkers should specifically look into biofuels that are currently of use in the Dili region. It is suggested that a greater understanding of the government’s previous biogas initiative is looked into and contact is made with Aires from Puxin Biogas. Aires is the government contact for the government's biogas initiative and has been in contact with December Project Everest teams.

A strong relationship with Haburas should also be maintained and the success of their bio briquette and stove initiative monitored, as it has been identified as a potentially viable solution. It is to be noted that Haburas foundation also provides environmental education services to students and the community at their facility in Hera, which could be of interest depending on the direction of the alternative fuel source. Fuel alternatives ideally should seek to meet the UN’s sustainability goals and therefore would be considered environmentally friendly and in alignment with Haburas’ message.

Potential solutions should also consider the idea of plastic pyrolysis, which gives off a burnable gas, as the use of plastic could beneficially meet waste management problems observed in Dili. Other biofuel alternatives should be researched and existing projects focusing on fuel consumption in Timor-leste as well as other developing nations should be examined.

Desirable prior learning

It is recommended that future trekkers become strongly familiar with the results of the empathise stage. It would also be of benefit if more surveys or interviews with the community were undertaken simply to provide trekkers with their own emotional understanding of the people and their needs. Empathising for personal understanding is strongly recommended as it will ensure that the Ideate and Prototyping stages of the Design Think Process are accurate in their identification and creation of a solution to the issue.

Trekkers will need to understand how the Timorese in Dili use their fuel. The handover report is key to understanding the empathise and define stages, and the intended future directions of the project.

It is also suggested that Trekkers do research into sustainable fuel alternatives and efficient stoves prior to commencing project.Particularly;

-        Biolite stoves: highly fuel efficient and portable

-        Nazareth stoves: made locally and boost economy by providing jobs, portable, relatively affordable and has a known brand name in Dili and existing relationships with other NGOs such as Mercy Corps, however stoves are known to break after 3 months

-        Haburas bio Briquettes: local brand name, very environmentally friendly, boosts local economy but are known to make excessive smoke

-        Plastic pyrolysis: addresses waste management in Dili due to a surplus of plastic waste

-        Charcoal as a fuel source: lower emission, more efficient than firewood, weight efficient i.e. portable and small

-        Improved Chulha stoves: improves smoke ventilation, easily made from local products such as clay and scrap metal

-        Rocket Stove: Very fuel efficient as more cooking energy is taken from the same amount of wood, which means less wood is used per meal i.e. cost effective and more sustainable

-        Gasifier Stoves: Produce very few emissions and are highly fuel efficient, however requires the fuel i.e. wood to be cut into small pieces and preloaded into stove, doesn't allow more fuel to be added whilst in use


The Social Enterprise

Project Everest is an organisation dedicated to implementing sustainable solutions to solve world’s most complex issues through designing and developing lean social enterprises. It is important to remember that we are not a charity. We are a social business geared towards our goals of bringing about social change, rather than working solely for profit. Broadly, social enterprises seek to incorporate the financial sustainability of a business with the positive social impact provided by charitable organisations.

Project Everest is further dedicated to helping realise the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Of these goals, Project Everest has been working on goal six, Clean Water and Sanitation: ensure availability and sustainability of water and sanitation for all.

The transaction nature of social enterprise helps to ensure that solutions to problems are valued and needed by the prospective beneficiaries. In other words, if people value solutions enough to pay for them, albeit very little in absolute terms as they are required to do with social enterprise, the solutions themselves can be considered to solve social issues that beneficiaries actually want solved.

This contrasts to charity models of humanitarian relief whereby prospective beneficiaries are given goods and services free of charge. The practice of giving freely, as altruistic and fulfilling as it may be, is inherently vulnerable to solving solutions to issues that are only perceived by Western charitable organisations and donors, often termed “White-man problems”.

Project Everest is currently working on the prototype stage of the AWG. AWG’s are devices that condense ambient water vapour into safe drinking water and typically operate on the megalitre per day scale. They involve complex treatment processes and incorporate a vapour-compression cycle to condense water vapour in low-humidity environments, such the Arab States. The large scale of these existing, typically state-sponsored, devices make regular maintenance financially viable.

Design Thinking Cycle

The current stage of the AWG is between ideating and prototyping. It incorporates both stages as there are lots of different alternatives which are still being explored and developed. Currently, the December 2016 trekkers continued work on the ‘Thermoelectric Compression’ prototype (improving it from previous handovers) and explored a completely new alternative in the ‘Vapour-Compression’ refrigeration prototype, by purchasing a fridge and putting aluminium rods through it. A brief ideation and “paper prototyping” was done on the desalination solar still basin alternative and information has been put up for access.

Throughout early 2016, a team of Project Everest social entrepreneurs embarked on the empathise, define and ideate stages of the design thinking process before realising the necessity for an ‘Atmospheric Water Generator’. After all this consideration, it was determined that a significant proportion of the local populations were dependent on water supplies that are inconsistent and dirty - this encompassed the define stage. This meant that a need for technology related to providing “off-grid” drinking water was there, for urban communities, households and individuals.

Atmospheric Water Generator

Project Everest is currently developing a minimum viable product for sale in Timor-Lesté that will improve water security across the island nation. Eventually as sales accrue sufficient profit, Project Everest hopes to scale to a number of other countries. The aim is to sell AWGs to the most socioeconomically disadvantaged individuals and households, with an aim to scale to 750 million beneficiaries in the long term. This is approximately the number of people who do not have access to safe drinking water. Over the month, the AWG team achieved different goals in relation with the prototype and ideating stage of the design thinking process. The Thermoelectric Cooling device was designed and tested multiple times. The Air Vapour Compression was designed and tested. Finally, in relation with the ideating stage, research on alternatives was successfully completed. 

It is envisioned that a low-cost, PE-developed AWG that is capable of condensation of sufficient volumes of water for human consumption will improve access to safe drinking water in Timor-Lesté; a country plagued with inconsistent supplies of drinking water.

Goal 6 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals is clean water and sanitation for all. Students from UNTL have been trialling with us, gaining an understanding of the project and also Project Everest. Some students have been using their degree backgrounds to help with the report and marketing plan, whilst others have offered their translating services. Many have degrees in electronic design, a resource which was not utilised as much as it should have been.

Proposed Nature of Operations

An example of a typical day as a trekker in Timor-Leste:

Morning meetings starts at 8:02am sharp. The aim of these meetings is to set daily, weekly and monthly goals depending on the day and the week. Each daily goal should aim to address a weekly goal and each weekly goal should aim to address a monthly goal. Work finishes at 6pm with a 1.5 hour lunch break to escape the heat in the middle of the day. It provides enough time to get into town and back or go to the beach and back. For the AWG team most of the time will be spent on prototyping and ideating followed up by lots of report writing. Occasionally, you may organise meetings or conduct surveys with the public to gauge perception of the prototypes. Recap and Review begins from 6.05pm where each team debriefs the whole group on their achievements, success and failure of the day. Weekends are off project time and you can go travelling or drinking. I recommend both. You have 3 weekends, make sure you use them wisely. In some occasions, it will be required to work over hours to achieve the necessary outcome. Examples include night experiments.

Desirable prior learning

  • Please read and make sure you understand the handover report, especially the prerequisites and general information. Go through the references and links if you need more information. It is critical you have a good understanding about how the concepts work.
  • Prepare your stomach.
  • Expect the unexpected.
  • Prepare for an incredible month.

The baseline assessment tackled the "Empathise" and "Define" stages of the Design Thinking process. The team collected both quantitative and qualitative data to gain a holistic understanding of not only the issues present, but also of the culture and people more generally.

The biggest issue was agriculture. Given a lack of rainfall in the dry season, a single harvest is relied on to supply food for the whole year, leading to food security issues. Reliance on maize to provide sustenance leads to a lack of crop rotation and dependence on fertilisers.

Another major issue was fuel. Wood and charcoal dominate the energy sphere with alternative energy sources rare and/or unaffordable. As a result, deforestation is a key concern. Given most food in Malawi is cooked, fuel forms a significant part of their non-disposable income.

Water, despite its high cost, was not seen to be an issue in the communities surveyed. Education was highly valued; however many struggled to afford school for their children.
Health was not extensively analysed, given insufficient specificity in the data collected.

It must be noted that this Baseline Assessment was focused on surveying a cross-section of the urban-rural villages in the Nancholi area. Therefore, this has by no means uncovered the full extent of issues in Malawi. Surveying and analyses of other communities may yield different insights and implications.


Over four weeks our team conducted the Empathise and Define phases of the Design Thinking Process with the aim of developing a deep understanding of the issues present in the region. Within the Empathise stage we employed both quantitative and qualitative methods of data collection to obtain balanced insights.


Quantitative data was collected through surveys covering a range of topics including income, education, agriculture, food, water, fuel and health. The survey was continually iterated over the month to cover topics we had not considered and to refine the type of data that we wanted to collect.


Soil and water samples were also collected from the villages. From the samples tested, some interesting insights were gathered. However, due to difficulties in sourcing equipment and chemicals within our budget and time restraints, the data was not extensive enough.


MyMaps and Drone Deploy provide significant opportunities moving forward, specifically in water and agriculture. Tools available within Drone Deploy allow further analyses into geographical issues affecting agriculture. Such issues include elevation levels, soil nutrition, water sanitation and the relationship between farm size and crop yield.


Qualitative data collected through the surveys effectively complemented the quantitative data. Empathy Mapping, observations and personal survey questions like, “What makes you happy?” and “If you could change one thing to make life better for your family, what would it be?” allowed us to gain greater insight into what motivates and challenges the villagers.


The culmination of these methods allowed us to empathise with the communities and define their struggles. However, roadblocks were encountered in the form of poor data collection and communication breakdowns.


After the surveys were conducted, some of the data was unusable due to how the questions were asked and/or how the information was recorded. We failed to iterate the survey enough in the early stages, which led to a build up of weak and untidy data.


As well as issues with data, we faced some communication issues with our fieldworkers and one of the villages we were surveying in. Communication needs to be very clear and all stakeholders involved need to understand the nature of the project.

The Problems:

Agriculture: With the majority of the population being subsistence farmers, agriculture dominates the lives of most Malawians, with much of their time and energy being put into growing, harvesting, cooking and eating maize. Lack of crop rotation removes nutrients from the soil, forcing farmers to depend on expensive fertilisers and causing only one yield per year.


Fuel/Energy: Fuel sources are primarily used for cooking. Given that almost all food in Malawi is cooked, fuel is inextricably linked to survival and forms a part of their non-dispensable income. Even for the few households with access to electricity, wood or charcoal is used for cooking as it is cheaper. Preferences for the two sources of fuel differ, with many valuing the cost efficiency of wood, while charcoal is valued equally for its cost, accessibility and utility. With very few alternative sources of energy available, sustainability and deforestation are key concerns.


Diet: Only 50% of those interviewed had access to three meals a day consistently, with 43% living off two or fewer.  Inconsistent income streams coupled with volatile climate patterns cause food insecurity. This leads to price volatility in staple foods, where the cost of maize post harvest is 3,000MK per 50kg bag, while the same bag sells for 15,000MK towards the end of the dry season. The second dietary issue identified is the general lack of nutrition and variety stemming from a concentrated diet based on maize.


Water: At the present time of year (December), water does not seem to be a main concern for the villages we surveyed. Most villagers purchase drinking water from bores or kiosks. They do not treat their water as it is seen as safe. The bore water from Malilo and Nzeru was tested and found to be clean, whereas Martin’s bore was positive for E. Coli. All kiosk water was found to be clean. The river water is contaminated, possibly given that it is used for washing and bathing.


Education: Villagers highly value education, and many households try to prioritise schooling for their children. This is aided by the fact that public primary schools are relatively affordable. However, constraints on household budgets and extra costs associated with schooling (e.g. exams, stationery, clothing), become barriers to achieving higher levels of education.


Health: Many of the villagers have difficulty accessing health services because of associated transport costs and overcrowded and understocked public hospitals. The data collected on health is lacking in some key areas and still requires careful and considered questioning to uncover the full extent of the issues.


Future Actions:




Given that almost all food in Malawi is cooked, fuel spending forms a non-dispensable part of their income, and thereby affects food and financial security. Financial constraints and issues of access lead to charcoal and wood being used, with such practices being environmentally damaging and unsustainable in the long run.


Future actions should focus on defining the problem space with greater specificity and begin to ideate possible solutions. In the Define stage, a greater understanding of consumer behaviour around fuel, and research into the supplier space is required. Research into supply chain logistics may uncover key issues relating to issues such as access and cost, which are key concerns for consumers.


In the Ideate stage, research into alternative fuel sources and strategies are required. This can be achieved through stakeholder engagement and research into the supplier space. Stakeholder engagement will be useful in understanding current and innovative technologies being developed in the fuel space, which will inform our ideation. By understanding supply chain, we can begin to understand where opportunities lie in innovation and value adding, and the financial viability of potential solutions.


Charcoal and wood are currently being used by reasons of cost, accessibility, and perceived utility. The more price sensitive consumers prefer wood, while consumers of charcoal are more inclined to value accessibility and the relative utility of charcoal. Any solution(s) must address these key reasons behind consumers’ fuel choices.  



A balanced diet is necessary for general well-being and childhood development. From our investigation, we have discovered there are a number of confines that limit people’s access to nutrient rich foods and consequently cause health issues.


Firstly, the intense fluctuation of price dependant on seasonal availability restricts people’s access to different foods year round. Secondly, poor nutrition is causing great rates of childhood stunting – an irreversible growth condition that inhibits physical development. Thirdly, the strong correlation between a good diet, brain development and energy is also reason to further investigate the food realm in Malawi.


Future action should involve defining the problem through diet tailored surveys and more targeted food questions. Once the extent of the issue and the consumer is better understood, ideation surrounding reducing the impact of seasonal change on food pricing and increasing access to nutritional long-life foods should be undertaken.  


Economic Empowerment


At Project Everest, we don’t want to just help people or give them something, we want them to have the agency and ability to do so themselves. Our research showed that in the areas of agriculture, energy, access and women’s empowerment, there is a major issue with financial security accompanied by the strong desire for financial independence. On a practical level, this equates to skipping meals, eating nutrient-lacking food (nsima-based diets),unsustainable fuel choices, infrequent school attendance and even early marriage.


Reducing susceptibility to environmental factors such as market and seasonal fluctuations, location and circumstance and reducing dependence on farming inputs, fuel sources and sole providers could have major implications for villagers. This would lead to more expendable income which can be used to guarantee food security, fund higher education and form capital for small-scale enterprises.


We recommend investigating financial models in areas such as micro-financing, insurance and mobile money in regards to their desirability and viability. There should also be some consideration of education models especially in agriculture, basic business practices and marketing principles.




Farming and agriculture is inherent to Malawian lifestyle, culture, and economy.  Eighty percent of the rural population relies on subsistence farming for food and income, meaning their lives - activities, wellbeing and concerns - revolve around unpredictable climate and inconsistent yields.


Form partnerships with existing agricultural organisations to learn innovative farming techniques, best practices, technological advancements and the intricacies of Malawian culture surrounding agriculture.  Further independent research in this field should be carried out by PE students, as well as the testing of soil samples to understand the state of the land.  The team at a minimum should include a mixture of Agricultural Science and business students, to both understand the agricultural viability and enterprise potential.


Future action should involve the following: conceiving of ways to increase the number of harvests per year (currently only one) potentially through crop renewal/regeneration techniques and drought resistant crops in the dry season; diversifying away from conventional synthetic fertilisers by improving crop rotation to preserve the land, and developing bio-fertilisers made from compost and manure; and, if feasible, finding cost effective and sustainable ways to provide irrigation in times of drought or sparse rainfall.


Further Assessment

There are many areas that we did not gain sufficient knowledge of during the initial baseline assessment. Without sufficient knowledge of these issues, Project Everest cannot effectively build a social enterprise to combat them. Access is the information that is most lacking and most important and so it is the reasoning behind the majority of the suggested further assessments listed below.


Reasonably priced clean water should be accessible to all. Water is expensive and we are unaware of seasonal fluctuation in price and availability. Some water sources are unclean and water quality is unknown in villages with no access to government taps or bores. Multiple samples need to be taken across a broad range of villages. Water security needs to be evaluated in the dry season via surveys.An understating needs to be developed of, the market price for water throughout the year, the potential viability to provide water services or products, and where water is scarce and unclean across multiple villages.

Sexual and Reproductive Health

Women have self-identified as wanting contraception, often saying their families are too large and hence expensive. More information is needed on what the communities need and want and what they already have access to by conducting surveys and talking to health care professionals. Liaise with local organisation such as NAYO to determine the appropriateness of discussing sexual health topics. If appropriate, conduct research into current methods of contraception and why it is necessary. Set up women’s focus groups to discuss women’s issues in an open and friendly environment. Understand the cultural perspectives on contraception from both a male and female perspective and the motivation for current family size.  Assess the viability of supplying contraception.

Material Use and Under-utilised Assets

Communities should have access to sustainable and high quality materials. There is a lot of material wastage and poor materials are often used. No information has been gathered in this area. More information is needed on why villages choose the material they do. Research needs to be conducted on alternative material sources in Malawi. A catalogue of the resources in Malawi and their cost and availability needs to be developed.

Sanitation and Hygiene

To improve the health and wellbeing of villages, everyone should have access to personal hygiene. People are washing and bathing in contaminated water and lack access to personal hygiene products such as toilet paper, soap and dish cloths. More water samples need to be taken and tested from different locations along the river both within and outside of villages. Surveys can be used to determine whether villages want personal hygiene products. Investigate the cost of producing and supplying hygiene products. The extent of the pollution over a broader area needs to be evaluated. Determine if a business around hygiene and sanitation products is viable.

Wider Demographic

Everyone, no matter how far they live from a major city should have access to basic human rights. All the people we have interviewed live relatively close to a major city often with access to electricity, government services, and large markets. More teams are needed to conduct surveys in remote villages and other areas. An understanding across multiple demographics must be gained and issues common to all, as well as issues pertaining to particular demographics should be evaluated.



Posted by William Ashford Dec 22, 2016

Welcome to be the Project Everest Base Camp!

As Project Everest's head of Research and Development, I'm incredibly excited to be welcoming Trekkers, Team Leaders, Group Leaders, alumni and staff to what will hopefully be a platform where we can discuss, collaborate and further develop the Project Everest projects into thriving, scalable and, most importantly, socially beneficial ventures.

In this inaugural post, I'll attempt to outline the vision behind this platform, the manner in which I see Project Everest Trekkers, Team Leaders, Group Leaders, alumni and staff interacting with and contributing to this platform, and I'll also provide some commentary regarding the current state of the platform.

For some time, Project Everest has had issues with the exchange of information between teams and alumni who have worked on our projects. We've relied on static handover documents, which up until recently, have lacked a consistent structure.

This has decreased productivity on projects, left some teams "in the dark" for days at a time, and has meant that teams have had to wade through the Project Everest Research and Development GoogleDrive in order to find the appropriate handover documents. 

There have also been barriers to alumni contributing to the continued development of ventures in that, if teams sought out the advice of past Trekkers and Team Leaders, the only means of communiation available were cumbersome and weren't intended to scale.

In sum: we've been using a sub par solution.

With the Project Everest Base Camp, powered by Crowdicity, we now have a virtual work space to collaborate and build some incredible social enterprises. Alumni will especially be encouraged to provide commentary on new ideas posted by Trekkers throughout the course of their time in-country so ventures can benefit from their experience. 

Each prospective venture will be allocated a page within the "Challenges" space on the platform. To be clear, general assessment projects won't be found in here. The "Challenges" space is only for projects that have passed the "Define" stage of the Design Thinking process. Findings from "Empathise" and "Define" stage field assessments will, on the other hand, be found in the "Blog" section as a short, two-page report. 

Teams looking for advice on a given topic should head to the relevant Q&A section under "Challenges". This should provide an effective medium for different questions pertaining to specific areas to be asked and answered.

By exploring the platform, you'll all be able to see ways in which you can interact with challenges, submit new ideas, and collaborate on the development of what will hopefully immensley successful social businesses. 

Currently there are some last minute updates being made throughout the platform by Team Leaders, Group Leaders and myself. These include venture descriptions, handover reports, and blogs written for handover reports.

In the meantime, I'd ask that you follow the intent outlined in this blog post when interacting and contributing to the platform so that we're all on the same page and can get started on making the most of this platform. 

Thanks for your continued dedication to Project Everest, our ventures and most importantly, our mission to solve the world's most pressing problems with the power of enterprise. 

All the best, 


Will Ashford.

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