Right, so this is the dream.
A bit changed in the master plan since arriving in Asia. I learned a lot about how things work there; about just how chaotic 'the place' can be. I saw how diverse its people and cultures are, how rich the history, and how warm the locals who let you into their lives are. For me personally, the three months in Asia was enough to fall in love - especially with Cambodia and Laos. Something about that region melted me in with it, and I will happily go back again and again over the course of my life to see what's going on there - even if just to eat up the amok curry or mango sticky rice & see the family I've been living with in Siem Reap.
As I spent more time in Asia, I started to learn more about how the local NGO space works. There's a really confronting mix of NGOs in Asia; critically needed health based non profits, businesses claiming to be NGOs, disabled or blind or breastfeeding or elderly locals begging, western cafes supporting organic food projects, children's hospitals, dog shelters with western ideals, good elephant sanctuaries (that are actually helping their animals), bad elephant sanctuaries (that are beating their elephants and profiting off the back of them), orphanages (typically sketchy and regularly making their kids dance for donations), social enterprises using good tourism to support communities, and a plethora of UN orgs. It all combines to become a bit of a trap for new players, because there is so much going on. A lot of caution is needed to know who is worth their salt and making an impact, and who is exploiting the locals.
It's also a market so saturated by NGOs that it felt like it became a bit of a cliche to meet someone working on a non profit in SE Asia - some days it felt as if we were all marketers or volunteers in Siem Reap, and that in itself made me question what Step Changers' role was going to be in amongst the big ecosystem.
So this is all to say; the NGO space in South East Asia is full on, unregulated, and complex. There is a lot to be skeptical of, but also a lot to be really inspired by. I met with some great projects - particularly focused around education in Cambodia. I visited 12 schools with Cambodia Charitable Trust, and a small grassroots school in Kampot with the Red Road Foundation. This was always the goal for the trip - to scope out the need and the systems, to understand how programmes actually get delivered, and to see where the need for better fundraising fits in with it all.
I was pleased to see that my hypothesis around funding was correct. Fundraising is a tricky beast, but a critical beast, and something that we as an organisation can help with. This in many ways was the mandate for Asia - figuring out if we're needed, why we're needed, and how we're needed, and shaping Step Changers to suit that.
But not wanting to commit a business' funds to projects I can't verify, working in South East Asia for now has become difficult. At the end of this all, a decision was made to return to New Zealand to regroup, check in on work here, and to start planning to fundraise for projects in New Zealand. The logic here is more sound - that's where the majority of local businesses naturally want their CSR efforts to go.
So with this, I left Cambodia a week ago today. Now I sit back in our family home in Tauranga, New Zealand, working on what comes next. This means publishing updates like this, working on a talk on CSR in New Zealand, rewriting the charity deed (we've found our new board member so this will get easier, more to come on the wonderful Lucy soon), and building out the projects platform for the Bay of Plenty region. To do this; we're needing more projects in Tauranga and the Bay of Plenty - and this is where we need your help.
While the long term dream is to be working in Asia and the Pacific, the short term focus is going to be on getting businesses in the Bay of Plenty to take their CSR seriously and to be proud of what contribution they're making for our community.
In saying this, the Pacific trip is still going to go ahead later this year so we can get a better grip on how the NGO system works there too. I am - maybe naively - hoping that it's easier to work in the Pacific off the bat. As New Zealand's ties with the Pacific are stronger, it could make it all the more possible. After the Bay is humming, that's when other regions like Auckland and Wellington become likely to launch too. If you're in Tauranga and want to help - for now we'd love to know what NGOs and local projects in the Bay of Plenty area are out there that you love, why you think they're important, and how we can get in touch with them.
It's a small step change in itself focus wise, but an important one, and we're excited for it. More news will come soon - for now I'm switching gears into finalising this fourth charity deed again.
Thanks again for following along - it means a tonne to stand by this brand and see it turn into something real, and that starts with good people who believe in it.
Rosie & the SC team.