Making community outreach truly meaningful

Companies in Asia have ample opportunity to help communities in need. The challenge is for them to do it in a sustainable way that brings meaningful results for underprivileged schools and villages.

What we strive to do at Ground – apart from helping business teams to support communities – is to put mechanisms in place so that companies can develop a long-term relationship with the school or village. This is not a one-time job – they don’t just paint the school and leave. It’s a long-term relationship with mutual responsibilities and rewards.

Think of it as a lasting, three-way relationship between the village or school, the company making the contribution, and the facilitator. After the business team has physically helped a community or assisted with a project, we keep the relationship going. Ground harnesses social media to do this, with quarterly email updates and private Facebook groups. Business teams can then see the project grow and evolve over the months and years. Our approach is mature and practical. 

We understand that corporate pressures are relentless. Companies can’t always travel to Cambodia or Vietnam when they please to conduct community development, even for a day or two. And after the visit, corporate deadlines and work pile up as usual. The village in Cambodia can be forgotten.

Ground anticipates this. We deliver timely updates and work with a company liaison to facilitate ongoing donations, support and ad hoc visits to the project.

The process
At the outset of the whole process, a good facilitator helps to find projects that align with the donor company’s values. Projects span health care, water supplies, sanitation, housing, education, community infrastructure, capacity building, and even sports coaching. 

On the environmental conservation side, options include reforestation, regreening, wildlife conservation, or animal rescue.

We then match those priorities to needy villages or schools where local government support and resources are lacking. Usually, the company raises funds pre-visit. 

Our preference is to help with school facilities, environmental conservation, health care, water supplies and so on. We’re not about just donating a bunch of iPads. 

We then create a programme or itinerary for the business team in consultation with the host community. The core of the trip involves hands-on work in the village. This could mean building classrooms, helping with a community health project, improving sanitation facilities or planting trees.

After the trip, Ground continues to work with the villagers and may invite other business teams to contribute to the project. We don’t want to leave the village in the lurch. The whole idea is sustainable community development, after all.

Ground emerged after sister company Khiri Travel celebrated its 10th anniversary. The latter takes groups on educational trips to help communities in Cambodia, northern Thailand and the Mekong Delta. Over those 10 years, Khiri Reach (another branch of Khiri Group) delivered community development to over a dozen projects, mostly in poor rural areas.

Ground now taps into that understanding. It has honed the community development experience to strengthen leadership skills, build resilience, and teach cross-cultural understanding. Good community development requires a longstanding, three-way relationship. Corporate retreat groups and other business teams can make a valuable difference by recognising this.

Jack Bartholomew is general manager of Ground, part of YAANA Ventures, which partners with local communities to assist in sustainable development

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