Your Influence: Setting up a Charity Project Any Entrepreneur Can Do
It was a holiday like many others, in a place I loved and had been to before. Koh Chang, with its white sandy beaches, shimmering blue waters, and swaying palm trees, was an oasis of calm. The locals greeted me with warm smiles and the rhythm of the Thai island brought a serene calm. But as it often goes with traveling, it is not always the obvious sights that are the most memorable, but the unexpected moments that touch your soul.
I remember taking a scooter ride along the coast. As my ex-wife and I stopped to enjoy the view, a group of children sitting on the side of the road caught my eye. Their toys were not the usual shop toys but rather found objects. They had a resourcefulness that was both admirable and heartbreaking.
Upon inquiry, I found out that these children were Cambodians whose families had crossed the border in search of a better life. However, what they found were temporary jobs and precarious living conditions. And their children, the innocent victims of this situation, had no access to basic education, which is so obvious in our Western eyes.
I visited their ‘settlements’ and was shocked by what I saw. Families of five or six lived in rooms no bigger than a small bedroom.
There was no running water, and the children played in the mud and among rubbish. The shacks, hastily assembled with simple materials, were barely able to withstand the elements. The rainy season, which often brought heavy showers, had to be a nightmare for these families.
The cheerfulness of the children, their laughter and play, was in stark contrast to their living conditions. And as I stood there, I felt a mixture of emotions – anger, sadness, but also hope. Because if one thing was clear, it was that despite everything, these children had the power to dream. They just needed the right opportunities. And at that moment, amid the brilliance and shadows of Koh Chang, my then-wife and I knew we had to do something.
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The Power of Action: From Idea to Execution with Uan
The children’s plight had made a deep impression on me. But instead of admitting helplessness, I felt an unshakeable urge to make a change. Making a difference, however small, was better than doing nothing. But where to start?
In my search for how best to realize this initiative, I stumbled upon Uan through the people I already knew there. A local resident with knowledge of the community, its norms and values, and above all, someone who understood the need to help these children. Uan would be my bridge to realizing this project, my eyes and ears on the ground.
Together we made a cost calculation and came to the conclusion that with an initial investment of about 10,000 dollars, a physical school could be built. A place where these children could go daily to learn and grow. With an annual budget of about the same amount, around 50 children could receive not only education but also daily meals and other essential amenities. For just 200 euros per child per year, less than a euro a day, we could change their lives.
Uan took the lead in daily activities. He contacted local construction companies and arranged for the appointment of teachers. I was amazed by his efficiency and dedication; within no time we started reaping the benefits of our cooperation.
I asked a good friend and business associate if he would contribute with his wife, and without going into details, even the initial investment was covered. Thank you Steven Bakker and Sharon Tan! Your trust in me ensured that I later got to do much more for children.
What surprised me most, however, was Uan’s ability to inspire confidence in the children’s families. Although I was initially worried about the acceptance of our project, it soon became clear that Uan’s local connections and genuine concern for the community were indispensable. Parents began to see the value of our project and were eager to enroll their children.
As the project took shape and the name Cambodian Kids Care took shape, I realized that my role would mainly be in the background, financially and strategically. Uan was the one on the field, the one who carried the responsibility of making this dream a reality every day. And he did so with a passion and dedication that exceeded my highest expectations.
Action, I discovered, is not just about taking the initiative, but also about finding the right partner, someone who shares your vision and has the capacity to bring it to life. And in Uan, I had found exactly that partner.
The Magic of Local Knowledge: Uan’s Indispensable Role
The enthusiasm and effectiveness with which Uan proceeded were remarkable. His local expertise and network enabled us to operate at a speed that I did not experience as great. He found a suitable piece of land, negotiated the lease, provided construction workers, made sure we could buy a school truck, and made sure everything went according to plan. His detailed knowledge of local customs and even bureaucracy proved golden.
In just four weeks, a period of time that was crucial for me, a brand new school stood.
It was not a listed building, but it was perfect for our purposes and exuded hope and promise.
But what really took the cake was the fact that on my last day on the island, that same school was filled with enthusiastic children’s voices. Children who might never have dreamed of a place where they could learn were now in a (very) simple classroom, ready for a better future.
The power of local knowledge, the importance of finding the right person, and the magic of determination came together in this project.
And at the center of it all was Uan, whose leadership and passion were the driving force behind this incredible success.
Echoes of Change: The Far-reaching Consequences of One Action
What began as a modest endeavor on the island of Koh Chang soon unfolded as a source of inspiration and action for many. The school, though originally set up for 50 children, became a beacon of hope for the entire community and beyond. And it did not stop at education alone.
When voluntary organizations heard of the school’s existence, they saw an opportunity to contribute. They came along to offer health check-ups, giving children who had previously been left to fend for themselves access to essential medical care.
This created a domino effect: other foundations saw the potential and started offering their services as well, making the school a hub for well-being and growth.
However, it was not just the immediate impact that impressed me. 16 years after that first visit, the school still stands as a monument of perseverance, community spirit, and the evolving power of shared vision. It shows that, even in the face of challenges and obstacles, change is possible when people come together with a common goal.
The Speed of Confidence: From Idea to Impact in Four Weeks
In every project I undertook, there was one constant: the speed at which we went from an idea to realization. Maximum of four weeks – a timeframe that may sound unrealistic or even impossible to many. But for me, this became the norm, and the secret behind it? Confidence and partnership. Doing and not trying to avoid cheating or fraud. Doing and taking your losses when things don’t work out.
Koh Chang laid the foundation for this approach. The tight deadline there taught me the importance of action, but also of unshakable trust in local partners like Uan. If you trust people and give them the tools and freedom to act, they can achieve amazing results in a surprisingly short time.
This pattern was repeated in Cambodia, Ghana, Guatemala, and Sri Lanka. In each of these countries, we found local leaders who had the same drive and dedication as Uan. And in each of these countries, I trusted them to bring about tangible change within four weeks.
However, the speed with which these projects came to fruition was not just due to efficiency or good planning; it was a direct result of trust. I believed in the people, in their abilities, and in their integrity. And this belief enabled them to rise above themselves and achieve the seemingly impossible.
Some might say it is risky to act so quickly, to trust so completely. But the results speak for themselves. Where others take months or even years to achieve change, we have proven time and again that with the right intention, dedication and, above all, trust, great things can be achieved in no time. The proof? The smiling faces of children, the gratitude of communities, and the lasting impact of these quick but thoughtful projects.
The Hard Reality of Charities: Between Dream and Action
The pursuit of positive change, especially when dealing with vulnerable communities, is both a noble and challenging undertaking. Of the eight projects to which I have dedicated my energy, network, and resources, only two are still standing. However, this is not a story of failure, but one of reality and perseverance.
Four of the projects were no longer needed, which in itself is a sign of success. The goal of any charity should be to one day become redundant because the need it met no longer exists.
But then there were the projects in Sri Lanka and Guatemala. The school in Sri Lanka suffered from a lack of local support, while the project in Guatemala was hampered by a lack of passion and energy from the local person.
Both were reminders of the variables that can affect the success of an initiative, regardless of the initial intention.
In Ghana, on the other hand, there was an unexpected bright spot in the form of our Soccerbuddies project.
This project had the intention of taking (orphans) off the streets and linking them to education and a budding local football team.
It produced a huge soccer star. Dauda Mohammed, once one of those children, is now a successful professional footballer in Tenerife. His story is a vivid reminder of the potential that lies in every child, and how the right opportunities can change their lives.
If you look at it from an investor’s perspective: they often make 10 investments in the hope that one will be truly successful. With that in mind, our ‘score’ is not so bad. But more importantly, it’s not about the numbers. It is about the impact, the change, and the lives we have been able to touch, however briefly.
Action Within Reach: From Big Gesture to Small Goodness
There is a premise that to make an impact, you have to go deep into the pocket. And I get that sentiment. As an entrepreneur with several successful businesses, I have been fortunate to be able to invest significant sums in projects close to my heart. Yes, I could invest €50,000 without batting an eye. But that is not the crux of the story.
My message is simple: anyone, regardless of their financial situation, can make a difference. And certainly, entrepreneurs can.
It is not about the size of your wallet, but the size of your heart. Fear of cheating or theft, or the need to avoid any risk, can paralyze us and keep us from acting. But the real danger lies in inaction, in not daring to take a leap of faith.
Do we always have to look to distant lands to make a difference? Absolutely not. The need is often closer than we think. In my own Netherlands, for instance, I dedicate myself weekly to the lonely elderly in our society. For example, every week I ride around in a two-seater with a demented elderly person who sits alone and forgotten behind his window. And for a little old lady in my small town, I run errands every week. It is these simple, everyday acts of kindness that show that sometimes helping someone costs nothing more than a little of your time.
So whether you have much or little to spend, what matters is that you act. And that, no matter the size, you make a positive impact because you can.
You can contact Uan in Thailand here on facebook.
You can contact Solomon in Ghana here on Facebook.
Or contact us and we answer all your questions.