WHEN TECHNOLOGY TRANSFORMS COMMUNITIES
In this ever-evolving world, we constantly need something to keep us edgy and motivated. Sometimes we just need some new challenges to keep us sharp. This rule of thumb also applies to the humanitarian arena. Having worked at the UN for a decade, Toshihiro Nakamura and Ewa Wojkowska sought for new challenges by founding Kopernik in 2010.
Kopernik is a non-profit organisation that focuses on life-changing yet low-cost technology to help people in the last mile improve their quality of life. There is no question that technology plays a very important role in our everyday life. There are, unfortunately, still people who cannot benefit from it.
Kopernik is seeking to narrow this gap by providing the most useful technology to the locals, who are most likely isolated, but they are also the communities who need it the most.
What is Kopernik?
Kopernik delivers simple technology to the last mile community. It does not have to be technology, but we think that technology can have a tangible impact without spending too much money and it can change how people do their daily activities.
What made you change your direction from working at the UN, which relatively has the same humanity mission, to what you are doing right now?
The UN primarily works on a policy making level, and while that is important, we are more interested in having direct impact on ordinary people’s life, and that is why we shifted our direction.
What are Kopernik’s current projects at the moment?
We have a number of projects going on simultaneously, but the biggest one is in the eastern part of Indonesia and also the western part of Indonesia. We call it the Wonder Woman programme.
In this programme, we recruit and train women to eventually sell the technology to the community. By doing that, they will generate income and be empowered, while at the same time be able to improve their own lives by using the technology.
Now that you have been in Bali for more than 5 years, how was your 1st and 2nd year working here, with regards to working with the local people and trying to figure out the local surroundings?
We need to know the environment we are working in, and that requires significant efforts.
Basically we need to talk about what we do, reaching out to organisations and talking to them directly.
We also attended conferences and engaged the media. So essentially, we approached them and they approached us, and that was the very first thing that we focused on.
How do you import and sell the advance technologies to Indonesian last mile communities?
We know that a lot of Indonesian companies are doing imports, so we identify technology that are available locally and then bring it to the last mile. We will need to first explain the technology directly to the community members, so that they can see and touch it.
How do you make your project sustainable?
We have several funding sources; we have funding to support projects and funding to support our operations. These are coming from individuals, corporations or foundations.
We also do the so-called last mile consulting services for companies that are interested in having their technology distributed, and we collect fees from them and use that money to support the Yayasan (NGO/NFO legal status in Indonesia) operations.
Most of our funding actually come from our consultation services to companies who are interested to know what kind of technology people currently need, or companies that are willing to do their CSR with us.
What is your goal for the next 10 years? What do you think you could have done better?
We would like to have deeper engagements and to work more closely with the local community. Things are generally going fine. But, I think we need to be flexible, especially about the focus and the way we approach the problem, I think we need to refine it every day, every time.
You will learn a lot from doing and finding new ways to improve.
As many small non-profit organisations do not have much money in the very beginning of their establishment, how do you manage to expand Kopernik? What do you think a new organisation need to think about in their first year?
We also did not have money in our early days. We hired our first employee after a year of operation. Sometimes you just need to call a friend, and then she/he will introduce you to a new friend. I think the most important thing is the issue and understanding how large it is.
You also need to have as much data and information, as well as the expected impact of your project. That is important to get funding for your project. It is a problem and solution equation.
How do you make sure people will stick around with you, especially when they only do volunteering?
You will need to show your people that your organisation and your project is sustainable, and that you will generate money from it to eventually pay them.
Kopernik balances a philanthropic and business approach to distributing technology. Their donors fund the upfront costs of introducing technologies and creating micro-business opportunities in remote communities. The money raised from product sales is reinvested in more technology for the last mile. To find out more, log on here: https://www.kopernik.ngo/
This interview with Mr Toshihiro Nakamura, Co-founder of Kopernik, was done by I Wayan Alit Sudarsana, from the Class of SEAGULL 2015.
The South East Asian Global Undergraduate Leaders’ Programme (SEAGULL) is an annual capacity-building leadership programme, which brings together ASEAN and Timor-Leste undergraduates who have the potential to be part of social change in their countries, and in the greater region.
The Institute for Societal Leadership, established by Singapore Management University, conducts applied research, creates and amplifies content about societal leadership, and invests in current and emerging societal leaders through leadership development programmes, for the betterment of society.