“I have always felt a need to act on my ideas, especially when it involves making a difference and helping others achieve their goals,” says Raviraj Sawlani, the founder of Project TRY. Established in 2014, the main mission of this social enterprise is to empower youths residing in rural communities by developing learning centres that would provide them with the necessary technical skills that are required to work in Malaysia’s highly competitive tourism industry.
Like any budding enterprise, the path to success hasn’t always been smooth sailing. According to Sawlani, securing funding for this project posed a major challenge, even from the very beginning: “We initially received seed funding from the innovation and creativity centre, MaGIC (Malaysian Global Innovation and Creativity Centre), which had just taken off then, but this meant that the funds were delayed.” In the meantime, Raviraj decided to explore other means to get Project TRY up and running. “I had cofounded a private entity called Sky International Academy, which offers courses ranging from learning English to hospitality services management. Using the profits from this business, we decided we could subsidise the cost of education for those who could not afford to attend school on their own.”
“We started off being very idealistic about our approach but, over the years, we realised the importance of working together within the ecosystem of change-makers. It is important to understand the problem you are trying to solve as well as identifying the right partners and opportunities to work with, especially when it involves coming up with a long-term solution. We also try to avoid institutionalised thinking and have optimised structures within our operations to deliver effective solutions despite having a very lean team. When it comes to empowering people, the training process has to be continuous in order to make an impact. As for progress, every milestone comes with its own set of challenges, and we are always trying to figure out how to help these students overcome that.”
According to Sawlani, the company is also in the midst of developing new streams of revenue that will enable Project TRY to thrive. “We work closely with rural communities and a lot of them have access to land. Because of this, we decided to expand our business model so that while we set up these schools, we also develop a livelihood programme that will make their way of life more sustainable by teaching them how to become microentrepreneurs through either farming or even setting up their own lodging and F&B business. The goal is to teach them ways to become independent from existing systems so that they are not entirely dependent on handouts from the government or corporations.”
With the Internet and programmes being developed to cater to industry demands, I don’t see why these youths have to be left behind.
As for the main reason why Project TRY decided to focus all its efforts on working with the pockets of indigenous peoples residing in Sabah, Sawlani explains: “Here, there are heaps of development and tourism opportunities. There’s also a huge population of isolated communities residing in remote areas that have not been exposed to formal education. Because of this, we decided to go there to create training programmes that will pair them with the right jobs within the tourism industry. Our plan is for them to make enough so that they can add to their food reserves and invest in their children’s education. In most cases, the only thing that these people really have is land. But instead of just selling it off to the highest bidder, I always encourage them to work with organisations that can help them activate their land, so that they can build a constant revenue stream. At the end of the day, this is all they will have to pass down to their children.
“In the past, we conducted short-term programmes in places such as Mabul, Kampong Tibabar, Kudat and Kundasang. Currently, we are looking into developing our first village, which we target to complete sometime in Q1 next year. The plan for this is to build a village that offers solutions for shelter, food reserves, education, housing and clean energy. While these solutions will be introduced and developed by Project TRY, our ultimate goal is for this village to be managed by the communities themselves.”
As explained by Sawlani, Project TRY is also open to working with other organisations that are eager to be part of the greater good: “I prefer working with partners that offer creative solutions, are efficient and can produce the results that we desire while bringing these new solutions together. We have already secured agriculture partners from Indonesia and energy partners in Sabah, while Sky International Academy will serve as the primary partner for providing education. Although we’re in the education business, we are also looking into developing food reserves and clean energy. If there are any organisations within these sectors who are looking to make an impact on these marginalised communities, they should reach out to us as we’re always looking for new ways to collaborate.”
As for his future hopes for Project TRY, Sawlani explains: “Five years from now, I want to create a model rural community that is completely independent and running in a sustainable way. This means clean energy, having enough food reserves and access to a dynamic level of education. With the Internet and programmes being developed to cater to industry demands, I don’t see why these youths have to be left behind. They are equally if not more energetic, hungry for opportunities and pretty good with vocational work. They are a huge talent pool and play an integral role in developing the country’s economy.”
You can find out more about Project TRY at projecttry.org