New year, new perspective

2014 has finally arrived and this year things should really get moving with Project Alchemy. We have new goals and targets which we hope will benefit the impoverished children we seek to help and nurture.

So the targets and goals for 2014 will include the following:

- We will fundraise 1000 pounds before August. So far we are 40% towards the total so we are feeling positive that we will reach that target.
– We will give all money raised, whether it is above or below target, to our beneficiaries in southern Thailand in August 2014.
– We will form links with schools in order to better achieve an easier method of fundraising.
– We will close down operations in Singapore and concentrate solely in the UK.
– We will increase traffic to our site (http://www.projectalchemy.org.uk) by using social media more effectively.
– We will continue blogging, using Facebook and Twitter to keep our followers up to date with both our fundraising drive and news from our schools.

We understand that charities take time to establish. This time in development gives a charity credibility and reputation. Some people will say that it isn’t worth doing as there are already well established charities out there already, such as UNICEF. We feel that we can also make a difference. Perhaps not in the same way as a huge charity, but we are only at the beginning of a long journey. In future, we hope our mechanism for gathering funds will give us the chance to make a bigger difference. A difference which will give better resources, better coaching and better opportunities for impoverished children. We CAN make a difference and we WILL achieve our charitable aims with your help.

Marc May
Project Alchemy

Surveying the Masses

Survey results are now in! Over the past few weeks we’ve conducted a small nine question survey to look at people’s thoughts on various aspects of our charitable work. Here are the questions with their associated results. The size of the sample was 51 and was conducted wholly online. People were asked on various Facebook groups to complete the short survey, and the participants could take the survey anonymously.

1. Were you aware of Project Alchemy before you started this survey?

This question was used to see how many of those that were surveyed actually knew about Project Alchemy before they took the survey. Of the 51 that took the survey, 43.14% were aware of Project Alchemy.

2. The charity collects unexchanged foreign money (such as money brought back from holidays or business abroad) and then uses it to fulfil its charitable aims. Do you consider this a good mechanism for raising funds?
The question seeks to confirm that the mechanism behind Project Alchemy is something which people find a worthy mechanism for raising funds. The results for this were almost unanimously in support of the mechanism at 98.04% in favour.
The following question (Question 3) gave the taker the opportunity to clarify there answer if it was in the negative. There were three comments to this question and two related to the exchange of money, while the other related more to the way funds were received. The one dissenting person stated that profits would be eaten up by the cost of exchange. Another stated yes to the previous question on the basis that the exchange of the coins is simple. The last comment stated that there needed to be more options regarding the collection of funds from donors, especially in southeast Asia.

4. Have you been on an excursion abroad which required you to exchange money?

Of those sampled, 90% stated they had been on a trip abroad which meant they had to exchange money.

The following question (Question 5) asked what did they do with the money when they came home. There were various answers to this question which ranged from people having spent it all and come back with nothing, to those that said they had donated it either at the airport or on the plane. Others said they had it in jars and drawers, and some said they had kept it as a souvenir or kept it for use later.

6. Have you ever volunteered abroad (e.g teaching, building infrastructure, etc)?

There were just 25.23% of the sample that had volunteered abroad.

7. Do you believe that secondary education is important to a child’s future prospects?

8. Have you been secondary school educated?

Both of these questions had unanimous answers in favour. Those surveyed tended to be university educated and so the latter unanimous result was fairly unsurprising. Both questions needed to be in the survey though as they relate heavily to the charity. The charity after all seeks to help those make it through secondary school in developing countries. It is therefore obvious from the results that the charity improves the future prospects of the children it helps.

9. If Yes to question 8, which job would you imagine you would have now if you hadn’t been secondary educated?

This was a question which threw up some interesting results on people’s perceptions of how people would do without secondary education. There were quite a few that answered and the majority expected those without secondary education to be waitresses, bin men, manual labour or working at McDonalds. There were some that said that they would have no job, and one person stated porn star and another prostitute.

There were nine questions in the survey but the those taking the survey were given the opportunity at the end to write comments. I’m grateful to those that wished us luck! I’m also grateful for one persons idea on how to improve the charity by forming partnerships between schools. This is a great idea and one which would definitely benefit the charity.

All in all, the survey was useful to us for a number of reasons. We found out valuable insight into peoples opinions on the main areas of our work. It was also a bonus for us to see peoples comments and criticisms. With feedback we can improve and become a better charity, which can only benefit those children we seek to help. Thank you to all those that took part in the survey.

 

Don’t leave it in your drawer!

There are plenty of things people have in their drawers at home but foreign money you can’t exchange shouldn’t be one of them! You should liberate that money from your drawer and put it to good use, where it can be exchanged and used charitably. You should give it to Project Alchemy!

You may be wondering why bother? Some of you may even think you have so little it may not even make a difference. Well I’m here to tell you that it is worth it and every little does count. If any of you have ever had a penny jar where they have accrued small change for a large period of time, you will know that at the end of it there is a great deal of money there if you accumulate enough of it. This same premise works for us too. The more small change or notes we accumulate the larger the pool of money we have to exchange and use charitably. For example if one person has 1 US dollar and 1 Euro then it doesn’t account to much, but if 50 or 100 donate the same then the numbers certainly become more favourable.

Some people will have a small amounts naturally, but there will also be people that have money collected over years of travelling. All that combined, even amongst a relatively small amount of people, accounts for a lot of wealth that could be used in a charitable way. It will make a significant difference to the children it helps in southeast Asia. Coaching and equipment for children in Thailand is the first project, and we hope the start of many!

There will be a few of you that get to this point and think about Project Alchemy as a whole, and question whether money could be better spent elsewhere. For those people I would say this, Project Alchemy has very few working parts and as it stands no overheads (as funds have been donated by the founders to keep it running). 100% of the funds exchanged will go towards the charitable goals and aims we set. Every charity starts small and gets bigger, we are no different. Reputation is something that needs to be built over time and we hope that you will find it in your hearts to help us along that path.

So what should you do your drawer money? You should send it to us! If it is a larger collection then there may be scope for us to come and collect it especially if you are in England or Singapore. If you have any questions about what Project Alchemy does, or any relevant questions to our cause, please don’t hesitate to contact us. We are always open to questions!

Voluntourism – good or bad?

In my next instalment I will be taking you on a journey. A journey which will make you think about volunteering abroad and decide for yourself whether it is good or bad. This is relevant in a Project Alchemy setting as the whole basis of the charity is based on volunteering experiences.

So you might be thinking surely someone giving their time and energy to volunteer is a good thing? I was a staunch yes supporter but recent events have persuaded me that perhaps it isn’t as good as you’d may think. This has all come about from asking people about their experiences of volunteering in travel forums. From my experience I had expected a positive response with many saying how good it was.

I was surprised by the complete opposite reaction.

In my posts I’d been keen to promote volunteering (in particular English teaching) however long it was. The thinking behind this is logical. I grew up learning German and looking back it would have been nice if I had volunteers who could speak German with me so I would be able to better speak the language. A constant stream of young Germans who I could connect with would’ve meant I’d be fluent now.

In all fairness though German is only going to slightly boost my career prospects. Whereas English to a young Thai is going to boost their prospects massively, especially in an area which is frequented by tourists.

From my own experiences, especially in remote schools, I believe the children benefit from seeing foreign faces. They get to hear different English accents, see what other cultures are like and I’d hope sense that the world is bigger than their village or province.

English like any other foreign language takes years of consistent teaching to master. So unless they are a qualified teacher it doesn’t make sense for a tourist to pop by be the sole English teacher of a school. That said, I believe many would benefit from co teachers that are energetic and motivated to develop the children. Even in short bursts I believe that there are positives to be taken.

Volunteering itself is a way for some charities to accrue funds in order to fulfil their goals with quite a few offering placements all round the world. The way they market these ‘opportunities’ I believe puts more emphasis on the personal development of the volunteer rather than the people they are trying to help.

The nay sayers on the forums I’d posted on were keen to point out that volunteering without a work permit was illegal and that teaching English should be done by those that are professionally qualified only.

Their points are valid and their negative reaction did take the wind out of my sails somewhat. I’d always perceived volunteering as a good thing. It is something that in the UK, and I’m sure elsewhere, that is honourable and respected among peers. So I am at a loss to discover that it could be perceived so negatively.

As for the first point concerning working illegally, the traveller should always do things above the law in any country. If they choose to volunteer illegally then the responsibility is on them, however good their intentions. So for those wanting to volunteer stay safe and be aware of the law.

English teaching should be done by paid professionals they said. Personally, this of course makes sense but there are two reasons why being a paid professional doesn’t work well for the children. Firstly, there are occasions when Thai teachers are teaching English without having been taught by a native English speaker and with materials that are quite inaccurate. As much as standards vary with volunteers ability to teach English, teaching in the system isn’t infallible either.

Secondly, I know personally teachers who have had to handle classes of 50+ children. I’d be surprised if anyone that taught classes of that size could tell me that they were all attentive and taking in the lessons. From what I told they weren’t and some just had to be left by the wayside in order to educate the majority.

So then surely there is a case there for an occasional volunteer there to allow the professionally qualified teacher to engage the whole class and to promote good spoken English.

I suspect another drawback of volunteering has become its credibility. There is a belief in the UK now that it is some kind of middle class rite of passage to travel the world and volunteer in a far away place. Due to the jobs market being so competitive, there is a chance that gap year travellers aren’t volunteering for the right reasons. Volunteering is after all about helping people in some way rather than helping yourself careerwise.

Despite the shortcomings I still believe there is a place for volunteers in poorer countries, but it would need to be in a structured environment under an established charity or NGO. They can’t be the sole teacher of English but they definitely have their benefits in supporting teachers. I feel that if people are willing to give up their time, and can be used effectively and legally to support a cause, then I don’t see why voluntourism can’t thrive.

(Please be aware that this relates to the school environment and not say orphanages or community projects. It is also open to debate as it is a divisive subject so please do comment.)

Austerity, reputation and the passage of time

So in another of our blogs about the realities of start up charitable organisations, I will discuss the issue of fundraising. This is a massive part of any charity, especially if they don’t have another stream of income. So I will include various methods that are being used these days, as well as what Project Alchemy is doing.

The UK job market has recently been flooded with charity fundraiser roles that hope suitable candidates can put the FUN back into fundraising. It seems there is a torrent of them! The charities want people to go door to door, stand in city centres or phone for donations. They hope they can snare the generosity of the public and fulfil the aims of their particular charities. So why the rush for cash?

It seems to me that austerity stems the flow of cash to these larger charities. It’s almost like a war between them all to see who can get their money from the public. Through any means at their disposal the fundraisers scan for weakness, sorry I mean generosity, and do their best to sign people up for monthly donations.

For the public themselves walking through city centres has become a minefield of clipboard carrying charity fundraisers. They dodge and weave keeping their heads down as they go. They avoid the eye contact of the ‘friendly’ fundraiser as if the meeting of eyes will turn them to stone.

So what does all this mean for Project Alchemy? Well austerity has affected the whole charity sector in the UK, as well as Europe. The charities with the most resources or most innovative ways of raising funds will succeed in harsh times. We hope that fundraising through foreign currencies will be innovative enough to allow us to succeed. People are carefully watching their finances in their own currencies, but won’t even notice if they donate some small foreign notes or coins.

Another issue which is more in favour of larger organisations than smaller ones is reputation. Reputation is massive to charities, and for good reason. Funds raised by charities don’t always go to those they have stated they would help. For those in Singapore you may remember the NKF scandal and more recently in the UK the case of Bobby’s Fund.

Reputation is something that is built over time and something that doesn’t happen overnight. For Project Alchemy, as a small charity, it is likely that people will think twice about handing over money as it is ultimately very new. We fully understand this and believe that our reputation can only be developed over time, whether it is 5, 10 or even 20 years. If it takes that long then so be it, but in that time we will be supporting those we seek to help effectively and transparently. It is only through the course of time that people can see what we do, how we do it and who is involved.

All in all, as much as we avoid the fundraiser in the street they are there for a reason. They are paid to get funds for the charity, that is for certain, but their role is more important to the charity than that. Through broadcasting their charity message to the masses, they are like a political party promoting their manifesto to the electorate. Through broadcasting their cause to the people, they promote their achievements and boost their reputation.

Delays leaving the station

So far, I have covered the history of Project Alchemy leading up to where we are now as a social enterprise, and potential charity. This blog will cover the difficulties we face as a social enterprise wanting to help those in need.

I dreamt a few nights ago that the situation we are in is like being on a train. We’ve got on at the station, us and those we are helping, and we are hoping to get to our destination (where there are funds and equipment). However the conductor comes across the tannoy saying the train is delayed. “We just don’t have the momentum to make our way to the destination” he says in a disappointed tone.

So what momentum is it we need as an organisation to make our way down the tracks to our chosen destination? Well the main issue so far is that of publicity. For the wheels to start turning down the track we need as much as possible in order to get registered. We have not had an immense response from media and it is understandable why. For national papers we are just too small to write about and for local papers it’s difficult as we aren’t supporting local children. Some online media have taken us up but it just isn’t enough!

We need the publicity for a few different reasons. Firstly to promote our cause. Secondly to gain funds and lastly so that people are comfortable with the work we do. The last is almost most important as the more people hear about us, the more inclined they are to support us feeling that the social enterprise is transparent and reputable.

For me there seems to be three methods of publicising (forgive me if there are more!) and those are; online, mass media and events. In the 21st century, it has become clear that online is the new medium to get things publicised. With videos going viral and pictures doing their rounds on Facebook, it only takes one thing to make the world aware of your existence. Look at Psy for example.

Mass is media is still relevant of course as most people look at the newspaper, watch the tv or listen to the radio every day. However, it costs varying degrees of money to get that sort of publicity. We will do this when we are established.

The last is one that all charitable organisations do. By organising events, you fund raise and promote the cause at the same time. Win-win. The bigger the event the stronger the pull of publicity. I’ve always been to keen to do something huge like travelling in some way (car, bike, bicycle, etc) from the UK to Singapore via the schools we help. I suspect it’s something I need to plan over the next ten years or so, but in the meantime we can start off small and work our way there.

So those are the methods we will being using to publicise our work. The first hurdle is getting registered. Beyond that we are able form partnerships, collect money more effectively and become more reputable.

As we are only small, we need help from people from all over the world, not just the UK or Singapore. We need people to follow our blogs and posts, share them with friends and support us in any way you can. Even helping us with ideas for events, or even doing ones of your own would support us immensely.

If you’ve got this far, thank you for reading!

History of Project Alchemy – Part two

So this is a continuation of from the first part of our history. I (Marc) left off when I left Thailand and carried on with my travelling trip through Southeast Asia and Australia. Towards the end of that trip I met Saira, who is now part of the running of Project Alchemy. After six months back in the UK, I went and stayed in Singapore for seven months working closely with Saira. In that time, Saira, and her mother, helped a great deal with the fundraising appeal I had set into motion.

This appeal involved the collection of foreign currency and using it in a charitable way. The foreign currency I felt would be easily available as the majority of people (especially in Singapore) visited other countries, either for business or pleasure. I felt that I could use this money to further my aims of improving the education of those that need it most in southeast Asian countries. By that time I had also been to Myanmar too, and felt that was another country where the children were in need of our help.

From there the foundations had been laid, with the fundraising appeal picking up pace and facebook page collecting followers. It was decided that at that point we should move to create a charity, rather than just being a one off appeal which could potentially just be a drop in the ocean. So in order for us to do that it was decided that we should raise the funds to form a registered charity in the UK. I was moving back to the UK and it made sense to base it where I was but some operations were kept on in Singapore.

And now here we are. As of 19th August 2013 we have 6% of £5000 (our crowd funding target for charity set up costs) and we have the equivalent of £400 in donations of foreign currency (with about 70% still in foreign currencies and 30% in pounds sterling.)

I put at the beginning of this blog a quote and that quote was “from small beginnings come great things”. I believe, and we believe, that this is just the beginning. We know that many people not just in the UK and Singapore, but all around the world have money in their drawers or cupboards they can’t exchange. If even a small percentage of people gave us that money then we could easily fulfil our aims and objectives.

Spread our appeal to family and friends, and help us achieve something great!