What started as just another Rotary project in the year 2000 to manufacture and install corrugated roofs for homes in East Timor, has become an amazing success story. The East Timor Roofing Project (ETRP) has roofed many schools, orphanages, community and commercial buildings and homes for East Timorese, manufactured. over 2,000 water tanks and in excess of 1,000-grain silos, and provided training for local East Timorese trainers, who themselves have trained over 250 East Timorese in building and administration skills. Over 1,250 tonnes of steel has been used to make the roofing and associated products. Equally amazing, the committee, with members from the Rotary Clubs of Doncaster, Lilydale and Melbourne, has been working methodically for over 13 years to ensure the project remains viable and to change direction when required to meet the needs of the local people.
A 27,000-litre water tank for the Island of Ata Uro, This was the largest tank made by ETRP
Beginning as a Rotary Australia World Community Service (RAWCS) project, the ETRP was initially low budget, but in 2005 it gained a government contract for schools to produce trusses. With increasing government and local commercial work, it became a financially viable business and later the committee decided to register it as a company, East Timor Roofing and Training Unipessoal Lda., in East Timor. A holding company in Australia, East Timor Roofing Holding Company Ltd was formed at the same time.
In 2012, a case study was prepared on this pioneering project to help identify the key achievements, benefits and learnings of the ETRP. The 11 critical success factors that were recognised are shared below.
- Consulting with the local people before starting the project (Rotarians travelled to East Timor to discuss with the local people what was needed and how they could be involved.)
- Gaining support from the District Governor from the outset (At the 2000 District 9810 Conference, District Governor, Ian Riseley, spoke enthusiastically about the fledgling project, encouraging clubs to get behind it, building on strong public sympathy for East Timor.)
- Promoting the project to and obtaining support from other Rotary clubs (The ETRP committee members visited 11 clubs in the first year.)
- Applying for and obtaining grants from within and outside the normal Rotary fundraising channels (A helping grant of $26,000 from The Rotary Foundation in 2000 and a grant of $20,000 from AusAID in 2001 for capacity building helped to kick-start the project. In 2002, they received a grant from the Shell Sustainable Communities Foundation (UK) for AUD$344,645 that would take them in a different direction – training local people. The grant was used to bring four East Timorese people for training as trainers at the Box Hill TAFE, now Box Hill Institute and paid their salaries for four years.)
- Having a committee that was effective in planning and keen to succeed, with members possessing a wide range of skills, including financial management (This dedicated committee has been meeting more or less monthly now for over 13 years.)
- Having someone competent to manage the project in the country of operation (In 2005, the committee appointed a full time Manager, Norm Bruce, and the company now employs 25-30 local East Timorese.)
- Demonstrating cultural empathy with the local people (This has come about through employing local people, running training for local people, supporting local projects and, especially, through the Manager’s guidance.)
- Being entrepreneurial and flexible (When the need became apparent, water tanks and domestic grain silos were added to the list of products manufactured. In 2008, Tuba Rei Metan, an organisation developed and managed by East Timorese, opened a microfinance facility on the ETRP block in Baucau. They continue to run a very successful operation that lends only to women, ensuring that more benefits will flow on to families.)
- Developing a reputation as being financially viable, reliable, producing goods of high quality and on time (The ETRP developed into a successful business, so that, ultimately, donations were no longer needed.)
- Sharing the workload on the committee and with other partners (Co-operation at all levels has been vital.)
- Structuring the organisation so that any surplus funds were reinvested back into the project (Setting up the organisation as a limited liability company with a charitable purpose ensured that any surplus funds are used to benefit the East Timorese people.)
For clubs looking to embark on major projects, either in their local area or internationally, we hope these critical success factors are useful in guiding planning and provide an example of ‘what worked’. The full case study can be found at:
Article prepared by Pat Armstrong and Dr Frank Evans, Rotary Club of Doncaster