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Project Everest Ventures

  • < 100 employees

Alex Cain

Celebrate the small wins: staying positive and focussing on the little things improves your mood and keeps you motivated.

What did you study? When did you graduate?

A dual Bachelor of Commerce and Economics at The University of New South Wales (UNSW), expected to graduate in 2021.

Where did you grow up? 

I grew up in Perth and moved over to Sydney to study at UNSW in 2018. With all my family still living in Perth, I was thrown into the deep-end: having to learn how to become significantly more independent and take more responsibility for what I get out of my degree. As a result, I believe this move provided me with a lot more opportunities outside of normal coursework to gain experience relevant to my field. In year 10, I had a fantastic business and management teacher who got me really interested in, and curious about, innovation and the start-up space, and this inspired me to pursue a degree majoring in business strategy and finance. 
How did you get to your current job position?

I first found Project Everest Ventures at a university careers fair in June 2019, and they encouraged me to apply for the internship online through their website. After a couple of interviews and a pre-departure training day, in January 2020 I had started working with the company in Fiji, completing a four-week internship on an agriculture technology project. Since completing the internship, I have continued my connection with Project Everest Ventures; I’m about to complete my Team Leadership Training to hopefully return overseas on a project as a team leader in the future. 

How did you choose your specialisation? 

Of the four countries that Project Everest Ventures currently operates in (Fiji, Malawi, India and Timor-Leste) I decided that I wanted to work on a project in Fiji. Initially, I saw it more as an opportunity to travel to a picture-perfect destination and work at the same time; it ended up as a much more authentic experience where we really got to engage with the Fijian culture. As the project progressed, it became evident that there were many issues with the local agricultural supply chain, and that’s when I knew that the project I was working on really had the potential to positively impact the lives of the local community.
What was your interview process like?

There are two parts to the interview process: a solo phone interview and a group interview. In the initial phone interview, they were interested in finding out if my values aligned with the company’s values, as well as assessing if I had any previous experience that would prepare me for living and working in a developing country for 4 weeks. In the group interview, we were asked to respond to morally challenging scenarios as a team, such as “which 10 passengers would you save from a crashing aeroplane, [out of a total 20]”. As a group, we had to plan out a week on project and justify our decisions, and in the final stage of the interview, we had to individually pitch ourselves to the rest of the group, explaining why we would be the best fit for the intern role. Project Everest Ventures seemed to focus much more on values and character traits than on previous experience.
What does your employer do?

Project Everest Ventures aims to solve social issues using business solutions in developing countries. With the help of university students, they set up social enterprise businesses in these countries. These projects are designed to work towards solving some of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals, such as ‘No Poverty’ and ‘Zero Hunger’. Project Everest Ventures currently operates in Fiji, Malawi, India and Timor-Leste across a range of different project areas, such as renewable energy and fuel alternatives, agriculture, and economic empowerment. 
What are your areas of responsibility?

As a Social Impact Intern, or ‘Trekker’, you are given lots of freedom to decide how to execute the project goals set by the Project Development and leadership teams. My key responsibilities included organising meetings with farmers, Ngo’s, government officials and middlemen. We’d also conduct a range of stakeholder interviews, where we would ask set questions to validate some key assumptions, as well as open ended emotional questions to uncover some deeper insights and understandings. Finally, I was also responsible for preparing a handover report for the next team to take over the project at the end of our internship period. It was great to be given such a high level of freedom and trust by the team leader, as it really made me feel like I was responsible for the day to day direction of the project.
Can you describe a typical workday? 

Project Everest Ventures tries to assist with the personal and professional development of each of their interns, so they build workshops and personal development routines into each of the project days. 

A typical day in Fiji would start with a 5.45 am wake up for an hour of group exercise at 6.00 am, and for me this was interval circuit training at the local park. Everyone’s energy and enthusiasm made the early start worth it, and after getting used to the wake-up time, this became one of my favourite parts of the day! 

By 7.30 am, we would have a cooked breakfast alongside one of the other project teams. Our official workday started at 8.32 am with a morning meeting with my seven other team members, involving setting out our team’s goals for the day, our most important tasks, and any blocks that we should be aware of throughout that day. Most of our goals were centred around finding out the biggest issues farmers faced in the area by conducting interviews with the locals. The intent was to help us determine if our impact partner organisation, Diversity Arrays Technology (DArT), would be able to implement a solution in the future to assist in solving some of these agricultural problems. On my project, we would then spend about an hour frantically making phone calls trying to organise meetings with relevant local stakeholders, and by 10.00 am we would be making our way to a rural village via local transport. If we were visiting a village, as we were most days, our team would be generously invited to participate in a Sevusevu (a traditional welcome ceremony) before conducting a meeting with the Village Chief. Our team would then set out to conduct interviews and engage with all the available local farmers, often hearing many heartbreaking stories that led to farmers losing a significant amount of their crops. Once completed, our team would head back to the project accommodation for a traditional lunch and to record the interview results and data that we had just acquired. 

Once per week, at 3.30 pm all the interns working in Fiji, roughly 30 of us, would meet for Pitch Practice, a workshop run by the leaders that aimed at developing public speaking techniques, with the opportunity to practice in front of a crowd. Before the first workshop, I was terrified of public speaking and would try to escape any situation where I might have to speak up. By the final workshop, I was excited to present and now I actively seek out opportunities to speak in public; something I never imagined myself doing prior to pitch practice. 

At 5.30 pm, our team would have their group debrief for the day and start winding down for the evening. For me this involved playing an intense game of cards or calling my family and friends back home. Around 7.00 pm, our local chef would serve a traditional meal and we would get the chance to share stories about our day with the other interns.
What are the career prospects with your job?
Project Everest Ventures has significantly more interns than full-time employees. They are very open and honest that full-time graduate roles are limited due to the relatively small size of the company. However, there are still many opportunities to continue working with Project Everest Ventures after completion of an internship through their alternative pathway opportunities. These include returning to work on a project as a Team Leader, an Experienced Trekker, or joining the marketing or recruitment teams back in Australia. 

The soft skills developed while working at Project Everest Ventures are highly transferable to many industries, however, and I feel that my communication, leadership and organisational skills significantly improved throughout the month, and that these skills will be useful in almost any career path I take from here.s
Could someone with a different background do your job?

In this role, different backgrounds are encouraged. The project teams are made up of university students that are studying all kinds of degrees, and the diverse disciplines from each team member are useful for application on different areas of the project. Some of the more specific business knowledge, however, was taught to each team member in workshops at the start of the project, making sure everyone was on the same page. I think teaching the basics of the lean canvas and design thinking theories to everyone in the team is important because it enables autonomy in the group. Each member is aware of what phase the project is in and the main aims of this phase, allowing them to use their differing study disciplines to come up with innovative ways to complete each phase.

What would your career be if you weren’t doing what you’re doing now?

I have always been really interested in innovation and entrepreneurship, but before working with Project Everest Ventures I was largely unaware of the opportunities in the social impact business space. Since completing the internship I have completely revised what I’m looking for in my future career. Knowing that you can have a really positive social impact whilst also building a successful career means that you can arguably get the best of both worlds.
What do you love the most about your job?

The in-country leadership team created a fantastic workplace culture, making the whole experience enjoyable and a great environment for personal and professional development. I loved going out into villages to complete stakeholder interviews, the locals were so kind and welcoming. So many of the farmers had faced some really tough times and had so little but were still really proud of their land and still stayed incredibly positive. Getting to experience the true sense of community that the locals displayed was really heart-warming, I wish we had something similar in Australia. I think the best bit about my internship was getting to interact with the locals in such an authentic situation. 
What’s the biggest limitation of your job?
During project days the stress levels are often very high, but not because of pressure for results from Team Leaders. It was more from each team members’ dedication to the project and trying to shape as much impact as possible in only 4 weeks. During the internship, weekdays are spent working hard. This means that the weekends are yours to enjoy in a tropical holiday destination with the other interns: I spent my snorkelling on the coral coast of Fiji.

Which three pieces of advice would you give to a current university student? 

  • Take on every opportunity that is presented to you, whether it ends up being positive or negative, there is always a lesson to be learned.
  • Don’t rush through university. It’s one of the most flexible times in your career; fill it with international experiences and interesting jobs.
  • Celebrate the small wins: staying positive and focussing on the little things improves your mood and keeps you motivated.