Our business model tackling healthcare challenges in Papua New Guinea

“If we could solve all the world’s problems with money — the solutions would be found tomorrow. What we need however, is a good partnership”

It took us four years to realise that little blue dot was where our magic happened — and it happened through collaboration.

About 12 months ago, we began discussions with a passionate newly appointed CEO from a resource company. He had literally wandered into our co-working space one day and struck up a conversation with my co-founder Ashwin.

The company he worked for; InterOil, operates in Papua New Guinea and is made up, predominantly, of locals — right up to the Executive Vice President. Hence; InterOil is “Proud to be a Papua New Guinea company” — maintaining that respect for communities and the environment is a main pillar for the entire organisation:

Our approach to all aspects of our work is to minimise negative impacts, maximise positive impacts and, as far as possible, leave the environment and the communities better than when we arrived.

The CEO Michael, sitting with local women as part of his time onboard the YWAM Ship MV Pacific Link

Michael Hession, the CEO, explained to Ashwin that they had been supporting a (direly needed) medical ship in Papua New Guinea for the last few years through fuel donations, and wondered if we could help the ship program get their story heard.

The organisation that runs the medical ship is called YWAM (Youth With A Mission) based out of Townsville, Australia & Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea. Everyone involved in YWAM is a complete volunteer with no payment or wage whatsoever — ensuring that every cent they raise goes to exactly where it is needed most. Even the managing director of the organisation Mr. Ken Mulligan, lives through the philanthropy of his friends and family. (Having worked a lot with non-profit organisations, this was incredibly refreshing!)

What was also quite astonishing, was the respect and attitude towards the country YWAM served in. They truly believe that one day Papua New Guinea communities will have the strength and resources to run their own medical ships in other nations in the Pacific region.

“Our goal in YWAM Medical Ships is to eventually work ourselves out of our jobs and empower the local health infrastructure in Papua New Guinea.”

— Dr. Sarah Dunn, YWAM Medical Ships

YWAM operates through the generosity of time donated by volunteers who come from around the world. Medical professionals, dentists, opthamologists, students — anyone can find themselves of use onboard the vessel.

Both InterOil and YWAM have been working alongside the government since they began operations. Sir Rabbie Namaliu, the former Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea, is both a Patron of YWAM and a board member in InterOil, and passionate about his support:

“The work the YWAM Medical Ships program is carrying out in coastal and river communities along the Papua coast is making a real difference in the lives of thousands of villagers, and I hope I can help YWAM expand the program in future years.” — The Right Honourable, Sir Rabbie Namaliu, GCL CSM KCMG

With this brief encounter with Michael Hession in Singapore, we soon found ourselves in conversations with both organisations to see how we could amplify the work that YWAM was already doing, in a way that could change the face of healthcare for the future of the country.

The #OvercomeImpossible Campaign

After 5 years of operation, the MV Pacific Link, an ex-Japanese fishing vessel (which had been transformed into the floating hospital) needed to be retired. The ship which carried hundreds of YWAM volunteers from community to community, bringing hope and health to the most remote villages, was no longer seaworthy after many years deterioration.

This was a defining moment.

YWAM decided that instead of trying to replace one old rusting vessel with another old rusting vessel, they would in-fact take on the seemingly impossible task to try raise literally millions of Australian dollars for a newer, bigger, better ship – MV Ammari.

The MV Ammari — the ship selected by YWAM to replace their ageing current medical vessel

To do this, they found enough money to hire the MV Ammari for 6 months, and planned a fundraising journey down the east coast of Australia. To buy the vessel, they would need over AUD 6 million by the beginning of December 2014, and so they aptly named the ambitious campaignOvercoming The Impossible”.

While this was going on — the MV Pacific Link would complete one of it’s last ever outreach journeys into the Gulf of Papua. While the excitement of the #OvercomeImpossible campaign rippled through the east coast of Australia, along the coastlines of Papua New Guinea local people were overcoming their own impossible task: living day to day. With no roads, access to health care, education or even the most basic motorised transport to leave their villages to find help, life in Papua New Guinea can be overwhelmingly difficult.

Current health statistics in Papua New Guinea

Compared to the rest of the world, Papua New Guinea is a very small open and developing economy, with a big dependence on exports and imports.

“It relies heavily on the export of primary products, such as gold, copper, coffee, cocoa, copra, timber and the production of petroleum, for its immediate consumption. Agriculture forms the basis of its economy, with over 80 per cent of the population being rural-based subsistence farmers…”

The journey and story of the MV Pacific Link with over 50 volunteers from 12 different countries onboard, was what InterOil CEO Michael Hession wanted us to capture.

InterOil sent 2 of their local staff, fully paid, to share their experience and skills with the communities; and vice-versa, learn from YWAM. Anthony was one of the staff from InterOil who was chosen as a volunteer. He had almost died as a child after being diagnosed with tuberculosis. It was this experience that led him to become a Health Extension Officer in InterOil. He was incredibly excited to be sharing his knowledge about his country with the other YWAM volunteers from around the globe, and to be able to give back to his country.

Our brief was to provide inspiring experiences for InterOil volunteers and create engaging content — in the form of short videos, photos and a documentary film — to highlight the incredible work of YWAM, the challenges of the people and, of course, to showcase the overwhelming resilience of the nation.

We did just that — and Ashwin kept an incredible diary log of the adventure here: Diary 01, Diary 02, Diary 03, Diary 04, Diary 05.

After the life-changing experiences on board the MV Pacific Link and the completion of the documentary film — we finalised preparations for a massive film premiere and fundraising event to be held in Port Moresby. This was something we did as volunteers ourselves, albeit with our travel costs covered, to make sure the documentary film made a maximum impact.

After arriving back in Papua New Guinea, Ashwin and Laura went above and beyond to ensure everything was ready and to ensure there were no unpleasant surprises during the event. After all, Papua New Guinea is notoriously and lovingly known as “the land of the unexpected!”

With the event hosted by Sir Rabbie Namaliu himself, we invited the most prominent people we could find to share our important message with. To my astonishment and with great joy it was completely over capacity at AUD$11,500 (PGK 25,000) per table. That brought our fundraising tally to AUD$300,000 (PGK 625,000) even before the night’s fundraising started!

It was also a wonderful opportunity for local artists to perform, highlighting the supreme talent coming out of this incredible nation:

“The Groovy Tunes” performing LIVE before the screening.

The screening itself was an overwhelming experience for me — as I’d spent the last few months of my life editing the story. Hearing the laughter and seeing the tears from the audience made my heart swell with gratefulness.

There were posters decorating the room with reminders of why we were there, the purpose behind the project as a whole. Makasi’s story, featured left, was the one that had always inspired me to make the film, and to ensure the work YWAM is doing continues long into the future, despite the seemingly impossible fundraising target.

After the film, we held a ridiculously entertaining auction, showcasing more talent from the nation:

“Mama” by Jane Wena. Jane is one of Papua New Guinea’s foremost female artists.
“Kombongabe” by Larry Santana, an internationally recognised Papua New Guinean artist. His work focuses on the world and nature, cultures before and after, and of the changes occurring in Papua New Guinean lifestyles.

I wish I could have afforded the art pieces myself. But thankfully, the funds raised through the auction were well above my budget — very much down to our vigorous auctioneer!

When it came to the end of the night, I was almost in tears of disbelief as local government and guests came on stage to pledge hundreds of thousands of dollars towards the campaign.

It was near the end of the event, that Ken Mulligan (Head of YWAM) came on stage and said the quote which began this article;

“If we could solve all the worlds problems with money — the solutions would be found tomorrow. What we need however, is good partnership”

This is the moment I realised we are doing exactly what the world needs right now. We are finding the missing links between big companies and non-profit organisations, between small communities and mass consumers. We are bridging these links — to make the most sustainable impact we can.

From left to right: Ken Mulligan (YWAM Medical Ships Managing Director ), Michael Hession (InterOil CEO), Sir Rabbie (former Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea) and Chris Finlayson (InterOil Chairman) — all standing on stage together, in partnership, holding up a picture of what was once so far out of reach, so impossible to imagine… seeing these four men on stage with one common goal emphasised the message that together — in partnership — we can truly overcome the impossible.

In that one night; K6.19 million (AUD 2.85 million) was pledged towards the new vessel with K1.18 million given in cash on the night.

#SemprePosibilidade (Always Possible)

It only seemed fitting that on our return home to Singapore, Ashwin, Laura and I, passed by this advertising banner…
Poem titled “Papua New Guinea Memories” written by my co-founder Ashwin Subramaniam based on his experiences on-board the medical ship.

Article by Jacqui Hocking from Team Gone Adventurin’.

Laura Allen

Firm believer that companies can unlock great business opportunities in tackling social and environmental challenges in their communities. Outside of the world of social business, Laura is an avid cyclist and rock-climber, and is passionate about topics such as the FutureOfFood (she co-founded a community farm in Singapore) and mindfulness.

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