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Impact Interview is our initiative where we explore the stories of changemakers and the initiatives they have developed to support sustainable development in Indonesia. Today, I’m joined by kak Wira, founder of Five Pillar Experiences, a social enterprise based in Bali focusing on sustainable tourism.

Tell us more about yourself and your initiative, Five Pillar Experiences

Five Pillar Experiences is a social enterprise that focuses on sustainable tourism initiatives by supporting a lot of local-led initiatives all around Bali through what we call impact experiences. Yes, we all know Bali’s power is in tourism. But again, this power can be a double-edged sword, there is the negative and the positive side. For us, our main goal is about how we can really shift this power to benefit the local community.
We are always exploring how we can work with the local villages and heroes, making sure they don’t abandon their culture, and still preserve their environment through what we call our impact experiences program.
Catalogue of experiences
Example of Five Pillar's curated Impact Experiences Guidebook
Currently, we have around 60+ local heroes all around East,West, North and South Bali that are tackling different subjects, from agriculture, women’s empowerment, disability and Balinese culture
On the other hand, we also build a really huge international connection, almost all over the world from agencies, university students that can be connected with the local initiatives.

How did the idea of building Five Pillar came to you initially?

Prior to starting Five Pillar Experiences, I was actually a farmer until I was 18 years old, and back then my biggest dream at the time was very simple – to speak English. I actually ran away from home to Seminyak area in the city to start working in the hospitality industry, (a restaurant at the time), and started learning English there. But when I worked in that hotel, I observed that young people in Bali only wanted to work in the tourism industry, like in cruise ships. Not all of them wanted to be an entrepreneur, developing their village potential and just settled in the city. I’ve always been interested in seeing what would happen if the potentials in the village were properly developed. I then decided to resigned when I was 21 years old, and I went back to my village again to pursue this idea
 I didn’t actually have any concrete ideas on how I want to start my entrepreneurship journey but when I went back to the village, I decided to go and meet with people like the village leaders, local champions, or activists and I started to post on social media. I would visit a mushroom farmer, and post their work on social media. What was interesting is that some of my friends from abroad started reaching out saying they really wanted to learn about what they do. 
I decided to bring one of my friends from aborad to West Bali, where they got to learn about all of these kinds of local initiative. Both parties actually benefited from this exchange – the locals starting the initiative receives a lot of new ideas and benefits economically. On the other hand, the international community visiting also gets new knowledge and inspiration. That’s when it clicked in my head that this is actually an opportunity, where I can connect both the local and global community through these kinds of experiences.
Starting from there, I built Five Pillar Experiences, connecting this local initiative with the global community, through experiences, programmes and events, so that in the future, I can inspire more young people in the villages in Bali and the global community to connect with one another.

What kind of experiences do you provide for the visitors? Can you also dive a bit deeper into what you refer to as “local heroes” and what kind of connection do you provide for them?

The program we provide to guests/ visitors can be through one-day “experiences”, or “expeditions”, a much longer program where we may stay overnight in the villages. The program can also be in the form of events, like classes or skill sharing. When we create these programs, we put it on a proposal and package them. We then promote it to the international community. 
Right now, we work with a lot of international universities. For example, last time we hosted Kyoto University, or SMU from Singapore or Koç from Turkey. Let’s say one of these universities wants to learn about agriculture, then we connect them with our agriculture initiative. We call the people who are behind the initiatives our local heroes.
Our most valuable resource in building Five Pillar is the human capital – they can what make or break our initiative
That’s why making sure there’s buy-in from the village heroes that we work with is so important. Let’s say, when we work with the whole village, it’s hard to move them, but when we work with at least one person who is really eager to try and explore our initiative, he/she can inspire 1000 other people in the village. So we need to meet with the right kind of person to work with, and we call them our local hero.

How do you go about convincing someone from the village to join this initiative? I think this would be especially hard when you started out. What's the typical rejection and how did you overcome it?

I’ve built Five Pillars since 2015. Despite all the long process and hard work invovled at the end of the day, my love for travelling, connnecting with people and driving impact together with them has made it an exciting journey
One of the most common challenge I encounter when trying to work with a village is belief. The local communities might have their own belief system, that can sometimes contradict with our existing modern practices.
For example, there is one community in West Bali that chop down the forest just to plant bananas. When we go and explain to them why this is bad for the environmnet and so on, of course they would refuse us. We recently also went to a very old village in North Bali, we call it the ancient village, Bali Mula, where their temple is not in the form of buildings we commonly see in Bali, but they pray to the trees in the forest. If we come there and tell them how beautiful this is, and that they need to preserve this – there can be friction. It’s not that easy right?

One thing that have helped us tremendously is something very simple - we just sit down and have coffee, we call this blusukan in Bali. We try to sit down with the villagers, listen to their stories and understand their way of life .What do they need? What are they currently struggling with? What lights their heart up? Understanding all this complex human emotions and the reason why they do what they do will help us align and explore whether we can eventually work together with them.

This blusukan we do by the way is not a one hour sit down session by the way – it can actually last up to a three day meeting. We spend them day with them, go with them together to their farm field and understand their life. After assessing, we do a mapping of the potential that we can develop. An example of an idea we brought to the Bali Mula village is that we found out that they have bamboo there.

What type of people typically enjoy these experiences? Does this initiative currently appeal to, let's say, local Indonesians, or are they for non-Indonesian tourists who are a bit older, as opposed to younger? Could you give us any insight into what kind of trends you are seeing from your experience?

We would say as a business we are providing tourism experiences to a niche market. As we are a social enterprise, we are always trying to strike a balance between social activity and the business itself. Sometimes when we focus on the social side, for example helping people with disabilities in the village, some tourists may love it, but some tourists don’t. (for example, they don’t like to meet people with disabilities). So we are mostly focused on several stages and levels of community. For example, we work with a lot of, we call it retreat organizers, organizing retreats in Bali. Last time, we hosted a group of women’s retreat, or culture retreat.
We would say as a business we are providing tourism experiences to a niche market. As we are a social enterprise, we are always trying to strike a balance between social activity and the business itself. Sometimes when we focus on the social side, for example helping people with disabilities in the village, some tourists may love it, but some tourists don’t. (for example, they don’t like to meet people with disabilities). So we are mostly focused on several stages and levels of community. For example, we work with a lot of, we call it retreat organizers, organizing retreats in Bali. Last time, we hosted a group of women’s retreat, or culture retreat.
We also have university students, because this initiative is very connected with education. Others include organizations and companies. There are some local, we call them domestic tourists that are interested, but mostly from the company side. Last time, we got to arrange an experience for the Doctor Association In Indonesia where they want to learn about Balinese culture. We took them to one village where they learned about the whole Balinese culture. But the biggest client that we have is agencies and then university students.
Right now we are still expanding because we want to eventually influence general tourism to understand responsible tourism. Because otherwise, we cannot solve the tourism issue that is happening in Bali. That’s why right now we are starting to work with hotels because sometimes as general tourists, we don’t know about sustainable tourism, right. We don’t know about impact, carbon, all those kinds of things and how it’s affecting the local community. How we can work with these companies is that we bring the programme to the hotel, to the co-working space, and then we can educate them about the existence of sustainable tourism.

Since you're a social enterprise and you're trying to balance that profit and social impact value, how has been your experience with working with encountering organizations who are more profit-oriented? Do you have a filter system for that?

Well, we did face such situation where sometimes we connect with an agency that’s only focused on profit. 
Let’s say we meet with an agency that is profit oriented – that’s okay as long as they are buying products that have impact. We would not be okay if they customize our programs and transform it into a profit-oriented package. We do have several criteria when trying to asses which company to work with and as an experience provider, we only sell unique program that are aiming to make positive impacts to the local community.
We put a lot of effort in building a network of like-minded partners, and ensure they also can understand that what we are building is a social enterprise, not your typical mainstream tourism service.

If today, I found out about Five Pillar Experiences, can you walk me through a very high process of how I would go about finding your service? What do I have to do?

Let’s say you are a traveler visiting Bali. If you are looking for exclusive or local experiences, you can Google us and find us online. From our website, you can choose from our list of experience catalogs and be connected with our reservation team
You can also message us directly and we are going to go through a consultation process where we ask you what you want to know about Bali , or what do you relate with. Maybe you like to learn about our culture, or maybe you love to learn about the environment. Then we will share with you some activities or experiences that are related to your passion.
Even yesterday, we hosted guests who wanted to meet with a local painter, so we brought them to one of our local heroes, a Balinese master painter. By the end of the day, they actually related so much and built a really good connection with each other.
We curate these experiences and curate them into a catalog based on their location. For example, we have the East Bali and North Bali catalog. So inside of this catalog, we have the entire information on the programs.
Let’s say you want to learn about the bamboo ecosystem. We work with one of the local heroes in Tabanan Regency, who protects the bamboo area for a living. We can bring you there to meet with him and there, you will experience tour of the bamboo forest, drinking water from inside of the bamboo and even plant bamboo directly with the community.
You will get to see 30+ bamboo types there, even the very rare bamboo like the white bamboo. You will also learn how the bamboo actually protects the surrounding area, act as a water source and how it absorbs a lot of carbon dioxide (CO2).
So a lot of these experiences also contain so much knowledge, while having fun with the local community – you have good food there, you have a nice view while trekking. We combine all the fun and knowledge together into a holistic experience.

We often say to people the destination is not the place . The place, let's say, is a rice field. You can find it everywhere but the destination is the soul and story of the person you meet that will make you come back again. Because if we come to a place like a beautiful waterfall, take pictures and go home, we may not come back again. Right? But if you see the mothers in the village being really kind with you, they cook very special food with you, and then she shares a beautiful story until you cry, you will always remember her. You want to come back again to just meet her right. So that's the sustainable tourism that we tried to create - which is a good and meaningful connection.

Before we move on to the enterprise side of the social enterprise, can you share some pictures of the local heroes Five Pillar has worked together with?

And here are the stories of each local heroes. Pak Kadek Enjoy built the owl village to try remind us how nature works because due to modernization and consumerism. He trains the owl, let’s say to get the rat, that saves thousands of farmers and their crops in the village.
Ibu Roni empowers almost 300 women in the village to plant herbal tea from flower, leaves, pandan, rosella. Right now, she has 25 different kinds of tea that you can actually drink for your headache, for your stomach, for your fever.
Pak Unyil is trying to support a lot of bamboo farmers by involving them in a lot of bamboo house projects in Bali. A lot of bamboo houses in Bali, often bring the bamboo from outside of Bali, despite us having so much bamboo locally. He designed a very beautiful bamboo house with sustainable architecture.
Pak Kadek Adi is currently building an incense factory that can support a lot of women in the village.
For Winda, the first time we met her, she was actually fighting with her father because her father wanted her to be working in the office. But she doesn’t want that; she wants to plant rice in the village. She said “Why I want to be a farmer is because I want the work of a farmer to have the same level of respect as office work” and that got us really motivated.
We started to support her by bringing in some guests. The first time we brought in guests, her place had so much trash, and then the place inside of the rice field was so run down. At that time, her father didn’t really support her work as a farmer.
Right now, her father is helping her to build a small hut inside of the rice field from bamboo. Previously, the rice field had a lot of trash, but now it’s really clean. Then last time I heard that the village leader personally went to her house and paid a visit to ask what she is doing and how is she able to bring guests to the village.
These kinds of small but impactful results makes us really are proud of and that’s what really drives us. We are always looking to scale this impact and help transform the lives of more local heroes.

What is Five Pillar's business model?

We create experiences and programs based on client’s requirement and that includes arranging their accomodation.
From the income we receive, 30% goes into supporting the local community, 30% is to cover our operational side and 10% of our income we invest in developing social movements, which is a community project we are currently building.
As our name suggest, we have five pillars which involves the economy, community, culture, environment and education. These pillars all need to co-exist. For example if we work with a community, of course they have to receive the economic benefits. We also need to do this while protecting the culture and environment.
That’s how we build a business that is ethical, and supports others. Sometimes when we build a social enterprise, as a founder, you may only think about the social impact right? We forgot about how we will make income. As a result of keeping the financials in mind, we have been self-funded since 2015.

What does your family think of all this? How do you explain what you do at Five Pillar?

One of the most important lesson I learned is that we cannot talk to everyone using the same approach. Whenever we encounter different individuals, we need to understand where is their current level of understanding at? When we go to the village, we don't call ourselves a social enterprise. They will not understand at all. But what we do is very basic, we say we are an educational tourism company. That's it. So people went “Oh, tourism. Oh, yes. Education. Oh, yes”.

So find a way to keep it simple and speak their language. That works very well for us, even with our client – even though they’re very big organizations, they don’t necessarily understand sustainable tourism or the term local hero. When we speak to a tourism agency, we simply say we are an experiences provider – they understand, they wouldn’t bother trying to understanding that we are social enterprise,
It’s so similar in the village, and with my family last time. With my idealism, I shared with my family about Five Pillar. Initially, they have no idea what it is but, along the way, I start finding the right word – for example I told them that I am a travel agency that’s going to the village or village tour. That’s it. So it’s using terms that they are already familiar with.
So that’s why even right now we are preparing a messaging list for the Five Pillar team. When you talk with an agency, this is your angle. When you talk with a retreat organizers, this is your keywords So it’s a way of putting ourselves into different perspectives.

In the future, what do you envision for Five Pillar Experiences - obviously, the more experiences, the better. But what's next?

My biggest goal is that we want to become less dependent on tourism alone and diversify. What we are currently doing with promoting the local heroes to the world is like steps to our goal. Our eventual goal is to enable these local heroes to get connected with each other and together, they build a big ecosystem where they can support each other. Let’s say tourism collapses again. They will be strong if they work together – they cannot just work by themselves.
We aim to do this starting from 2025. We call the concept connect, collaborate and create. We need to have a space where these heroes can gather and enable cross-expertise collaboration.We cannot just connect an environmental hero with another environmental hero. We need to get an environment expert with an economic expert, so that they are exposed to different kinds of perspectives.
We also want to preserve the culture of the villages we work with so that let’s say, you come back to Bali next 10 years, the village is still like that, the essence is still there. That’s also one of our biggest goals.

What do you think are some of the big learning points during your journey of almost nine years? If someone wants to be a social entrepreneur, what are like, two to three pieces of advice you would give them?

I’m speaking purely from my perspective,of course everyone has different perspectives. First, you need to trust the process, because sometimes we only focus on the result. We look at other initiatives and say “Oh they are already successful, like what am I doing” – please do not think like that. Think about what you can do best right now because you will go through all of that process eventually. At the end of the day, you will be someone, you will be something and your project will become something and you will get there.
Second is about commitment. When you are already committed to something, just focus on that commitment. If you are not focused and you are juggling multiple things, it’s very hard to focus. That’s why last time I felt that when I focused on several businesses, suddenly, all of those businesses became nothing.
And the third one, just enjoy it, because sometimes we get stressed, we get overwhelmed, but when you really enjoy what you’re doing, it is manageable. That’s why please explore what really makes you happy. Because I love to meet people, I love to travel, that makes me happy. So how can I connect that happiness to my work? That’s how Five Pillar Experiences came to be.
So first you need to trust the process. Second, you need to focus on your commitment. And the third is work on something makes you happy.

For everyone who wants to learn more about Five Pillar Experiences, can you tell us where we can find you?

Learn more about Five Pillar Experiences by clicking their social links below
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