Global Aid Mission for 'Lone Wolf'
16 July 2014 at 11:28 am
A “lone wolf” social entrepreneur is hoping to revolutionise disaster relief in developing nations and prove that great ideas can come at any age, writes Nadia Boyce is this week’s Spotlight on Social Enterprise.
A “lone wolf” social entrepreneur is hoping to revolutionise disaster relief in developing nations and prove that great ideas can come at any age.
Innovation is the key for Alastair Pryor, who has singlehandedly driven the development of his new organisation, Compact Shelters, since his days studying entrepreneurship at university.
Now 24, Pryor has launched a foldable crisis relief shelter for disaster victims that can be assembled in under two minutes.
He has bounced back from an initial failed pitch for investment, finally securing investors at the tender age of 22 and formally launching his organisation earlier this year.
The upstart continues to man Compact Shelters singlehandedly, enduring what he says is the “lonely” life of a solo entrepreneur as he approaches his first major pilot project overseas.
Man on a Mission
Despite his age, Pryor is in fact a seasoned professional working within aid and relief programs overseas. The passion he has pursued since young age has spawned his shelter prototype.
“I spent a lot of time in Alice Springs, and time in Africa volunteering in a shanty town,” he says. “That really sparked my interest in helping the poorest of the poor.”
“I also travelled over to Cambodia – It really helped me to understand their problems.”
He has also spent time with Oxfam to develop collapsible and portable latrine units; with the UN on an antibacterial mobile surgery unit; with a social enterprise in Mexico supporting refugees; along with stints in Kuwait, Mozambique,
Pryor says the shelter concept was also partly borne of an experience closer to home. While working on building sites – Pryor encountered the homeless and saw firsthand the difficulties they faced.
“We’re developing products to help those in need by innovating. It’s more satisfying than making a buck really.”
The flatpacked polypropylene shelter expands to four square metres and sleeps four people.
“The main countries it’s aimed at are those that don’t have the natural resources to build structures post-disaster, especially Africa and the Middle East.”
Pryor’s experience overseas leads him to believe that in a post disaster sense, his shelter, stronger than a tent, is the smartest choice logistically.
“Working with charities in South Asia, I saw that many had always lived in a structure, and that living in a tent or tarp is uncomfortable. A microeconomic trade has started to develop and people offload tent poles or pegs in exchange for other materials or food.”
Pryor says he seeks to innovate around existing models of charity and get them to change their mindset around aid.
“Dealing with charities can be quite a slow process”, he says. “They want to pile each new innovation they come across.”
Pryor says he has attempted to keep costs low, intending to sell the unit at US$150 to charities and government.
He says has opted for a for-profit model to ensure he can achieve faster impact.
“I just found that in terms of accelerating to have rapid growth, it would be too slow with a Not for Profit structure.”
“Crowdfunding is useful now but back when I started crowdfunding wasn’t really a useful model.
“The margin for charities and governments is enough for them to play. We’re not really profiteering, we’re just making enough to create some return for investors. I would eventually love to have enough income for a full design team.”
Despite the apparent success of his design, Pryor is no expert. He has instead relied on his ability to procure the talent he needs.
“I get consultants to work for me. Architects, industrial designers. I get an initial concept ready and they take over for testing and development.”
“I’m working on developing a smaller one for the homeless. This prototype is not really suitable for the homeless because it sleeps four so is not really suitable to carry around.”
Media and Mentors
In the coming months, Pryor will pilot his existing design in Africa.
He has begun to bring interns into the fold, but believes finding himself a mentor is critical.
“I’m a lone wolf in the sense that I work by myself. It’s quite a lonely environment.”
“A lot of mentors that advise young social entrepreneurs do charge,” he says. “I’ve got friends who’ve spent over $50,000.”
“I’m still very young – an aspiring social entrepreneur. Any knowledge I can gain is highly resourceful.”
“I will be highly fortunate if I can have contacts where I can go for help and maintain contacts within networks.”
“It’s like my baby – the first idea I’ve pursued and developed. Ït’s been a great experience so far but it’s been challenging. Some days are better than others.”
Compact Shelters continues to go from strength to strength, having received considerable media attention. Pryor has already had a stint on Nova Radio in Melbourne and says he will soon make an appearance on national television program The Project.
“It’s been interesting. I’m fortunate in the sense I’ve got a lot of PR friends around me. It’s really riding on the press train”
“Everyone’s contacted me!”
Pryor ultimately attributes the media attention to his youth.
“I’m young but I’ve developed something with a social purpose. To be able to do that at quite a young age shows that anyone can do it at any age.”