Village model

Village model : Building Livelihoods so no one is left out

Sydney, AustraliaSri Lanka
Year Founded:
Organization type: 
nonprofit/ngo/citizen sector
Project Stage:
$1,000 - $10,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

A market based village model, the project supports necessity entrepreneurs, of which today there are more than 1 billion. It transforms the village by connecting producers with markets to increase income and reduces vulnerability to sustain income through savings program & youth skills development

WHAT IF - Inspiration: Write one sentence that describes a way that your project dares to ask, "WHAT IF?"

What if entrepreneurship could lift people out of poverty?
About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

Today there are more than 1 billion necessity entrepreneurs, self employed at a subsistence level in the informal economy because they have little access to formal employment. Their characteristics, such as income diversification, are at odds with traditional entrepreneurs and yet they are often grouped together in programming. As a result, their businesses fail to grow enough to lift them out of poverty.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

Our solution is a market based village model. Evidence from the OECD suggests that to enable economic well being you need to both increase income and protect the risk of losing it by addressing vulnerability. To address this we work through an interconnected village model. Working through the village we address many aspects of necessity entrepreneurs like the desire to move forward together. We increase income by strengthening micro and small enterprises, where 90% of the poor work today, and prevent the loss of income by addressing 2 key aspects of vulnerability as defined by the world bank; increasing savings (ensuring wealth accumulation) and reducing the number of dependents by strengthening pathways for young people into employment.


Richard Branson Entrepreneurship Program
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

Our village model is a scaled program of what Palmera has been investing in over the past two years- targeted strategies to improve the micro enterprises of the poor. Our Papaya Project shows the power of our approach. We supported 30 necessity entrepreneurs with improved agriculture practices, a new type of crop, sustainable water management and connections to markets resulting in increased income. Manoranjitham (photo), a former internally displaced person received this support. She now produces 450 kg of papayas each week, earning on average $107US/month, a 10-fold increase in her income. The village model will scale this successful approach by engaging both traditional and necessity entrepreneurs to transform the village economy.

Impact: What is the impact of the work to date? Also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

As a volunteer based organisation our work has already impacted close to 300 entrepreneurs, increasing income by an average of 40%. In 2012 when the last remaining refugee camps in Sri Lanka were closed and basic infrastructure was restored, the next phase of rebuilding and development began – this included economic opportunities for the country's poorest. Palmera launched its village model initiative to scale its impact, founded on a three year action research project - to ensure what we did both leveraged best practice and filled the critical gaps in country. With one village already in pilot, the model intends to enable economic well being by engaging at least 75% of people in each village (approx 150 families) and supporting increases in income by 50% and sustaining income by supporting increases to savings by at least 35% and strengthening pathways for young people into employment

Spread Strategies: Moving forward, what are the main strategies for scaling impact?

The Project has been designed with scalability and replicability at its core. Palmera sees itself as remaining as a center of excellence and working with local and international partners to scale its impact. Palmera has already partnered with Transform Aid, a larger agency, to scale its impact. We understand the challenges for one agency to do all things - have deep in country networks, be innovative, flexible and have the organisational strength to scale, especially across country boarders. Palmera believes that scaling our impact will be best achieved through such strategic partnerships.

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is this solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

Palmera is one of a handful of international agencies in Australia with government accreditation, allowing us to receive funding from the national government. Additionally, we have also established a deep grassroots network, facilitated by a crowd funding site, that enables like minded and passionate people connect with our projects. As the organisation has grown, so to has our confidence to raise funds through a range of philanthropic sources.

Marketplace: Who else is addressing the problem outlined here? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

There are many aid organisations adopting pro-poor market based approaches but for many frame their of reference is growth, not necessity; requiring the entrepreneur to have a culture of success, not the culture of poverty through which the poor see the world. This project is all about the necessity entrepreneurs and designing the program to suit their realities. It is in contrast to some MSED strategies which focus on growth oriented entrepreneurs, building the wealth of those in a single sector, who then move out of relationships of reciprocity in order to accumulate wealth.

Founding Story

Palmera began when a group of friends were in Sri Lanka visiting when the tsunami hit. In the midst of the chaos of the tsunami I remember a young women who held my hand. She had lost everything - her child, her husband, her home. I had never met her before, but in that moment, as she gripped my hand tightly, I wanted nothing more than to have her be okay. I came back to Australia and felt compelled to do my small part in rebuilding the lives of those who lost everything. It began as a volunteer network responding to emergency relief but grew into a social enterprise, accredited with Australian Government and now on a journey to increase impact through a unique market based village model.


For over a decade Palmera was a volunteer based organisation. 1 year ago I (Abarna Raj) quit my job to run the organisation. I am a social strategy consultant also lecturing at the Adelaide University for Entrepreneurship, previously worked in sustainability and social strategy for PWC and led the sustainability portfolio for Leighton Holdings (Australia’s largest construction company). I am supported by 2 part time staff who are funded by angel investors, Corinne who led the program team for ActionAid Australia and Freia, a talents development specialist. Our research project which develops the village based model has a strong advisory team including members from Swiss Labour Group, Opportunity International and World Vision. Our lead researcher is a microenterprise specialist whose main client is World Vision and Vision Fund. Our local lead on the ground consultant is a leading microenteprise specialist and we of course work with local partners whose capacity we know and understand through our 10 year history of development. We have an active volunteer base who help with all the requirements of a social business (including legal, design, accounting and website specialists), a local team on the ground that deliver the projects and a strong board that ensures effective governance, which includes people like Rick Millen (previous head of PwC Foundation) and Ram Kangatharan (CEO of Budget Direct and previous CFO of Bank of Queensland). Our team and network have grown through our decade long commitment as a volunteer based organisation and is what we have been able to leverage as we move into our scaled village based program. Our links with the international development community is through our accreditation with the Australian Council for International Development and the Department of Foreign Affairs (one of 15 grassroots organisations in Australia accredited).
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Which of the 8 UN Global Goals (Sustainable Development Goals) pre-selected for this competition does your solution relate most closely to? [select all that apply]

No Poverty, Decent Work and Economic Growth.

Leadership and the Unilever Awards
Please provide examples of any previous entrepreneurial initiatives you have pioneered.

Each of our projects is an Entrepreneurial initiative because Palmera get very hands on in the business development. From toy production businesses, agricultural businesses, fishing enterprises and handicrafts. Beyond our projects Palmera began an enterprise, which unfortunately did not prove feasible called "It Starts with a Stitch" to provide work uniforms from the villages to corporates in Australia. Unfortunately the very strict uniform requirements limited our production potential. This business ran for a year and was a great learning for us. We have a cookbook that we use as a key income raising source which tells the story of 34 women's story of war and rebuilding through food ( and we are also currently developing a purchasing platform for rural women to sell their products directly overseas (an easy to use Etsy). Everything we do is entrepreneurial because we have to think outside the box in order to support the women we work with, work within the constraints of limited resources available to social enterprises and meet the very high entrepreneurial demands by donors and our key stakeholders.

Beyond your existing team, who else are you working with to achieve your objectives, eg partners, advisors, mentors?

We work through a research advisory panel who act as our advisors made up of experts from Swiss Labour Group, Opportunity International and World Vision. We have a key partner in Transform Aid International who would act as our scale partner (see quote from them below) and of course we have many corporates who provide in kind support so we can do what we do - from graphical (Pink Tank) to legal support (Allen & Overy).
"Transform Aid has been seeking to leverage a strong approach to MSE to strengthen our ongoing Self Help Group programs across Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. The partnership with Palmera is proving to show tremendous promise in identifying scalable approaches to MSE initiatives that will extend and build on programs already reducing poverty however with greater economic and sustainable impact. Palmera has shown extraordinary rigour in both approach design and organisational development, however we are also quite buoyed by the attention to embedded impact measurement in the design which will provide improved measurement of results beyond the typical approaches".