We heard from one of our Partners…

Professionals doing good sat down to talk with Tim Waterfield, the American founder and director of Naga Earth, the only environmentally friendly biodiesel social enterprise in Cambodia. Originally from Colorado, he now calls Siem Reap home and is passionate about improving the environmental landscape of Cambodia. As one of the first partnering host organizations working with us, we discussed the work Naga Earth does for the local community and how a professional volunteer helped aid the organization’s focus and mission.

What drove you to found Naga Earth 10 years ago?

I started Naga Earth in 2008 and it started as partnership with Angkor Hospital for Children as they tried to start their own biofuel production. It didn’t work out and we took it over and partnered with them for another 4-5 years. We started when fuel prices were through the roof 10 years ago and there were so many other multinational for-profits doing the same thing when we first began. However, when fuel prices crashed everyone left. Now, we are the only one left in Cambodia. We now partner with other businesses, NGOs, and tour companies to recycle used cooking oil (that otherwise is sold to street food vendors thus making people sick), make soap from biofuel byproduct, and now we are recycling hard plastic and plastic bags.

How did you come up with the name Naga Earth?

We chose the name because Naga is a symbol of protection in Cambodia and we are trying to protect the Earth.

Why was your organization looking for a skilled volunteer? In what way did Pdg help find the right one?

What we get is a lot of student volunteers, some young engineers and marketing people that are usually in university. That’s helpful, but there are things we need to have done that requires business experience and that’s what Federico Bonatti brought to us. Students don’t usually have the skills to take an idea from start to finish. Luisa Gentile spent a lot of time meeting with me and visiting Naga and got a fairly good understanding of what skills we needed. She was then able to select someone who was a good fit and had substantial follow up with Federico and myself which was really helpful. Other volunteer placement organizations are good at the beginning then they go away, so if you have volunteer issues the placement organization isn’t there to assist. Luisa was an asset because she was able to act as a mentor to the volunteer and makes sure things were going well from both the host organization and volunteer side and that expectations were being met.

How did the pro volunteer make an actual, meaningful impact at your organization?

Federico was able to do a lot of big-picture studying of what we were doing here at Naga. His first month was mainly an analysis of where we were business-wise, our challenges, and then having some recommendations that was research-backed. Federico really took the time to understand everything about the business and analyzed ahead of time so his recommendations had hard data behind them.

What is the difference you noticed between having an intern/ student volunteering and a professional one?

A very big difference. Federico had real world experience and he understood how to interact with people in a business environment that was professional.

What advice would you give to a professional volunteer willing to volunteer in Cambodia? What does it take to make it a successful experience?

The biggest thing is making sure the skillset the volunteer is providing is needed by the organization and then working with them to make sure what they are doing is most needed. Federico spent so much time analyzing so that when he had to make recommendations he was doing that to best address our greatest needs. Some volunteers tend to throw out their own ideas without doing the proper research beforehand.

Are you going to repeat the experience and search for another pro volunteer in the future and why?

Yes, we’ve thought about it again for the future. We ideally would like to find one that is in sales or accounting.

What advice would you give to a hosting organization looking for a professional volunteer?

The mission of the organizations attracts the right type of professional volunteer. The host’s needs must mesh with the values of the volunteer. For instance, our project is environmentally conscious, so if in their heart they care about environmental issues then they would be a good fit for us.