Bad news – Award-winning Timor Marketplace Project Shutting Down
[UPDATE BELOW] We have a cool and innovative economic impact project in Timor Leste, and its about to close. The Marketplace Project has a simple goal: redirect or accelerate international spending into the local economy of Asia’s poorest nation. It does this by distributing international tenders, maintaining an on-line directory of 2700 local entrepreneurs, advocating to “Buy Local – Build Timor”, and matchmaking international buyers to Timorese vendors.
The need? Huge. Only a fraction of aid money is spent locally, and unemployment numbers range from 20-40%. In spite of massive amounts of international assistance and incoming oil revenues, in many ways the economy has deteriorated. According to the World Bank:
“…the proportion of people living below the poverty line (US$0.88) increased from 36% in 2001 (around 266,000 people) to 49% in 2007 (around 500,000 people).”
And the impact of our project? Huge. Since launching in 2007, it redirected or accelerated over $16 million of confirmed new spending on Timorese entrepreneurs. The estimated result is as high as $23 million. The project facilitated more than 10,000 contracts through its matchmaking services with a total value of nearly $8 million. Of these nearly $7 million were directed into Timor’s poorest rural areas. In addition to this the Tender Distribution service successfully closed 261 tenders with a total value of over $8 million. The annual economic impact of the project is comparable to 0.41% of GDP in 2007; 1.51% in 2008, and 0.91% in 2009.
This project was also groundbreaking, especially in its efforts to link the poor and disconnected rural economy to the international aid dollars that are largely spent only in the capital of Dili. We are now planning to replicate it in Haiti and Africa. The President, Nobel Prize Winner Jose Ramos Horta loved it, declaring that it “changed the way the international community operates in Timor Leste.” And based on an in depth review of the project, PDT won this $750k prize in the form of the Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship:
So why is it closing? Lack of funding. We have several smaller donors supporting it, including the governments of Norway and Canada, the Arsenault Family Foundation, and the ENI corporation. But our main donor AusAID decided to cut its funding dramatically. Without a last minute miracle, we simply don’t have enough money to keep the whole project running. It happens. AusAID has a big portfolio but unfortunately this project doesn’t fit. The aid industry isn’t quite a free marketplace of ideas yet, and good projects don’t always attract the funding they deserve. Which is unfortunate, but we can be proud of what this project and our Timorese staff were able to accomplish in 3 short years, the money injected into the economy, the jobs created, the tax revenue generated. It was truly remarkable.
ADDENDUM: Needless to say, before we shut the doors, any suggestions on other funders are always welcome!
UPDATE: Thank you for the amazing outpouring of support. We were frankly surprised at the public reaction, in Timor and Australia. Overnight this became a story in newspapers, TV, and on the radio. Right now we have some tentative offers of additional funding from a couple of donors. Not enough to avoid downsizing the project, but perhaps enough to keep the lights on. Unfortunately, there will still be a reduction in services, and a reduction in the number of districts we serve, but it’s better than closure. We’ll keep you posted.