Why We #Thrive: An Interview with the Co-Founders of Thrive Projects

Photo of Joshua Moon, Brian Kam and Ryan Brinkerhoff

One year after they graduated from Syracuse University in December 2016,  Blackstone LaunchPad Global Media Fellow Amanda Chou sat down with Thrive co-founders Brian Kam, Ryan Brinkerhoff and Joshua Moon to talk about Thrive’s core values, current programs, and the journey to where they are today. With mentions of some personal favorite milestones and inspiring stories over the past year and a half, here is an update on how Thrive continues to support community building in the face of natural disasters.  The three co-founders remain actively involved in strategic overship, while in-country employees of  Thrive Nepal works on the ground in communities across Nepal.

Thrive Projects, Inc. is a non-profit organization that supports community development projects around the world through customized vocational training.  Thrive Nepal is a non-profit organization based in Nepal that provides alternative energy education and vocational training to communities in need, empowering them with the skills to be sustainable.

Co-founders (left to right) Joshua Moon, Brian Kam and Ryan Brinkerhoff will be visiting the LaunchPad on February 8 and speaking to a EEE course that afternoon.  Stop by and see them.

Amanda Chou: Let’s talk about how the mission of Thrive Projects really began. What are some of the most pressing challenges that vulnerable communities face after natural disasters?

Brian Kam: More remote communities face challenges such as little to no access to national infrastructure. These communities are not able to receive immediate help from emergency responders because of communication barriers. More urban communities face more obstacles with long term recovery. Sometimes, certain political challenges prevent urban communities from improving infractural and architectural development, aid and medicine distribution.

AC: So, how does Thrive Projects support community development?

Joshua Moon: Development starts with the youth, which is why we believe our programs help with community development. S.P.A.R.K. and F.L.A.R.E. attract the younger generations because they get to learn new skills while being hands on, rather than being talked at during a lecture.

Ryan Brinkerhoff: Exactly. One of the more unique things we have been able to do at Thrive is to customize our programs top to bottom. By working with communities to utilize local resources and meet specific needs, we can take a more sustainable approach to development.

AC: In what ways is Thrive Projects interacting in local communities in Nepal?

RB: We largely work in two different ways. The first is through schools in more urban areas of Nepal where we can provide skills training to a larger amount of students. The second is through larger scale community development projects that take place in more isolated areas of the country.

AC: Tell me about an instance when a student took an innovative initiative in his/her community after attending a vocational training program run by the team.

BK: After the successful completion of our first S.P.A.R.K. program in Nepal, our students began applying the portable solar energy system where they saw fit. A group of students in Siddhipur removed the toolbox completely and installed lights in different sectors of the community, allowing their neighbors to walk home after dark safely.

RB: One of the proudest things for us to see is that our students continue with our work even after we leave. The best example of that might be the students at our partner, Lincoln School. After taking part in our training and working together on a community project, the students at Lincoln founded a club that works year round to raise awareness and funding to help communities in need.

AC: Let’s talk about self-sustainability and resiliency on the local level. What sort of approach is Thrive taking in order to encourage education and engagement?

JM: A part of our focus is to encourage students to not only go through our programs, but to also help us teach their peers. Many of our students have come back to either volunteer with larger projects or to help us teach more members of their community.

AC: How should we all be thinking about supporting community development?

RB: I think one of the biggest challenges for people who want to help communities in need is that they don’t know where to begin. The first thing I would suggest is to do some research. Learn from nonprofits who work on issues or in areas that interest you so that you can at least speak on the issues and help raise awareness.

BK: And we should all approach community development through a “community-centric” approach. Over the past few years of working directly on the ground either as a first responder or as an instructor, I have learned that surviving as a group is always easier than surviving alone. Developing the community as a whole is key to group survival.

JM: I completely agree. The key to supporting community development is to shift the focus from individual growth to community growth. Everyone in any community has to play a part for the benefit of others.

Keep following Thrive on social media platforms, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.  Brian, Josh and Ryan would love to keep in touch with their LaunchPad family.