UNDP 2017 Equator Prize awarded to Raja Ampat Homestay Association

Raja Ampat Homestay Association 2017 Equator Prize

September 17, 2017: Tonight, in New York City’s historic Town Hall Theater, the 2017 UNDP Equator Prize Award Ceremony will honour 15 outstanding indigenous and local community initiatives for their success in advancing local nature-based solutions for sustainable development.

In Manhattan to attend the ceremony and accept an Equator Prize award on behalf of the Raja Ampat Homestay Association is Association board member Stefani Arwakon, and Kristian Sauyai, the head of the Association management committee.

Impossible dreams

The photos in this post are taken from Stef’s Impossible Dreams album on facebook (thanks Stef!), which documents Stef and Kris’s experience in NYC so far. Never having visited the US ourselves, we can only imagine what that experience must be like – especially as this is Stef’s first trip outside Indonesia!

Impossible Dreams is an apt name. We simply couldn’t have imagined in 2011 that a tiny website and a handful of homestays which sat empty for most of the year, would in six short years develop together into a community organisation that has created more than 600 jobs and currently generates over 1.5 million USD per year for local village economies.

The achievement is a testament to the entrepreneurial spirit, concern for culture and environment, and unflagging effort brought to bear by the communities of Raja Ampat. The fact that community members with no prior business experience or knowledge of the hospitality industry could have come so far in such a short time bodes well for the realisation of their vision for the future.

Nik Sekhran, the UNDP’s Director of Sustainable Development, says:

We at UNDP believe that no one actor – not governments, not companies, not cities and not NGOs – can achieve the Sustainable Development Goals alone. We also believe that local action will be an essential component to achieve the goals. Local communities and indigenous peoples face the very real consequences of biodiversity loss and climate change daily – consequences which can mean life or death for their families, communities, and ways of life. The Equator Prize teaches us that these same communities excel in developing innovative tactics that deliver high-impact, scalable solutions to address these challenges and to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

The truth of that statement is reflected in the Homestay Association’s story. Association members were empowered by support provided by Seventythree, which was in turn funded by the Walton Family Foundation as part of the Foundation’s Bird’s Head Seascape Initiative.  As Nik points out above though, the essential component is local action.  For local action to succeed, it’s also essential that the initiative for that action comes from local communities.

If you’d like to know more, Seventythree’s field note “Redefining Conservation: How communities in Raja Ampat are shaping their world, and what their experience teaches us about empowerment.” describes how the communities of Raja Ampat charted their own course of action to achieve the success so deservedly recognised by tonight’s Equator Prize award ceremony.

So, to Stef, Kris, the Association and all its members, congratulations and our heartfelt thanks for inviting us to join in the journey to the realisation of your impossible dreams!

September 30 update

See the highlights of the Equator Prize NYC events in this video, and read more about 2017’s other winning community groups here.


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  1. Elvira Makuba on

    Nice for our Raja Ampat ?. I hope the prize about 100.000.000 can be use to develop local knowledge on technology because these days Raja Ampat actually has very good access to the internet because the government has granted free WiFi in every village. I hope to build human knowledge on how to maintain their own tourism bussiness

    1. Hi Elvira – it’s fabulous, isn’t it?

      It’s great to hear that the government has granted free WiFi in every village. We wonder how that will be done in the many villages that still do not even have a phone signal though!

      The Homestay Association provides training and a Bahasa Indonesia manual for the Stay Raja Ampat SMS booking system to help members use it properly. All you need is a HP, pulsa and signal :)

  2. Grahame on

    Not sure that such an award is warranted at this stage. Trying to contact/make arrangements through their booking site can be almost impossible and terribly frustrating.

    I have been told that communications is patchy throughout the area but my experience is more that lack of understanding of technology and failure to regularly check and respond to messages is more the issue.

    No offence meant. Intending to be constructive and just calling it as I see it according to my experience and hope that it soon improves for the benefit of the association members and travellers alike.


    1. Hi Grahame

      It’s true that some homestays are unreliable when it comes to responding to booking requests sent via the website. In many cases, that’s indeed due to them not receiving the request due to the poor telecommunications infrastructure in the islands. There are only a few homestays that are consistently unreliable when it comes to their use of the booking system, and it’s unfortunate that all of those are among the most popular. Hopefully their slackness will mean that more guests book at one of the vast majority of homestays that are far more attentive to requests.

      The Equator Prize, however, wasn’t awarded for anything to do with the website or individual homestays’ success (or otherwise) in the customer satisfaction field. It was awarded for the Association’s demonstrated success in developing a viable model for sustainable development that dramatically boosts village economies, provides an alternative to the previous unsustainable ways of earning a living, and is an essential component of the effort to preserve Raja Ampat’s unique marine and terrestrial environments.

    2. Karin on

      I agree that communication is sometimes sketchy, and my husband and I were a little unsure as we got on the ferry to Waigeo. Once we got there, however, we discovered a very well-run system. Someone met us & ushered us through the visitor process. Like many, we didn’t realize that we would need cash for the Raj Ampat visitor surcharge. The greeter took us to a cash machine, and drove us to the boat needed to get to our homestay. Connections were flawless, including the connection to our second homestay. We are language-limited, so we didn’t get to speak with family members as much as when we did homestays in Papua New Guinea–where English-speakers are more common. Also, in more remote areas, visitors are rarer, so extended conversations are more welcome. All-in-all, we were very grateful for the opportunity to stay in small villages and outposts. Braving uncertainty sometimes pays off.
      Thanks to Stay Raj Ampat for their initiative–keep improving.

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