Australia Awards alumnus, Khouanfa Siriphone, is passionate about empowering youth to create positive changes in Lao communities. In 2012, Khouanfa graduated from Queensland University of Technology with a Bachelor’s degree in Creative Industries. While studying, Khouanfa also took on several volunteer positions. Through these he learned about social contracts, sociology, psychology and human behaviour – all useful to know when working with a diverse group of youth.
After returning home to Lao PDR, Khouanfa began his career at Learning House for Development, a non-profit organisation, as a Communications Officer. He used his creativity, and the knowledge and skills gained in Australia, to organise various communication workshops using social media. He observed that young people are curious about everything. They are always looking for new spaces to learn and are particularly keen to gain soft skills and job-ready skills. This observation led to Khouanfa’s idea to create a place where young people can meet and exchange ideas with one another.
At the time, Khouanfa was also a member of Global Shapers Vientiane Hub, a group of young people who work towards shaping the future of their community and country by offering youth-led solutions for positive and lasting change. Khouanfa had the opportunity to attend the Global Shapers Annual Summit in Geneva, Switzerland. There, he learned about the idea of a ‘social enterprise’ – a combination between the business and non-profit worlds where the aim is to create a more sustainable model of operating. He came away inspired and ready to create his own social enterprise.
After the summit, Khouanfa returned to Laos to discuss these new ideas with his colleague and fellow Australia Awards alumnae, Souphaphone Dangmany (Lou). After six months of discussion and research, they quit their jobs and started their new project called “STELLA.” STELLA is a social enterprise that empowers youth development in Laos, aiming to give young Lao people opportunities to develop their potential and create social impact.
“We have collaborated with nearly 40 organizations across a diverse range of industries: agriculture, education, and development to design a program based on our expertise and interests. This is one of our key successes,” said Khouanfa.
One of the notable projects run by STELLA is a small grants project called ‘Kup Ban Kun,’ which means “Let’s go back home.” This initiative is run in collaboration with Helvetas and provides funding of LAK 10,000,000 to projects that directly support rural communities in food security, increasing agriculture productivity, land management and organic farming practices, as well as environmental and social issues.
This initiative aims to support youth in Vientiane and rural areas to build up their leadership skills, hands-on experiences, and soft skills to lead positive change for their communities. On completion of the project, they are equipped with proper tools to start their own initiatives in their communities.
“Working with a wide range of age groups can be challenging. We address these complexities by coaching with a growth mindset, self-esteem, confidence, and learning to deal with failure. We respect each other’s decisions and remind one another that every opportunity counts. At STELLA, we have friendly staff who welcome newcomers and introduce them to the common area where young people connect with linked-minded peers,” said Khouanfa.
Khouanfa is now an active member of the Lao-Australian alumni community who is equipped with skills and capabilities to support Lao youth to give back to their communities. He hopes that younger generations will continue contributing to the sustainable development of Laos with their motivation, energy and creative solutions.
“If you want to try something new, although it feels scary and uncertain, it’s the opportunity to learn and grow from things you’ve never done before. No matter how hard it is, keep working towards your goals and see the change.” – A message from Khouanfa to the young people of Laos on International Youth Day.