Project Incubator

Key Questions To Consider Before Initiating a Sustainable Project.


Project Incubator is a 3-step questionnaire created by HFID that highlights key features of a responsible and sustainable student-led project abroad.

If you would like to see suggested answers to this questionnaire, have feedback on how we can improve this guide, or would like to let us know how this guide has impacted you, we would love to hear from you! Please email HFID Yun Jee Kang at

HFID’s executive members are also more than happy to provide free consultation via Skype/phone/email on student-led projects at any project stage. Please contact Co-Directors of International Programming Riana ( and Bernie ( for more information.

Stage 1: Project Planning

  • In what country and target community will the project take place?
  • What does the project entail? (e.g. education, water filtration, solar panel installation, microfinance…)
  • What are the specific goals of the project? Please provide an estimated target date for the completion of the project’s objectives (i.e. the exit plan).
  • Will you and your project members reside within the community or will you house outside of the community (e.g. hotels, hostels). What factors are important to consider in this decision?
  • Are students qualified (both technically and ethically) to carry out the project? Please support your answer with reasons
  • Is the project sustainable? (i.e. Can the community take complete ownership of the project once the project is successfully implemented?)

Consider the following two scenarios:

1) You believe strongly that projects should arise from the community’s professed needs. But in your opinion, the project that the community wants does not seem beneficial or seems even detrimental to the community. What do you do in this situation?

2) You believe strongly that the project you propose is in the best interests of the community, but the community is hesitant and perhaps skeptical about the project’s benefits. What do you do in this situation?

Consider each of the following 3 separate scenarios. In answering these questions, note that collecting pre-project baseline data (quantitative and/or qualitative) is key to ultimately evaluating whether the project actually provides measurable benefits:

1) You want to implement a project in the community, but you’ve never actually been to the community before. You’ve made a few phone calls and skyped with the community leaders, who provide you baseline data and are eager for you to come quickly to help implement the project. In this scenario, is it alright for you to start project implementation on your first trip to the community? Why or why not?

2) You have never been to the target community before, but there is a local NGO that you’ve contacted that works in this community. The NGO’s employees recommend you to prepare and bring a project to be implemented on your first visit to the community. Do you follow the NGO’s advice?

3) You’ve been to the community before, discussed with the community about your project proposal, and the community is willing to collaborate with you. Are you all set to start implementing the project on your next trip to the community? Why or why not?

  • One problem that may arise when discussing the project with a community is called the “Culture of Obedience;” because you bring significant resources to the community (e.g. finances, technical expertise), the community may have a tendency to agree with all or most of your project recommendations because they fear that expressing their true feelings of dissent may risk losing your support. How can you avoid this problem?
  • Is the project really answering one of the community’s needs? How do you know?
  • How will you ensure that the community has input into the project during project planning, implementation, and evaluation?
  • Who are the community members you will talk to for input? The leaders of the community? Select members of the community? The entire community?
  • To what extent will the community be involved in actual project implementation? What are the possible benefits of community involvement?
  • Do you have project advisors or professional mentors to give you advice?
  • Are you considering to implement the project by attaining non-profit or for-profit status for your group? What are the advantages and disadvantages of doing so?
  • Because of the demands of college life (e.g. classes, extracurriculars, socials), it may be difficult to responsibly devote yourself to the project especially if the project spans 2+ years. What is your plan and motivation for sticking to the project from start to finish? Is it necessary for you to stick to the project from start to finish or can you responsibly “hand off” your role to another student?

Stage 2: Project Implementation

  • What kind of student project members are you looking for in terms of international development experience, skills, and/or interests/aspirations?
  • How many student project members are you bringing on your trips?
  • Will your trips include cultural immersion opportunities and activities for student project members? Why or why not?
  • How will you educate student project members of the target community’s culture and background before the trip? Would you have regular “culture-learning” meetings throughout the semester or one intensive “culture crash course” before the trip?
  • How will you ensure that all project members are substantively contributing to the project (i.e. they play important roles in trip preparation; during the trip, they are not “tourists” simply observing)?
  • A serious mindset problem that travelers to developing countries may develop is a paternalistic attitude stemming from travelers’ higher socioeconomic background, education status, etc. How can you combat such detrimental patterns of thinking? Furthermore, how will you try to ensure that all of your student project members will not consciously or unconsciously impose subtle (or not so subtle) relationships of inequality with the community?
  • How will the project be funded?
  • Consider the following scenario: You successfully fundraise / receive a grant / receive a sponsorship for a whopping $10,000 - just enough to cover all the project implementation expenses excluding student project member individual expenses (e.g. just enough money to purchase water filters for all of the target community’s members). However, your fundraiser / grant / sponsorship agreement allows you freedom in allocating your money; for example, you are allowed to spend 20% of your $10,000 to cover the daily living expenses of your hardworking student project members, although you would have to downsize the project to reach fewer community members than originally planned. What percentage of your funds will you choose to allocate between project implementation expenses and members’ individual expenses?
  • Consider a similar scenario: You successfully fundraise / receive a grant / receive a sponsorship for a whopping $10,000 - more than enough to cover all your project implementation expenses as well as individual member expenses. However, your fundraiser / grant proposal / sponsorship agreement allows you freedom in allocating your money. What percentage of your funds will you choose to allocate between project implementation expenses vs. members’ individual expenses?
  • Did your answers to the last two scenarios change? Why or why not? Are there underlying practical and/or philosophical reasons for your answers?

At the Community:

  • What are the best ways to introduce yourself and your project members to the community?
  • During the trip, will you have designated group meetings with your student project members to discuss students’ ideas, thoughts, and reflections about the project and trip? If not, why? If so, how often will you meet – daily, weekly?
  • Will you collect quantitative and qualitative data on the project’s progress? If yes, how will you collect, analyze, and store the data?
  • Oftentimes, the time that community members spend meeting with you and your student project members is time sacrificed away from work generating income. Given this consideration, will you monetarily compensate community members for their time and resources? If so, under what circumstances?
  • If you do decide to compensate the community, should you compensate just enough to cover the estimated costs to the community or err on the side of overcompensating for the estimated costs? Why?
  • How do you take photos/videos in the most respectable way possible?
  • One of your project members has a medical emergency or accident. What will you do?

Stage 3: Project Conclusion

  • Please state at least one hypothetical problem you may encounter that may be a barrier to reaching project goals. Provide a solution to this problem.
  • Imagine that the project has “concluded” by meeting all of its goals. Are you satisfied with the project’s overall impact on the community as well as the overall experiences/memories you shared with the community?
  • You’ve diligently kept track of both quantitative and qualitative data on the project’s progress and ultimate results. What will you do with the results?
  • Will you keep in touch with the community after the project’s completion?
  • You’ve graduated from school (congratulations!) and are living your ideal post-graduation life. You then receive contact from the community that says a problem recently arose with the project. What should you do?

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