Social Impact – one bar of soap, one chocolate spoonfull at a time

Story and Photographs by Peta Kaplan & Ben Sandzer-Bell from

For further details on Alila Manggis and the destination’s activities, please visit

Charly Esposito, a native of Florida, came to Bali over a decade ago for the surf. Based in Hong Kong as a corporate executive, he saw Bali as a vacation destination. But then Bali happened to him and it became clear, after a 50 day fast, medidation about the course of his life and his positive experience with Balinese surfers, that there was perhaps a different life trajectory for him in Bali.

Surprised that his surfer friends were idle when the waves did not create the conditions for good surfing, he found out that they really had not path to get jobs in their native East Bali. It did not take long for this chemistry major to put two and two together, looking around at the plentiful coconut tree groves, to suggest that they try to create a small business activity around the production of soap, which uses coconut oil as a primary ingredient. This was 12 years ago.


Fast forward to the present and Charly, with the help of Alila as a valued customer, has succeeded in creating an entrepreneurial climate around soap making that would make any development professional proud. He puts empowerment theory into daily practice and as a result has the life satisfaction he sought after his 50 day fast.

What started in a small garage has become an attractive and eye catching bamboo architectural compound, where several teams work to meet ever increasing demand for their high quality, organic soap.


Charly does not like the terminology of employment, rather he explains he is a consultant to self-directed teams of mostly women who pay themselves a salary from the proceeds of their production. The first group of surfer-turned-soap makers took things a step further and organized themselves into a now larger enterprise that also produces organic soap and coconut-oil based face creams and treatment oils. In all, his current team is comprised of 15 associates, split evenly between soap makers and chocolate makers (more on chocolate making later). Another 25 jobs were created by his surfer-soap makers in a spin off location and business. In all, that’s 40 well paying jobs in a region that was traditionally farmer-centric, a lifestyle that requires hard and long hours of work, for little money. Instead, he has created a virtuous circle whereby the women, traditional bread winners, who work in the soap making facility come to work with their children, and organize themselves to meet demand.

Not only is soap making a profitable enterprise, it is one that features the island’s bountiful products. Coconut oil is a primary ingredient.   Carbon 14 from coconut trees not only gives the soap an attractive black color, but it also absorbs toxins. Volcanic ash is used in some of the most popular soaps. White clay is also used as it has purification attributes for skin. Some of the skin products also use aloe vera and seaweed that Charly, ever interested in being in the water, collects personally.




The soap making process is rather straight forward and one finds oneself in an alchemist’s laboratory where tantallizing organic essential oils combine with all of the above to yield an array of colors and scents in a bar.


Back to the social impact aspect: in order to make this enterprise “self sustaining”, Charly cleverly broke down the production part (soap making) from the packaging part. This means that the team of women responsible for meeting incoming customer orders, drive the production unit team members and pay them an agreed fair “market” price, in addition to sourcing colored paper from local banana leaf paper producers.




Drop by visits, such as ours, is an opportunity for the workers to make some extra money. While their daily salary is paid from regular clients, such as Alila, drop in business allows them to sell their product at retail prices. The difference between the wholesale price and the retail price they fetch, is shared evenly as “bonus pay”.

It is clear that there is a large amount of creativity in the place. The packaging is very attractive, exemplified by the books of “Salvador Bali”, which once you open the cover page, becomes a container for 6 brightly colored soap bars.


While self effacing, it is also clear that Charly remains a “soft touch” driving force behind this social experiment in organic entrepreneurship – after he meets with us, he is off to pack his bags as he goes tomorrow to China to source a price competitive, attractive container for the line of coconut body lotion, coconut oil and surfer sunblock made of cacao.

And talking of cacao… it’s hard to keep a good entrepreneur down, especially one with a chemistry background. While Indonesia is a major exporter of cacao raw material, few are the producers of higher value added chocolate products. Enter Charly and his team of Balinese coconut oil stirring elves.


Using techniques that are not entirely different from soap making, but of course with different ingredients and different “magic formulae”, they have started to make chocolate. And REALLY good chocolate at that. When a European traveller kept singing the praise of Nutella, the inquisitive Charly decided to make a healthy, organic Balinese counterpart – that became his Nuteresa line (the European friend’s name is Theresa).

When told that chocolate buyers gravitate toward crunchy chocolates, he and his team developed the Bali Krunch bar (made of black rice covered dark chocolate – delicious!). When Sasa, one of his young Balinese colleagues expressed an interest in cooking, he helped him get organized and Sasa now runs the kitchen, churning out delicious hot chocolate and French toast covered with chocolate and coconut syrup.


Alila Hotel’s role in all this is that any enterprise, be it a small business, a collective or an NGO that seeks to have social impact through the development and production of a product, it is critical for this enterprise to have anchor customers. Alila plays an essential role in this sense. First, Alila creates predictable, recurrent demand for their soap products. But also, Charly was quick to point out, Alila has an enabling financial management function — Alila not only pays on time, they in fact pay in advance for the production of soap bars that make their way into every room of the hotel as well as the gift shop. This is of critical value to a small operation as it allows the team to focus on high quality production and meeting the customer’s quantitative needs, without all the often challenging complexities of cash management.

Charly’s soap making operation now sells soap beyond Alila Manggis, to Alila Jakarta. From the contacts made there, a small export business is starting to emerge. But don’t expect to see Charly’s soap in every Walmart any time soon. Chasing the big contracts is not what this is about – it is about having, manageable, sustainable social impact, one bar of soap at a time. Steady, cautious growth is indeed a wise approach for this endeavor. A holistic community around the organic bounty from their surrounding land and sea and a growing community of women who work in harmony ~ the Balinese way.

Aligning Your Senses

Story by Dewald Haynes in Indonesia Design

Island destinations do not only offer exotic encounter and excitement. Ultimately the ideal attraction would be some sort of isolation and serenity with luxurious world-class facilities in Tabanan, Bali. A treatment at the Spa Alila is an experience that elevates beyond beauty as it touches the soul and aligns your senses with relaxation while you surrender to a state of complete calmness.


The Spa is conveniently located almost in the centre of the resort and is easily accessible, yet once you step inside you fell as if you have entered another level of enlightenment. Alila Villas Soori’s Spa setting on the wild and untouched west coast of Bali provides a perfect location to reflect and bring mind and body into perfect harmony.

The solid, simplistic and cubic structure of Spa Alila has established itself as a world-class destination spa recognised or its striking theatrical design and unique features. Alila Villas Soori’s signature treatment rooms offer a true holistic spa experience, with a comprehensive range of treatments available.


The Spa features a dry room for consultations; a wet room with heated terrazzo massage tables and Vichy showers plus a changing area with private steam room and whirlpool. They offer luxurious bathing rituals, salon services, a wide variety of local and international facial options and an in-depth collection of nurturing massage therapies. Skilled therapists are always on hand to ease away strains through reflexology treatments. For the more active they have Yoga and Pilates specialists offering a very unique and specialised integrated wellness experience.

Guests can expect relaxation that is sure to set them holiday-ready. As a popular wedding venue the resort also has special wedding packages available for the bride and groom. A spa escape has long been a unisex experience where both men and women find refuge. The style of service offers seamless pre and post treatment services with no fuss and hassle of registration or feedback forms, and most importantly they provide trained therapists who can understand your needs for relief of aches and pains. At Spa Alila it is all about listening to the guests and adapting the treatment to suit and soothe the issue.

alilavillassoori-spatreatment room

Spa Alila has also developed their own branded product range with a wide variety of sublime fragrances and ingredients. From body butters to massage creams and lip balms the lotions and potions are all natural and organic. In fact making use of the natural volcanic black beach sand found at the location as exfoliation for your skin during a Vichy shower treatment will leave you refreshed and smooth as silk to the touch. Products may also be purchased to enjoy at home once you leave the comforts of the resort.

It is slightly ironic that of all the treatment available at the spa the ‘Balinese Massage’ remains the most popular. Although a massage can have the same effect whether experienced on the beach under a coconut tree or surrounded by million dollar walls. The real mental and physical escape may be found in the abilities of the therapist and not necessarily always in the surroundings. The dreamlike and soothing visual spa environment is after all blinded while your eyes are shut most of the time during a massage. It is your senses that are awakened at the end of the treatment when you open your eyes and find the surrounding environment again to experience a total emotional escape. The right tight, smell and sound presented at Spa Alila holistically transcend the senses to another dimension, aligned by the most basic human need to “touch” to create calmness.

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Alila’s Green Bank Program and the Balinese Way

Story by Peta Kaplan and Ben Sandzer-Bell

Bali is a universe unto itself. Due to its idiosyncratic and all pervasive Hindu culture, Bali can provide some management concepts worth emulating, the world over. Specifically, I refer to the three-tiered concept of Trihitakarana which dictates harmony around the themes of human respect to God, human respect to other humans and human respect for the environment.

Running a modern business leads one increasingly to think in terms of measurable Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), so it is with great interest that I sit down to have a conversation with Sena Susenayasa, General Manager of Alila Manggis and Ni ketut Suseni, Director of Human Resources for the hotel. While I don’t feel qualified to even begin to address the more complex issues of man’s relationship to God, or man’s relationship to other humans, I do hope to tackle the concept of humans’ relationship to the environment. Mr Susenayasa discusses the hotel’s environmental practices, which are extensive, and which are addressed under the aegis of “the Green Bank”.


As an active environmentalist and co founder of a climate adaptation-focused bamboo housing business, I am eager to understand how the hotel sees and addresses its environmental priorities. The Green Bank, I learn, has two broad pillars – the first focuses on “environmental practices”. This is captured through an Earth Check Certification that guides Alila Manggis through a regimen of data capture and process improvement steps that address trends in consumption.

Ultimately, such certifications seek to establish a best of class standard with regard to energy consumption, such as water and electricity. But the Earth Check certification goes much further ~ it includes such measurement as the amount of material which the hotel contributes to the local landfill. Obviously, the lesser, the better.


We discuss practical steps taken to achieve the milestones that earned the hotel the coveted certification three years ago. The restaurant has developed a well honed relationship with a third party garbage collector partner, whom the hotel challenged to run a full cycle composting center. While Alila Manggis separates wet and dry recyclables, it is the third party partner which manages a composting site, returning rich compost to Alila’s organic garden.

Another third party arrangement concerns the water provider. The objective of reducing landfill led Alila management to offer guests in room recyclable glass water bottles. When one considers an average of 4 bottles of water per day, times 55 rooms at full capacity, it is easy to see how this single practice of eliminating plastic bottles from the Alila Manggis ecosystem contributes meaningfully to meeting the environmental KPI.


Regarding energy, the hotel does the now common practice of allowing guests to re-use their towels rather than systematically replacing towels with new ones daily. While guests still tend to prioritize comfort over environmental consciousness, the hotel sends their guests a preferred options questionnaire before arrival, giving them a number of behavior options. Those who chose to opt for a more environmentally responsible path, have indeed the choice to do so, one re-used towel at a time.


Alila Manggis has a notable policy with regards the use of air conditioning. While the design favors a relatively low use of a/c due to an easily achieved cross-wind, thanks to the design of the bedrooms, some guests will culturally turn to using air conditioning. For this a/c happy crowd, the hotel has drawn the line at a very comfortable 23 degrees. Of course, there is always a minority of clients who would prefer to default to a Siberian 17 degree temperature, but most are quite content to live above the 23 degree line. By this simple act, the hotel goes a long way toward eliminating excesses in the use of air conditioning. Still, as a committed a/c detractor, I wanted to see if I had the possibility to “opt out”. I asked the front desk if I could be provided with a regular fan for the room. Having lived in a tropical climate, in Nicaragua, Central America, for the past 5 years, and having hardly ever resorted to a/c, I have become a big fan (excuse the pun) of fans. Within minutes a fan was delivered to my room – yet again, the hotel had given me the tool to opt for the lower carbon footprint.


Discussing the topic of hospitality industry trainees, fresh out of school, doing a practicum for 6 months in the hotel, Suseni observes that while the hospitality industry students get a cursory introduction to the concept of environmentally sound practices, this is one of the areas where practical experience in Alila Manggis can help these future hospitality industry workers get a handle on what that means, practically, on a daily basis.

Training tomorrow’s environmentalists does not stop there. The hotel actively works with the community to teach environmental basics to children. Alila Manggis’ hope is that if they succeed in raising the bar on environmental consciousness with the children of the community, the entire community will in turn start exhibiting improved practices. For now, the focus is on a war against plastic, reducing the use of and recycling of plastics as much as possible.


So this is the first pillar of the Green Bank. The second is even more commendable. It refers to the hotel’s budding initiative to tackle errors of the past in the community with regard to the now highly damaged local coral reefs. Not so far from Manggis, there is a region where the coral reefs thrive.


Why the coral reef still thrives there but not here in Manggis is not totally clear. One possible explanation is that a few decades back, in the 1970s, cement was not readily available for construction. As hard as it may seem in today’s more environmentally conscious world, locals apparently defaulted to the next best thing, namely coral, which they smashed into powder and reused as a building material. A horrific and naïve act of self-destruction, this is clearly a case of hindsight as 20/20. Be that as it may, coral reefs now destroyed, Alila Manggis management has decided to launch a sustained initiative to try to reverse the trend. An honorable initiative indeed.


So, first things first, the General Manager decided to get his diving license.   His motivation was purely functional – as GM, he would seek to tackle the coral reef problem in the vicinity of his hotel and for this, he would have to go 100m out and 20 meter down to status the problem. Diagnostic complete, he engaged with an Indonesian NGO, LINI, known for its successful coral restoration projects elsewhere.


It is still early days in what promises to be a 15-20 year project. Still, after a mere 6 months, the hotel has managed to deploy some 72 structures ~fish domes ~ which are expected to provide the infrastructure on which healthy corals will grow back. To speed up the process, the hotel is in parallel harvesting different types of corals and, once they reached sufficient size, they will be “replanted” onto and into the fish domes. This is a marathon, not a sprint. It will require diligent and sustained support for the initiative to yield a once again thriving reef. By then, the young General Manager might have moved on, but he places his hope on training a broader hotel staff population to take on the mission of restoring the reef.


Thanks to an extremely low rate of attrition, the hotel’s staff is remarkably stable. While this clearly has value in terms of the hotel’s culture and economics, it has a corollary value when it comes to executing long-term projects such as coral restoration. To this end, the hotel aims to train a few of its current staff to learn how to dive and to get to the point of having in house master-diving certification. The fish domes will require monthly “check ups” and monitoring and Alila Manggis firmly intends to proudly look back in 2030 at the visionary decisions taken by the management team way back, in 2013 and 2014.


Clearly, the coral restoration project is not one dictated by the Earth Check Certification process. Neither is it driven by a short term marketing objective to appeal to customers today, as the percentage of today’s clientele diving around Manggis in the short run is virtually nill. No, what it is is the Bali KPI at work. Man’s relationship to the Environment – this is one of the three tenets of Bali’s Hindu traditions and one that the current 120 person strong team of Balinese hosts hope to share with the hotel’s clientele.

And we thank you for that.

21 Reasons Hotel Sex Is Better

Alila Villas Uluwatu was recently featured in Jetsetter’s unconventional yet entertaining “21 Reasons Hotel Sex Is Better”. Here’s an extract of their article with the full version accessible at

Story by

“Escaping your day-to-day life and checking into a hotel is like trying on a new identity. The daily sense of discovery you get on vacation is one long delicious act of foreplay. You linger over indulgent breakfasts, wander unfamiliar streets, get a little day-tipsy on free-flowing wine. You lose yourself in a new place, get caught up in the sense of adventure and, hopefully, bring that sense of adventure back to your hotel bed…and bathtub…and balcony.”


Alila Villas Uluwatu, Bali

“Bed down at Bali’s most seductive cliff top hideaway, the Alila Villas Uluwatu — it’s the perfect escape for those who like to mix love with nature. Each of the airy villas has a private infinity pool, dramatic Indian Ocean views and minimalist rattan and wood furnishings that never compete with the beauty of the natural surroundings. During your stay you’ll be assigned a 24-hour personal butler who will tend to you and your partner’s every need, whether that means an indulgent Balinese couples massage at Spa Alila or a private dinner at the cliff’s edge. For the perfect mix of romance and adventure, hike through the jungle to Uluwatu’s seaside temple, where bare-chested Indonesian men sway to the hypnotic rhythms of the Kecak fire dance.”

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