What we learned from visiting social enterprises in Cambodia

Being a foreigner in Thailand often means paperwork, paperwork, paperwork. We recently had to leave the country to do some paperwork for our visas and work permits. We decided to go to Cambodia because we had heard that there was a fabulous network of social enterprises in Phnom Penh.

—-This proved to be true and we were able to visit 15 of them in 4 days—-

What we learned from this trip was this:

  1. All social enterprise leaders need encouragement

    “What? They just got a grant for $1,000,000 dollars? What? They support 100 schools across the country? They look fine to me.” It’s easy to think that the bigger organizations or bigger social businesses have got it all figured out. That they are crushing it, and that they don’t really have any problems. Not true. Often they are actually dealing with problems on a much larger scale. And often they are responsible for the lives and livelihood of a massive amount of people. Give them some encouragement. Share the love.

  2. It’s all good

    It’s easy to get in the habit of comparing your own organization against others in the social enterprise industry. They are good at A, we are good at B. They have X number of projects, we have Y number. But the truth is, we all do it a little bit differently… and that’s a GOOD thing. Let them focus on medical assistance, we’ll focus on economic empowerment. And the next organization will focus on nutrition, the next human trafficking, and the next preserving indigenous cultures. It’s all good.

  3. We need to keep doing this type of work

    There is a real and wonderful change happening in these social enterprises. At one organization we visited, they said they are bringing in one underage sex worker a week, providing alternate work for them, and providing counseling for them. That’s amazing. I mean, think about it for a second. That’s one CHILD that doesn’t need to be brought up enslaved. Per week!

    And these leaders are committed! One woman we talked to said, even though it’s hard to find markets for her products, she will continue to support the poor rural artisans. She said “What am I going to do, let them starve?” Let’s keep doing this work!

Here are three things that you can do to make a difference.

  1. Open your eyes

    If you go online and search social enterprise Cambodia you’ll see over 50 publicly listed enterprises in Phnom Penh alone. We were honestly overwhelmed with all the social enterprises in Phnom Penh. They have made some strides for sure including better wages for agricultural workers, increases in salary jobs, and improvements in health, education, and the environment. But there is a LONG WAY TO GO. Just walking down the street shines light on the appalling living and working conditions.

    If you dig a little bit deeper, you see the sweatshops, the slums, the kids working the streets. So I say to you, please do open your eyes. Many garment workers stay poor, while they dress the West with cheap clothing. Many bad people profit on the sweat of the uneducated, the poor, and the enslaved. Please do not be afraid to open your eyes. Or as Glenn Ringtved said “Cry heart, but never break”.

  2. Be smart

    We all need to live and we all desire to thrive. I get it. We like affordable stuff. We like to shop the deals and we want to be comfortable. However, there are avenues to do this in a smart way. When you shop, check out the tags. Ask yourself two questions: Where is this made? What does this support? And when you travel, travel smart. Do your research. Where can you eat, sleep, and shop that builds people up? When we were in Cambodia, we did a bike tour on our day off. We discovered that the woman who was our guide was given a scholarship by her employer to gain an education and that was why she was able to have this job. She was given this scholarship and additional support because of a social enterprise.

  3. Think creatively

    Now if you are scratching your head trying to think about what you can do, you’re on the right track. You are thinking about it. There are so many ways that you can support this type of social empowerment. The easiest way is to click donate and financially support a worthy cause like our fundraiser for a new truck for Thai Village artisan outreach. But there are other ways as well:

*If you have a family, you can get your children involved in community projects and teach them about the injustices that are happening around the world among kids their own age.

*If you own a business, you can make your company more socially responsible. Create charity rewards and bonuses to financially encourage your staff to contribute. Hire selfless people who care about more than just a bottom line and change your company culture organically from the inside.

*And a basic thing that anyone can do: Surround yourself by people who care about social justice. Just being around them will encourage you to make smart choices.

**If you would like to hear more specifically about the 15 social enterprises we visited, we are happy to share, just send an email to [email protected] with the subject “Cambodia Social Enterprises”

Visiting a social enterprise that specializes in custom-made weaving
On a village visit we saw how this community spins, processes, and weaves their own silk
Visiting with a Cambodian man who is researching ways to provide sustainable education to poor communities
"Life is Struggle" - written across a tuk tuk in Phom Penh