Being a Social Enterprise in South East Asia

For our first journal entry of 2018, we asked Abi & Mélanie - two consultants and community builders working with Impact Hub Phnom Penh - to discuss the concept of social enterprises (SEs) and their impact in Cambodia.

Firstly, what is a social enterprise and how is it emerging in Cambodia?

Social enterprises are businesses with a purpose, they exist for three reasons: People, Planet and Profit. This means social enterprises try to address pressing social and environmental challenges through the use of an innovative business model, therefore taking a sustainable approach to social impact.

Cambodia is an exciting place to be for those working in the entrepreneurship ecosystem because it is growing rapidly.  With such a young population, more and more young Cambodians are seeing entrepreneurship as a meaningful career path, and the spaces and support they need are springing up all over the capital. And for us, social entrepreneurship is an important part of this.

From your experience, what are strengths and weaknesses of building an SE in Cambodia?

Cambodia is a rapidly changing country, which brings both opportunities and challenges to social entrepreneurs. One of the most striking things is how driven, smart, and committed so many young Cambodians are to creating positive change in their country. This translates into interesting partnerships, a pool of supporters and people who will be your ambassador if they believe in what you do.

In addition, there is space in the market to create a meaningful impact. Like all countries, there is no shortage of issues to solve, and in Cambodia, many of these issues are visible on your doorstep. Setting up a social enterprise in Cambodia with a great business model and a real commitment to make change can bring amazing results.

Of course, starting and running a social enterprise is not without its challenges. The social enterprise ecosystem in Cambodia is relatively young, and so there is no regulatory support. In addition, social enterprise as a concept is new (although there have been businesses running as social enterprises for a long time) and therefore limited awareness in the general public about the additional benefits a social enterprise brings. This means many social enterprises target tourists and an international audience.

What are some case studies of initiatives you've seen and helped build in Cambodia?

We worked to help see the My Dream Home project come to life with its founder Hav Kongngy. He wanted to find a solution to housing affordability in Cambodia.

What are your thoughts on the blend of fashion and social enterprises?

Mélanie: A few years ago, I was not particularly interested in the fashion industry, I was just buying regular and cheap clothes from the famous brands Mango, Zara, H&M, without overthinking, without caring...waiting for the next discounts...

Since I came to Cambodia, my whole perception of the fashion industry changed and especially since I met Claudio Montesano Casillas at Impact Hub, two years ago.

After spending many years in Bangladesh and Cambodia, this photojournalist has been documenting the abuse and the lack of sustainable responsibility of the fashion industry through his project Beyond The Label

Since December 2015, I decided to buy only second-hand clothes or sustainably produced clothes. On my way, I discovered GOOD KRAMA and many more initiatives promoting, or producing in a more sustainable way, empowering their workers.

There are solutions that need to be praised, need to be highlighted, and scaled up!

From innovative traceability technologies to chemical-free compostable clothes, to plant-based textiles that absorb CO2 or generate more energy than their own manufacturing process requires. I personally want to see the result! As a clothing consumer, we have the power to decide what to buy or support. Our dollar is our voice. I believe that social enterprises are the future of the garment industry.

What are your hopes for the future of SEs in Cambodia?

So far, the majority of the social enterprises are run by foreigners, or by NGO moving towards the social enterprise model. However, at Impact Hub we can see a new generation of young Cambodian talents, who care for their community and society and want to solve the problem through business. They have been involved in volunteer activities, they have been exposed to foreign culture and they want to have a positive impact in their society.

At Impact Hub, we are running programs to help them validate their idea (Youth Eco Labs), accelerate their business (EPIC), and help them to scale up (LEAD). We are building a community of impact entrepreneurs, supporting each others and becoming the next role models.


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