Opportunities increase for Cambodian businesswomen
Incubator courses have become popular in developed countries for entrepreneurs to accelerate the development of a business and now Cambodian businesswomen are being given the same opportunity.
A social enterprise directed by an Australian expat is helping businesswomen think outside the box to compete with their male counterparts.
Celia Boyd launched SHE Investments in Phnom Penh with her partner James Wilson in December 2014.
The social enterprise aims to teach female small-business owners and entrepreneurs skills to upscale their businesses.
SHE’s feature program is a six-month incubator course for women who already own or direct micro-sized businesses in Cambodia, and focuses on teaching women problem solving skills and self-confidence.
“What’s missing (in traditional business planning) is formal training that’s tailored to Khmer culture and is delivered in Khmer by translators and has a gender lens applied to it,” Ms Boyd said.
“A lot of women in Cambodia are taught that their role in society is to be shy and polite and to not be a leader, to not talk back to their husband and to stay at home and look after the kids so self-confidence is a real issue for women in business.”
Cambodia has experienced exponential economic development in the past two decades rising about 7 per cent in 2015, second only to Brunei in South-East Asia, but this growth is not gender inclusive.
Research from The Asian Development Bank revealed while economic growth has benefited both men and women, there was still an estimated gender annual earnings gap of 29 per cent in 2012.
Cambodian women own more than 50 per cent of the country’s small-scale businesses, but have struggled to penetrate into leadership roles in major companies.
Twenty-four students have graduated or are completing the current incubator course at SHE.
The program costs about $800 per student but SHE subsidises at least 50 per cent through a scholarship funded by Australian foundations and SHE’s fundraising.
“Some women can pay for a little bit of the program and if they can we really encourage it because we want them to make that investment into their own learning and into themselves as then they’re much more likely to succeed,” Ms Boyd said.
“We’re not necessarily looking for people who are the poorest of the poor, we’re looking for people who are going to be able to create jobs for those people.”
General Manager of Khmer Creations, Samnyang Kang is halfway through the current program which involves two workshops per month. The craft business exports its products to Australia.
Ms Kang said the eight-year-old business had previously employed 15 women but due to a sales drop in the past two years, staff numbers had fallen to eight.
“My advisor (in Australia) introduced me to join SHE because we’d be struggling with the business so she thought it would really help me know how to run the business better and how to focus better,” Ms Kang said.
Ms Kang said she was already implementing positive changes to the business with the knowledge gained from her time at SHE.
“It teaches you about learning how to plan ahead and learning how to approach the market,” Ms Kang said.
“I really lacked some of the skills I needed and SHE helped me to explore those ones.”
Statistics collected by SHE about their graduates revealed 64 per cent had improved their personal financial management, 37 per cent had improved or expanded their business and all reported a significant increase in self-confidence.
Ms Boyd said a challenge SHE aimed to overcome in the future was attracting microfinance on a larger scale for the businesses.
“Anything between $5000 to $50,000 would provide people with a boost so they can get to the point where they can offer employment and make more of an impact economically,” she said.
—–[Feature photo (Samnyang Kang) by Nick Parkin]