Friday, 20 November 2015

Cambodia/Laos Day 16 - Social Enterprise

Social Enterprises (not for profits which work to create job opportunities and training for people with limited access to employment).
        Cambodia and Laos are full of them, all unique and often started by outsiders, but not always, and some more pure in intent than others. Let me list a few: Daughters of Cambodia (working with young girls sold into the sex industry), Friends (a network of initiatives across both nations and in multiple places - mainly working with street kids and mainly in the hospitality and restaurant skills areas), Cambodian Creations (ethical/fair trade enterprise selling hand made jewellery, clothing and toys supporting those with few prospects), Made (providing sustainable and viable employment for girls involved in sex trafficking and/or sexual exploitation), the list goes on.
               My estimate would be up around 100. They also include organisations targeting those maimed by land mines, or damaged by their exposure to war and family breakdown (remembering that Pol Pot's   regime killed 1 in 4 of the Cambodian population in the late seventies). When people speak of his reign of terror they speak about it down to the years, months and days and almost hours it lasted. He was welcomed as a liberator but things soon turned bad as he pursued his extreme vision of a socialist agrarian state. He killed the teachers and intellectuals first and ultimately turned on his own supporters having become paranoid and unwilling to accept the most minor of infractions.
            The intention of these Social Enterprises is always good but I worry a little if the enterprise is actually making people dependent rather than independent. To their credit the majority understand the difference and support their groups to study, learn new skills and then help them to gain outside employment or in some cases to become businesses in their own right. Some provide ongoing employment paying living wages and  healthy and fair working conditions.
            The best meals we ate in Laos and Cambodia were from the Social Enterprise restaurants. The best and most interesting craft (traditional and modern) also came out of these places.
           My favourite was the simplest. These two Aussie sisters in their 20s were on a travelling holiday through Asia and landed in Siem Reap intending to stay three days and five years later they're still there. They opened a coffee shop trained local staff and use the profits to pay for the education of their staff and their families. It's a simple win win formula. They don't have any fancy Community Development philosophy - just a grounded common sense approach to an idea with mutually beneficial outcomes.
          The most sophisticated is the 'Friends Group' whose program is layered with training and successful employment outcomes plus beautiful cookbooks and other merchandise made by the participants. It appears to be run by locals at this point in time.
           The most ambitious is 'Daughters of Cambodia' which is attempting to not only liberate young women from the sex trade, but has aspirations to undermine the sex industry across the board - a big stretch given that they only work with small numbers at any one time.
            What, if any, difference was there from similar ventures in Australlia? The philosophy is common but perhaps the desperate nature of the lives of these people makes the ventures seem so much more effective and necessary. The participants appeared extremely willing; they certainly have an enhanced sense of self and self esteem (as would be the aspiration of Australian based programs); they are enthusiastic to work, something which is sometimes a challenge in Oz. There is no other option in these countries. It's a survival story.

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