(Nomi Network Class, Phnom Penh, Cambodia 2019)
Phnom Penh, the busy capital city of Cambodia. The dusty streets are over populated, many live in poverty sustaining gender disparity and exploitation, one should always be in a state of alertness, and safety is a foreign concept. Most of Cambodia’s regression stems from the Khmer Rouge, the horrific genocide that took the lives of over 3 million innocent people and nearly wiping out their culture, just 40 years ago. Today, the small country is still experiencing the aftermath. However, if we can suspend our judgement momentarily and dig a little deeper, we will see that there’s something interesting unfolding. In the middle of its redevelopment, is a rising community: Khmer natives committed to rebuilding their land, as well as the growing Non Governmental Organization (NGO) presence joining forces with them. There is also a generation of young Khmer entrepreneurs laying a foundation to the renewal of the city. According to Kongngy Sav, founder of My Dream Home, ”Young people are beginning to understand more about starting their own business and are more interested in creating a unique venture.” Co-Founder of Pi Pay, Tomas Pokorny says that, “By nature, Cambodians are very competitive and entrepreneurial.” Much of the influence to pursue entrepreneurship is the major influence other countries have had on younger Cambodians, with most of the focus being mainly on technology, “They can see the success stories in Silicon Valley,” says, Adrienne Ravez, co-founder of Geeks in Cambodia. “So, we see a lot of ideas relating to mobile apps, websites and e-commerce.” Educational and social enterprises are other sectors that are surfacing, with the social aspect presenting a swathe of business ideas. Read more from AsiaLIFE.
Another avenue of growth has been through the Nomi Network Fashion Incubator program. The program is an urban-based program focusing on working with existing social service providers and enterprises to strengthen reintegration for survivors, business growth, job creation, and market competitiveness. This past June I partnered with Nomi Networkand traveled to Cambodia to teach a course on the Foundations of Entrepreneurship to a class of 10 students (9 nationals and 1 foreigner). Their life experiences ranged from losing their family in the Khmer Rouge, living in the slums, to finding their way to the city to respond to the call of a dream they had. Each carrying their own story - a story that I believe I only heard by journeying to the other side of the world. However, though their pasts tragic, based upon their elation for learning, humor, and pure kindness, I would have never imagined that there were any such chapter of their lives. A testament to the power of the human spirit; a rare kind of strength. The perspective was a gift.
On class day, we covered a lot of ground. There was a language barrier, but we had an amazing translator, and we all worked together to communicate. Some students already had concepts in motion, others were just getting an introduction to entrepreneurship. The course consisted of understanding the importance of entrepreneurship, how to create a business plan, marketing basics and the importance of partnerships. We also spent some time exploring our strengths and weaknesses. As a first introduction to teaching, it was a goal of mine to create a comfortable enough environment for engagement, question asking, thought sharing and connecting with fellow students. There was a very special spirit during our time, something I like to think of as: just between us. In my experience, any entrepreneurial success has been because I’ve surrounded myself with community of fellow entrepreneurs as I’ve built my company. Teaching was challenging, but I not only got to further explore a topic that I love I also experienced the classes excitement and passion to develop their skills, and put action to their ideas. This in turn served as fresh inspiration to keep improving, dreaming and going after the biggest opportunities that I possibly ever could.
See how the class impacted the students by watching this quick video created by Nomi Network!
For context, [social] entrepreneurship exhilarates me. I Co-Founded Conscious Magazine years ago in response to the need for better media. Over a year ago, I branched out to focus more on human rights advocacy, specifically exploitation, and human trafficking by launching Who They Are. I, like every other beginner to entrepreneurship, hit the ground running with zeal and the, “I’ll figure it out” attitude. To build Conscious required countless sleepless nights, constant outreach, pitch practicing, many “No's”, and few, but quality “yes’s”, and there was not a high or low to be missed, as I’ve heard every entrepreneur I’ve ever come across lament over. It never occurred to me to study entrepreneurship in school as I didn’t have an interest in it until a much later time in my life. Therefore,I rarely look back on my journey without seeing how I could have done so many things differently, and I relish any opportunity to help guide anyone starting out on their own path.
Entrepreneurship is transformational. It is an opportunity to not only lift oneself up through the power of creativity and strategy, but also a whole country’s economic and moral state by giving it vitality through the birth of new enterprise. The country has a long and challenging road ahead to obtain lasting growth and healing. But, I witnessed and felt the passion of a room full of Khmer nationals ready to dream big and work together. As well as the electrifying unification of the dedicated support by myriads of organizations. Which leads me to believe that the future beholds many good things for beautiful, Cambodia. It is inevitable.
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