Interview: SHE Investments, A Social Enterprise for Cambodian Women Entrepreneurs

Since its inception, Support Her Enterprise (SHE) Investments has been prepping women in Cambodia for the Kingdom’s entrepreneurial scene. We first introduced them in 2014 where we learnt about their aim to help women develop profitable and sustainable small or medium businesses.

In their recent Open Day, SHE Investments showcased their membership program and their six-month business incubator that gives Cambodian women entrepreneurs guidance and support.

We got in touch with Celia Boyd, Managing Director of SHE Investments, for updates on the social enterprise.

This interview has been edited for length, clarity and flow.

How has the progress of SHE Investments been so far?

18 months ago, we started with two volunteers and one part-time staff member. Our pilot program last year resulted in two pilot groups (one in Phnom Penh, and one in Siem Reap), with a total of 14 women entrepreneurs graduating from the first SHE Incubator Program.

Since then, we’ve grown very quickly!  We’re now a team of five, with an additional three volunteers and interns. This year we have a total of 24 graduates of the SHE Incubator Program to date, with another cohort beginning the program in September, and an additional 30 to 40 women graduating in 2017. We’ve grown as a pilot program that was reliant on funds raised through a crowdfunding campaign, to a registered business which operates as a social enterprise. Right now, about 50% of our income is self-generated, through consulting and training services, and 50% is provided through donations and grants from our amazing supporters and partners. In only 18 months, we’ve delivered training in business, entrepreneurship and financial literacy to more than 170 women and girls around Cambodia, and we’re growing this number every week. 

What are some key milestones that SHE Investments have accomplished?

Registering a business in Cambodia isn’t an easy task, so we’re very proud to have reached that milestone and to be operating as a formal enterprise now. Another key milestone would be gaining the funding from two Australian foundations, the Vasudhara Foundation and the English Family Foundation, to provide twenty scholarships to women entrepreneurs this year to participate in our six-month SHE Incubator Program. This has helped us to scale up our work significantly, and we hope to continue to grow this number of scholarships into 2017 too.

Are there any challenges SHE Investments is facing now? If so, what are they?

Operating a business in Cambodia is fantastic, but there are certainly challenges. There is very little access to information around registration, paying taxes, etcetera, and so this is a real challenge in particular for the women we work with. But we’re aiming to change this!

Another key challenge is that SHE is a very small team, and we’re essentially still a startup.  This means that we expect a lot from our staff, who all work very hard and are passionate about what they do. We’re also still trying to get the SHE name out there, most importantly to the women we want to reach and offer our support for.

I’m sure there are several success stories from your programs. Can you give us examples of women entrepreneurs that have found success with the help of SHE Investments?

We meet so many amazing women through our programs, and we’re really proud of what they achieve! One woman from last year’s program, Vong Savenn, is a member of the Artisans Association of Cambodia. Not only did she grow her business (employing women in her community to make jewellery from recycled paper), but she has also started another business selling juice. She also taught her husband what she has learned from our workshops, and as a result he also grew his business!

Thavry, a pig farmer in Siem Reap, doubled the infrastructure of her pig farm within a few months of graduating from the SHE Incubator Program. She increased her revenue, re-invested back into her business, and is seeing the impact of this as a result.

In our current program we have some passionate entrepreneurs who will graduate in the next couple of months, but who have already significantly improved or increased their businesses.  For example, Rathana employs Cambodians to make kromas, which she sells to a Cambodian market, in order to create an enterprise that makes local products, by local people, for local people. In only four months she has more than doubled her revenue, and is now looking at expanding her business online.

Yern Chantou started her business after attending the SHE Conference in October last year, which is natural and organic bottled coconut oil which she makes herself. Since starting the Incubator Program in April, she has expanded to having her products being sold in several stores around Phnom Penh, significantly increasing her revenue, and improving her product through market research and testing.

What are some of the short term and long term plans you have for SHE Investments?

For our short term plans, we want to support at least 30 women per year through our SHE Incubator Program, a six-month program of training, mentoring and ongoing support to help women to scale their enterprises. We want to continue to expand our consulting and training services too, and working with more NGOs and other partners to help deliver crucial financial literacy and micro business training to women around the country.

As for our long-term plans, we want to bridge the gap in small-medium business owners in Cambodia. We want to improve access to information on how to register and manage a business, and we want to create links between investment-ready female-owned enterprises and opportunities for funding to help them to scale and create impact, such as through job creation. We also want to expand our recently launched SHE Membership Program, which is an accessible program for both men and women who currently have businesses or who are aspiring entrepreneurs. Becoming a member (which costs as little as $15 for students per year) means you have access to regular workshops, events, and the annual SHE Conference.  In this way we want to reach more people around Cambodia, and promote women’s economic empowerment through business.

What are your views on the female entrepreneurial scene here in Cambodia?

There are several great organisations starting to work in this sector, which is really positive and is beginning to create a platform where women can access more information and opportunities as entrepreneurs. However, I think we still have a very long way to go. More training, mentoring and support that is tailored to Khmer women and Khmer culture needs to be provided. Women are just as capable as men to start and grow a business, but they need a different kind of support, and this is often not taken into account.

I also think that women entrepreneurs are everywhere in Cambodia, they are a key driving force for Cambodia’s rural and urban economies, but they need more help accessing information and culturally relevant training and mentoring. We all need to acknowledge the barriers that women face in Cambodia, such as severe sexism and gender inequality, and create a supportive environment which helps women to feel empowered and confident.

Do you have any words of advice for aspiring female entrepreneurs in Cambodia?

The key thing I’ve learned about starting a business is to back yourself first, and others will follow. So my advice to them would be to tell people about their ideas, and ask for help to make these happen, because there are lots of people out there – me and my team included – who will support you all the way.