Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Cambodia: Overcoming poverty through social business

How do you overcome poverty amongst the billion poorest people on earth, countries with often apocalyptic recent events or at risk of facing them now? Where the injustice of extreme poverty demands external intervention yet so little evidence of its success exists that some people question whether international aid is not just ineffective, but contributes to poverty.

At Grow Movement we enhance the capacity of local entrepreneurs to lead their countries out of poverty and enable people everywhere to act through remote volunteering: Modern communications enable a skilled person anywhere to volunteer their time to overcome poverty and see the results for themselves. 

One of those volunteers is Philippe Pauly, a former fund manager in Paris, who volunteered remotely with Allen Alebako, one of our women entrepreneurs in Uganda. Philippe dedicates his life to overcoming poverty amongst the rural poor in Cambodia and followed his passionate belief in the effectiveness of social enterprise by founding Cambolac. I am lucky enough to serve on Cambolac's social board and visited Cambodia to learn about their work.

Cambodia knows apocalypse: up to 2.2 million people of a population of 8 million died in the killing fields of the Khmer Rouge between 1975 and 1978. The Khmer Rouge killed anyone with an education, speaking a foreign language or even former urban dwellers judged incapable of agricultural work. While this happened before the vast majority of Cambodians today where born, its legacy lingers in a very basic level of education and a virtual absence of professionals.

Cambolac works in Siem Reap where over 50% of families live on less than a dollar a day, 53% of children are malnourished and just 10% of them finish high school. Yet two million tourists visit this area annually to see the stunning Angkor Wat temples. Very little of the tourist revenues reach the local community.

A Cambolac black lacquer box
Making Cambolac boxes with a water rubbing pond
Philippe is trying to address this paradox by recreating a local handicraft industry to enable the rural poor to sell handicrafts to tourists. The beauty of Philippe's business model is it is low skilled and labour intensive: Each Cambolac black lacquer box requires up to twenty days of rubbing with wet sand paper, meaning large numbers of unskilled rural poor can be employed. Since launching in March Philippe has already employed nine people from the local community including three with disabilities. He hopes to employ many more as sales increase and you can follow their progress on facebook here. As a  business, Cambolac is not reliant on aid funding so is able to offer long term sustainable employment opportunities.

Cambolac founder Philippe Pauly (centre) with Cambodian family and a Cambolac rubbing pond
Philippe is investigating enhancing the social impact further by outsourcing part of the production process to the local villages. This would enable people who cannot travel to the workshop to have work (either by virtue of the cost or women for example who cannot leave their children to go to work). Cambolac would supply boxes to the villages for the people to sandpaper and pay a fee for each box so that people can work at their own pace and around their other commitments. Cambolac has constructed one rubbing pond in a local village to pilot this concept and so far appears very promising at enabling more people to access work.

I don't know the answer to the international aid dilemma. But I do know from working with Cambolac and Grow Movement that active, positive and effective steps exist to serve the people in these communities.

Cambolac social board member and Grow Movement founder Chris Coghlan at Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Thursday, 11 October 2012

BBC news on Grow Movement entrepreneur Thomas Ssemakula

At Grow Movement we believe enhancing the skills of local entrepreneurs to lead their countries out of poverty is the best way to economically empower the people in the poorest countries on earth.  We use remote volunteer consultants in over fifty countries to deliver business advice on an ultra low cost base to entrepreneurs in Uganda, Malawi and Rwanda over mobile phone.

We're thrilled that Grow Movement Ugandan entrepreneur Thomas Ssemakula has told the story of his business Brave East Africa to BBC news:   
Grow Movement's Thomas Ssemakula
Just over two years ago Thomas qualified as a vet and launched his Brave East Africa consultancy business with no money to his name. In this video he tells how Grow Movement consultant Molly Fulton in Las Vegas gave him the human resource and financial advice he needed scale up to seven employees. Then in a second project, a Grow Movement team of MBA students from London Business School's Impact Consulting club helped Thomas write the business plan to successfully secure the investor mentioned by the BBC.

Its not just Thomas's employees and their families who benefit from his outstanding dynamism: Thomas's business equips Ugandan subsistence farmers with the skills they need to commercialize their produce, creating a ripple effect throughout the local community.

As all of Grow Movement's advice is delivered remotely and our operations are managed by local people, the total cost of Thomas's projects to Grow Movement was $200. We've managed to work with over 200 entrepreneurs like Thomas in the last three years on a cost base of less than $400 a week. 

Right now we're scaling up to advise 1,200 Malawian, Ugandan and Rwandan entrepreneurs over the next three years to lead their communities out of poverty and show the effectiveness of  talented local entrepreneurs teamed with remote volunteer consultants  to end poverty at  low cost and scale.