Working with female micro-entrepreneurs in Cambodia presents a unique set of challenges; working in a developing economy, working with women in a male dominated society and working with women who are often less educated.
Having just launched a pilot Business Development Program aimed at micro-entrepreneurs in Cambodia, we have identified three critical services that are often missing in similar programs.
1. Ongoing Support
There are many programs in Cambodia providing education on topics such as business training, entrepreneur training and financial literacy. However the majority of these programs are short workshops delivered over a few weeks or on some occasions only once. I believe it is critical that training is delivered not only over a significant period of time but also includes support between workshops and after the training is completed. This is vital so that participants not only understand the material but also are encouraged and supported to put these new skills into practice and experience the benefits
2. Field Trips
Field trips are another critical practice for multiple reasons. Firstly, a field trip to a successful business (particularly if the owners are of a similar demographic) will demonstrate first hand that it is possible to build a business in Cambodia from the ground up. It will provide inspiration to the participant and help to provide a vision and clarity around their business idea. Lastly it will provide an opportunity for the participants to ask questions about how they became successful and how they operate their business, they will be able to see directly issues such as product quality, customer service, employee management and training and the multitude of skills needed to operate a successful business.
Mentoring is often identified as a necessity for career building and business building, and it is no different for micro-entrepreneurs. There are obvious difficulties with providing mentors to each participant and it is often not practical. However, there are ways to provide mentoring that doesn’t require 1:1 manpower and can have unique benefits. One on one mentoring can be amazingly useful but many times it can be quite intimidating for the participant, a way around this is using mentoring circles. One mentor for a small group of participants can help make the participants feel less intimidated and is a practical alternative when dealing with larger numbers. This results in participants being able to ask questions to successful entrepreneurs in a comfortable, open environment.
We have included these critical practices with the belief that it will make a significant difference in the success of our pilot Business Development Program. Our research has led us to believe that these are often missing in current programs and we hope that these will help us reach our vision of a world where investment in women entrepreneurs in developing countries is seen as opportunity, not charity.
The key thing to remember is that although women entrepreneurs around the world need these types of support and services, they also need to be tailored to the specific culture that they are working in.
At SHE, we don’t believe in teaching our entrepreneurs skills and tools that entrepreneurs might learn in Australia or other developed countries, because they need to learn from situations that are relevant to them. For example, we won’t teach the women in our program how to create a “Theory of Change”, or full project or business plan – instead, we’ll work with them to help them understand the basic principles of setting goals and the steps they need to take to achieve these, all within a context they can relate to, and which they can turn into immediate action.
We believe that by providing the support structures that women need to gain the self-confidence, vision and skills to grow their businesses, we can increase the investments made into women-led SMEs, which will have a positive impact on us all.