Cambodia: Buy Social

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Did you know that eating a meal could also give someone the chance of an education? Or having a good night’s sleep in a hotel could support a vocational training programme?

Everyday we all make tiny decisions and transactions about spending money. Each time we make a purchase, do we take a minute and think about where we buy our goods and services from, and the positive or negative social impact of those decisions? Do we consider if the materials are recycled or recyclable? Or if they have been sourced ethically and/or are Fairtrade? Or if we are spending money with a business that is giving something back to the community?

These are small everyday decisions that we can make to share the benefits of a coffee – or a new shirt – or a trip away – with others less fortunate than ourselves.

In the UK there is a movement to Buy Social, which is essentially a campaign to create public awareness and change consumer habits to build markets for social enterprises. Buying social is about “using your money, as an individual or an organisation, to create a positive impact on the world we live in” according to Social Enterprise UK. Markets for social enterprise are thriving in other parts of the world as well, like for example in Cambodia, where recently I was lucky enough to travel and try out some of the local social enterprises.

The Kingdom of Cambodia is one of the countries in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). It ranks 143rd (out of 188) countries in the most recent Human Development Report compiled by the United Nations Development Program, and faces enduring challenges such as poverty, corruption, gender inequality and deforestation. As a country, it is emerging from a troubled recent history of brutality, war and conflict while also embracing an optimistic future as one of the fastest growing economies in Southeast Asia.

Social enterprise and the spirit of business that gives back to the community is thriving in Cambodia. Social Enterprise Cambodia helps connect locals and tourists alike with opportunities to buy social across the country.

In Siam Reap for example, one of the main tourist destinations for Cambodians and foreigners a like, and home to the magnificent temples of Angkor Wat, Bayon, Banteay Srei and others, it is possible to buy social for almost every part of the journey.

Coffee? Try the Joe to Go coffee house, art gallery and restaurant which has a great grind, all day breakfasts and fresh cafe food, and where proceeds support the work of Global Child. The Common Grounds cafe is another one with good coffee, air conditioning, and tasty pastries, all the sweeter because the proceeds support humanitarian projects. 

Dinner? So much food, so little time! There are many delicious and well intentioned social impact restaurants to choose from, it will be hard to fit in enough meals to try them all during your stay in Siam Reap…. for a start, try:

  • Spoons, which offers delicious and interesting food combinations, under a relatively open bamboo structure. The restaurant trains young adults in hospitality and catering, and promises 100% employment rate on graduation. It is run by EGBOK, which is an organisation that enables underserved young adults in Cambodia to be self-supporting by providing education, training, and employment opportunities in the hospitality industry and utilizing a comprehensive approach with an emphasis on life skills development. EGBOK = Everything’s Gonna Be OK. Good name, simple message, and a clear statement of hope for a better future.
  • Mday Thom Cafe and Training Centre serves delicious local Khmer fare and supports Sunrise Cambodia, an NGO working with at-risk young people and supporting their vocational training in catering and hospitality.
  • Haven is a restaurant where they say that helping never tasted so good! HAVEN is a non-religious social enterprise and a training restaurant for vulnerable young adults. The young people gain work skills and life skills, and are supported in their transition from institution (many are from orphanages) to independent living, and to break the cycle of poverty.
  • New Leaf Eatery, serving delicious Khmer and fusion dishes, and where 30% of the profits are donated to educational projects in the province.

Bed? Stay a night or more in the Sala Bai hotel, which is linked with a school that was established in 2002 by a French NGO Agir pour le Cambodge (APLC) to provide vocational training. In 14 years, more than 1300 students have been trained and have found a job in the hospitality industry, the most dynamic economic sector of the country, enabling them to achieve economic independence and improve their family life conditions.

Souvenirs? Find some locally produced arts and crafts from Cambolac, or other markets selling products made by communities in the local area (apparently 80% of the souvenirs sold in the area are still imported).

These are the kinds of choices we face every day, for me when at home in the UK or travelling further afield. It doesn’t cost any more money to buy social, but it does take a little bit more time and thought to consider the choices.

Little things really can make a difference. It is through small everyday transactions like buying a coffee or sharing a meal that we can buy social, share the benefits, and make each of them taste, feel and seem that little bit better.

Lucy Stackpool-Moore

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