In Cambodia, Feminists in Action supports the Lady saving Group organization. LSG is a self-help group for women, created to support and promote women’s economic independence by giving them access to education, networking and mutual credit. Key activities include monthly workshops, debates and entrepreneurship training courses for futures women entrepreneurs. Interview with Bonnarath Virak, startegy and program manager.
What are the main challenges facing women entrepreneurs in Cambodia, and how does your association help them overcome them?
Due to traditional gender-roles and gap, Cambodian women entrepreneurs still faced constraints including limited access to financial resources and credit, lack of access to training, information and network, lack of spiritual support, and greater household responsibilities. Responsively, Lady Saving Group has used its saving group platform to support women entrepreneurs by facilitating membership registration in the network, equipping members with practical and experience-based capacity building related to leadership and enterprise management, facilitating financial services, providing both online and offline mentoring approaches, and strengthening the network.
Throughout our direct experience with women members, we realize that access to finance remains the key issues for entrepreneurs and to-be entrepreneurs, especially rural youth and micro-entrepreneurs. For young professional and mature enterprises may find it easier to access various formal financial services if they have at least basic business knowledge, an acceptable accounting system or transaction history, and good business performance. However, youth from rural and micro-entrepreneurs still lack transaction history and income security, which impedes their ability to access credit and other formal financial service to support their businesses and living. Meanwhile, majority of women-owned businesses in Cambodia are still small and informal. So, LSG is fixing the gap by building and providing the most direct and the closest access to finance and learning platform for them. They come to our saving group to save money together, learn together, support each other and grow together.
What are the main cultural or social barriers facing women entrepreneurs, and how does your association work to overcome them? How does your association raise society’s awareness of the importance of female entrepreneurship?
There two main cultural and social barriers I have observed faced by women entrepreneurs are household and child-raising roles and social labels. Majority family still expect that women have main roles to do house chores and look after kids as well as the elder parents at home although they are having other jobs to do outside home, so it becomes a double responsibility for her. If she focuses on her business rather than the family, there is sometimes a conflict within the family or bad label from society to her as an irresponsible mom or wife or daughter. At LSG, we try to equip our women members with knowledge and skills to find out their meaning of life as well as their negotiation skills. We do not demand them to win over men, but to dialogue their needs confidently and peacefully to their spouse and be smart in finding solutions to achieve their goal while maintaining their family wellbeing. We used to produce an educational video and conduct a networking forum under the theme “Entrepreneurial Couple” engaging role models and understanding couples to share experience on how they help each other to achieve their family goal. In addition, we keep spreading the message of the importance of women entrepreneurship via our Facebook page.
How does your association help women entrepreneurs access the financing and resources they need to develop their businesses?
We facilitate a saving group platform where every member deposit money and can propose micro loan up to 5000 USD with low interest rate and without collateral to support their education, living and business. After they pay off the loan, they can propose a new loan. In addition to money, we also provide training, mentoring and coaching on financial and business management to ensure that they have effectively used their saving or loan to develop and grow their business.
How does your association ensure inclusiveness and equal opportunities for all women entrepreneurs, including the youngest, those from ethnic minorities or from rural areas?
We create a common value of honesty and collaboration and then we welcome every woman and man to apply as our members and create a friendly learning environment where everyone can access our service both online and offline; however, we also have challenges to reach all undeserved communities due to limited resources.
How does your organization support the long-term sustainability and growth of women-led businesses?
We believe that knowledge, skills and network are the most long-term assets that women entrepreneurs should have. At LSG, we provide regular capacity building and strengthen network among our members. In addition, we encourage them to keep saving for their future. Once they have their own saving account and have knowledge to control their own capital as well as network, it is all about sustainability and growth for them.