the Last Days of Penh

I am flying out of Cambodia at the moment on a SilkAir A320 not even having asked for it i ended up with the window seat on the exit row. The plan for today was not to go into work but just to relax a little get packed and get out of the country. In the process of getting a lift to the air port we went back to work for a few hours. which was good as i got to get a few last things worked out. Unfortunately Pakk actually works at another company full time, so that he can afford to run his business. Its quite a common practice in startups, I mean i always had another job the entire time we were running the company. This means that any ‘quality time’ that I get to spend with him i relish. The last few hours was spent working out how to determine a price point for the software that was going to lead to a good balance between covering costs and getting a sale.

In the last week you start to try and work out what you have actually achieved and what you haven’t. Unfortunately the objectives of my project this time round are very soft-skills focused. Unlike when I was in New Guinea there was a lot more tangible things do because I was actually putting in cable and servers and actual hard infrastructure. Don’t get me wrong I have really enjoyed my time here, and I think that I have given quite a lot momentum to the guys at work. Even though I know I shouldn’t, and my years of experience in development work tells me this I still want to have win. You know something tangible you can take away something that you’re actually did. However I remain and entrepreneur, its all academic until you make a sale, because that is what puts the bread on the table. And in the 11th hour it did, we actually sold some software.

You see this project was a little tougher than I thought it would be. The bag snatching, several run-ins with the police (traffic cops corruption stuff), the odd character following me home at night, a digestive system that just could not get use to the local food. Then of course Jack passing away in the second last week, really just kicked me in the guts. Deciding not to end the project early was a tough decision with in its self. But with out a solid win at the end I was having a really hard time justifying the idea of staying back. But it came through!!!! I mean it’s not a big sale, its actually only one module of the firms Micro finance suite. The thing that I am really chuffed about is the fact that they did it all themselves.

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Social Enterprises and Cambodia

PerfexCom is a Social enterprise, which is a social mission driven organization which attempts to apply market-based strategies to achieve a social purpose. In other word a Social enterprise is a “hybrid organisation” of a commercial entity and a charitable organisation. In PerFexCom’s case its social mission is focussed on supporting the university studies of impoverished rural students, though providing subsidised accommodation and employment to the students as well as providing student loans. Even though many commercial businesses would consider that they have social objectives, a social enterprise is distinctive because their social purpose remains central to their operation.

This social mission can be accomplished through a variety of ways and depends on the structure of the social enterprise. In Perfexcom’s case, the profits from its software development and computer magazine businesses are used to support its aforementioned social aim. It also accomplishes its social aim through its operations by employing these disadvantaged students in its business units.

I believe that social enterprise is a way to reduce a non profits dependence on charitable donations and grants furthermore the business itself is the vehicle for social change. This is something that ticks all of my boxes and when ABV showed me the project I was very excited to assist PerfexCom. Whether structured as nonprofits or for-profits, social enterprises are simply launched by social entrepreneurs who want to improve the common good and solve a social problem in a new, more lasting and effective way than traditional approaches. They are conceived and operated by visionary entrepreneurs who recognize potential where others may not see it and who apply discipline, pragmatism, courage and creativity to pursue their solution in spite of all obstacles, toward a world that is more abundant, secure and inclusive for all.

Its not all rainbows and lollipops either, I think the biggest challenge facing a social enterprise is explaining themselves especially the ones that have both missions and organisational models that haven’t seen before. The area’s that are the most challenging is ‘product’, ‘participation’ and ’structure’ and the combinations of all of these.
The intersection between ‘participation’ and ‘product’ is one example of this issue. Many non-profits are focused on public participation. These organisations use well honed engagement and facilitation techniques to get people out, harnessing community effort to raise important issues, clean up parks and so on. However, until recently {1990s}, this kind of mass participation was rarely used to make specific, high quality products or services that need to ship at a specific time and succeed in the ‘market’. Until recently, creating products and services that will be used by large numbers of people has been the domain of big companies and governments who can marshal trained specialists and set up big management structures. These are not the strengths of your regular little non profit and that is why I was asked to assist PerfexCom with getting its software to market .

Also ‘Structure‘ is another big issue to look at from a social perspective. I mean we have well established legal and social structures for create non-profit, public benefit organizations. Yet, in every country that I know about, Cambodia included, these structures work poorly when people try to hybridize and innovate what it means to do public benefit work. The frameworks we’ve developed for charities over the last few hundred years just haven’t caught up to these new ideas yet. The result is that many hybrid organizations must engage in pretzel like contortions in order to find a structure that finally works, PerFexCom is no different in this regard.

Of course, ‘participation’ and ’structure’ are only two examples of pragmatic challenges that social enterprises face. You could also delve into the question of investment, and in particular the fact the hybrids are perceived as a bad fit for both private investors and traditional grant givers. Social investors that seek a blend of social and financial return on their investments and is one of the few sources for investment for Social Enterprises. The range and number of financial institutions that lend to or invest in social enterprises has increased in recent years. Although this makes it tough to compete, scale and move in the ’market’. Also the revenue side of the equation is an issue as well. Social Enterprise must constantly ask itself what kinds of income is it going to align with, or not disrupt is social mission for. The list of questions and challenges is fairly long.

The long-term future of social enterprise depends on whether it has organizational strengths to cope with future developments: for example the ability and motivation to innovate in embryonic markets that are too small for large organizations and closeness to customers, ability to use new technologies. I really do think that ABV is uniquely placed to assist social enterprises in Developing countries to overcome these challenges.

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