A New Home

after 6 years at TIG Blogs I have decided to move to my own wordpress setup, I hope that you like the changes

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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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The Gap Between

On a walk through my neighborhood in Phnom Penh, I get a taste of the spectrum of wealth and poverty that’s here in Cambodia. Going by these crazy houses with their 3 story greek-esk columns, I marvel that I’ve never seen this decadence even in Canberra. It’s even more so as in my ‘hood here, for Just around the corner, the homeless vendors can be seen shutting down their makeshift shacks at night to shelter up against the side of these street. The amazing contrast is, these villagers come to Phnom Penh with only their cart full of coconuts. they don’t return home till they sell all of them, and they will sleep in the streets until they do. I bought 2 coconuts or $3, rather than at some foreign owned grocery. This meager money I spent goes a long way with him. For most of my time so far, I’ve been surprisingly impartial in the face of the poverty I’ve seeing here. But something about the direct contact I had with this person jolted me a bit. I’ve vowed to shop from more street vendors during my time here instead of at the conglomerate supermarkets.

The Government came out last week saying that the number of people living on the streets of Phnom Penh dropped sharply in 2009, according to a government report released Tuesday, though NGOs that provide services to the homeless said the figures appeared to be a low estimate. The report, prepared by the Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation, cites a 44-percent decrease in the number of homeless people in the capital – from 4,189 to 2,337

Thats hard to take from a Government that actively makes people homeless. an Example of this is the Boeung Kak Lake saga. Well soon there will be no lake. The area was sold for $79 million a year ago and the lake is being filled in to make way for shops and high-end apartments. During my month-long stay in Phnom Penh I watched a sandbar grow from the south side Boeung Kak into the center of the lake. All day a pipeline pumped sand from the Tonle Sap River on the other side of town and sent water back out the other way. Bulldozers and tractors rumbled around on the new finger of land pushing sand from one spot to another.

The story begins here in Boeung Kak Lake in the heart of the capital, Phnom Penh. Two years ago, a little-known developer signed a 99-year lease with the council for this 133-hectare site. And they’re filling 90% of the lake with sand to build a high-rise. The problem for people living around the edge of the lake is, as the sand goes in the water level rises and their houses go under. These include 4000 families who live around the lake. Since the beginning, there’s been a total lack of transparency about the deal.

Boeung Kak has for years been a hangout for backpackers in Phnom Penh. The area, which is commonly called Lakeside and is located behind the relatively upscale Phnom Penh Hotel, is a collection of skinny alleyways lined by bars, guesthouses, travel agencies and Internet cafes. Many of Lakeside’s longtime residents have been displaced by the development; many made homeless. Those with land titles are supposed to be compensated $8,000 by the government, hardly a fraction of what their buildings and businesses are worth. But no money has been paid out yet. It would not surprise anyone if the government never paid; after all, there is precedent.

Since the plans for the lake were made public a couple of years ago, residents have complained, protests have been held and NGOs have advocated on behalf of the soon to be evicted. But still the pipeline gushes sand and the finger of land continues to grow.
Complicating the issue further, many Boeung Kak lake residents don’t possess legal titles to the land they occupy, but they say the government acknowledged their de facto ownership when it issued a book of family records. Authorities counter that the land was illegally occupied and that the family records were simply published to document the number of families living in the area.

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What Wot?

So it’s a crazy mixed up City, Phnom Penh, and with out any formal public transport it’s just a right royal mess. It’s a wonder that anyone gets to where they are going at all. Tuk Tuks (think scooter with trailer that seats 4 or 7 if your really trying) and motos( tuk tuk minus trailer) are the transportation of choice for Khmers and westies alike. These drivers, who have seemingly only one job to do, that is, get you where you want to go have no bloody idea where things are.

If you submit to the howling mob of drivers, they ask your destination, then you tell them, and they nod enthusiastically as if they know it, like its round the corner from where his mum lives. So you sling your bum on the back seat (normally an aftermarket seat bolted to the goods rack) and off you fang in generally in the wrong direction. After being here all of three weeks combined with my scout-fu, even I know enough to know when it’s the wrong direction. When I was first got here and less bald, I would wait a few blocks to see if he has chosen an alternate route, then stop the show to redirect things. Now I just yell at the driver to stop and try to correct him right away pointing the way I want to go.

Okay, I hear you, these fellas have a distinct disadvantage when hauling westies round. One, they don’t speak English as a native language (or at all, really). Two, the drivers probably are not frequenting the places that westies want to visit. You know the Gucci NGO-run cafes and fancy restaurants. Three, it seems that the Khmer people don’t use maps… ever…. That means, even if you are a well-prepared Westie with your handy map of the city, you could point to destinations and street names all day and it would not help your driver at all. They just dot read maps. So I use landmarks, Wots (temples) actually are the best I live near Wot Lanka, and every time I have told a Moto to drop me at Wot Lanka it hasn’t been an issue. So Wots are the way to go if you ask me, I like to call it Wot-Nav… One drawback,… they might think of me a churchy fellow :)

So how do you get where you are going? If you walk, be prepared to be addressed by every driver on the street. Hello, Sir. Where you go? You want motorbike, tuk tuk? I take you. Sir? Sir? It gets old really quickly, but you can’t blame the guy for wanting to make a dollar(it sure beats crubbing around in the rubbish). Most people smile and say “otay, akun” or “no thanks,” addressing each one individually. And others just completely ignoring them (except that you feel like a tool). My approach as been to look them in the eye and shake my head side to side gentle as if saying no, it works really well.

If you take a moto or a tuk tuk, do your best to watch for street signs and local landmarks (good luck, street signs are well-hidden), and don’t be afraid to shout directions or stop your driver. Luckily, sometimes, drivers will consult other drivers’ mid-journey to ask where a particular destination is. On occasion, this proves fruitful, but other times, the other driver will confidently send you in the wrong direction. By the way, no discount is given for a tuk tuk who lost his way. In fact, the driver may demand extra money for the roundabout journey, a trick cabbies have been using since the dawn of time. Try to explain that it isn’t your fault he did not know how to get there, and he will certainly pretend not to speak English.

Even if you know where you are going, getting there is the really mental part. Talking to the other volunteers, sitting in the carriage of a tuk tuk, bouncy as it is (worst shocks in town) feels relatively safe compared to clinging to the rear handle of a moto who keep from hitting the pavement. The Moto option is a good one for me, its fun. In Phnom Penh traffic, these guys rarely get up above 40kmh. that’s a good thing with 90cc moto-scooter encumbered with a 100kg 6’4” Aussie acting as a wind scoop I would not expect more. However when in Cambodia, and do as the Cambodians do (you have the same life expectancy as a Khmer). The only think that I don’t like being on the back of the moto is the lack of autonomy.

So I settled on a bicycle, $30 from the local market and you get a re-sprayed old clunker straight from the scrap heap in china. I pimped my ride with an extra long seat pole and long handlebars, fully sick! I generally keep up with most of the motos, and often have the odd giggle from moto riders and I look like a dill warring my motorcycle helmet. But damn do I have a lot of fun. And I’m Dutch, I mean that in two ways; one, it’s in my blood to ride a bike, 2; it saves me a fortune on transport costs.

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Water water everywhere…

… yet not a drop to drink….
It is astonishing that in a city as small like Phnom Penh, there are at least 100+ different types of bottled water to choose from! making them more prevalent than black (4WD) lexus-es (or is that Lexi…) I mean there is few things better in life than independent choice! right? This is the basis of our capitalistic society …mmm… Looking at which water companies have the best quality. Only one third have actually any water quality certification (and most of these seem to be bogus). You can seriously buy a different kind every day!

Manufacturing bottled water in Cambodia is pretty much the one of the best business around, (other than mobile phones and Micro finance :) … and Lexus Dealerships… )There is hardly any regulation, regarding water quality and none that’s enforced. So the consumer just has to make sure that the water looks clear, then get some bottles made just like everyone else, and make up a company name, a pithy slogan, fake some purification standards on the label and you’re away! also you can just switch Company names often, maybe even for every production sequence. or just borrow someone else’s

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Poverty in Cambodia

Well its rife! due to years of civil war and corruption within the government. Forced evictions also have had an impact on the numbers of families living on the streets, and you see them everywhere. Most Westies (travelers, Volunteers and other Expats) give a few coins to beggars, or shout a street urchin a free meal. I always seem to be an arsh@le to most of these people because I don’t do this(I’ve had the odd filthy look as I tell a cute kid begging in a cafe to rack off). I prefer to try to be helpful to locals, to pay a little above the odds for services and products, but still within the reasonable price range (probably inflating prices :) ).

I had a long conversation with a well meaning tourist after getting a filthy look from her. I explained that giving money is kind and helpful, but some say that the best way to help ease poverty in Cambodia and to develop a deep sense of satisfaction as well as getting to experience more of the “real” Cambodia may be through volunteering or donations to reputable charities operating in Cambodia either before, during or after her time here. (trying not to sound self righteous about the whole volunteering thing)

in saying that the whole business of helping the Cambodians is starting to grate on me. Since there are so many NGOs and charity organizations here, some people say that these good intentioned people are not actually helping the people in the long run. To be so dependant on foreign aid may have a negative effect on the people’s own sense of empowerment and in turn passively waiting for help and handouts. I am still trying to measure the effect of this one.

So in the mean time, where ever I go I try to make sure that the place is locally run and the money I spend is going to the people who need it most desperately and not wealthy foreign entities. Unfortunately between all the Chinese Koreans and other western expats its pretty hard to do this in Phnom Penh. but I’ll keep on trying. :)

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Cambodia: First Impressions

They say that first impressions are lasting impressions, and I think they are probably right. Whoever “they” might happen to be. My first impression of Cambodia is that it is beautiful country. Its people are delightful and warm. Its mosquitoes are also friendly, but there are methods of negotiating with them to stay away. Its weather is hot, humid, and usually sunny; it is currently the dry season although the rainy season will be welcomed within a few weeks. Its traffic is crazy, but riding a motorbike can be fun.

When I walked out the doors of the airport I expect the normal rush of people trying to sell me crap and offer me rides. Something seems fishy. No one is trying to sell me anything. anyway Pakk from Perfexcom was there to pick me up. The few people I’ve met so far speak English than i expected, Pretty much everyone under 20 can speak English quite well I’m told.

The ATM machines dispense US Dollars. Everything is priced in US Dollars. Transportation seems expensive, but rooms are pretty cheap. The local currency (Cambodian Riel – KHR) is one of those incredibly inflated things where you have to have a stack of money. $1 = 4,100KHR.

About the food, very delicious and tasty. I had such a good meal after a whole tiring day. Cambodia, as I know and love the trip so far. First impression: I like Cambodia.

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