Improving the socio-economic rights of more than 3,500 young women entrepreneurs in Cambodia

November 11, 2021
An entrepreneur who is supported by WE Act works on clothing designs with one of her employees. (Credit: Brian Clark/Pact)

In Cambodia, entrepreneurs are the backbone of the economy. For Global Entrepreneurship Week, we acknowlege the estimated 350,000 young women entrepreneurs across the country that are making sure that their families have the income to send their children to school and put food on the table. They're enabling their families to have a better life.

WE Act is a five-year project that is funded by USAID and implemented by Pact. In three years, we have increased the skills of over 3,500 young women entrepreneurs at different levels through incubators, digital marketing and leadership trainings. Despite Covid-19, women are now saying that they can access their socio-economic rights in a bigger and more meaningful way than three years ago. That is the major achievement of WE Act so far. We are also focusing on increasing networks and strengthening them. When women have access to a network of friends and peers, that is where they learn to build connections and where they feel supported. 

What I find amazing is that young women entrepreneurs are extremely dynamic. They don't give up. They're very innovative.

Young women entrepreneurs in Cambodia tend to have smaller businesses and they compete in importance with their male counterparts who are more often the leaders of larger businesses. When we look at policies or support networks, they are more catered toward bigger companies. We have to do a lot of work to make sure that women entrepreneurs are seen as capable of managing larger enterprises. We also need to make sure that government entities, networks and associations give them support to get there. We support young women entrepreneurs in engaging in meaningful dialogue with the government about how to address their challenges for a brighter future.

We need policies that are catered to the thousands of young women entrepreneurs. For example, they need different rules for taxation or registration than larger businesses. We are engaging with the governement to work on those issues. Another example is around registration of businesses. Only 2% of women's businesses are registered, so that brings many challenges. If a woman has a registered business, they can also access government services. We are working both to make registration easier and, at the  provincial level, have government representatives explain to young women entrepreneurs what the registration process is: What are the benefits and what are going to be the challenges?

Working with the bigger private sector in Cambodia is also very important. They can keep in mind that huge market potential of 350,000 entrepreneurs--what caters to them, what helps them thrive? We negotiated with two digital financial services companies, Wing Bank and Boost Capital, which were brave enough to partner with us. Young women entrepreneurs usually cannot access finance because they don't have registered businesses since they're so small. They also often don't have the collateral that banks need to offset for a loan. The companies each designed a loan product at competitive rates specifically for our young women entrepreneurs. This way, we are alleviating the fear or the difficulties for our entrepreneurs to be able to have access to finance. They don't need to go to friends or family or loan sharks.

What I find amazing is that young women entrepreneurs are extremely dynamic. They don't give up. They're very innovative. For example, when the tourist industry dried up during the pandemic, a woman who had been doing tours in Siem Riep pivoted in a completely different way and is now raising quail and selling the eggs. She has a thriving business and we are lucky to have been able to support her. We know that COVID-19 has been incredibly hard. Nonetheless, we know quite a few women who, thanks to the mentoring and coaching they received, have been able to grow their businesses and create more jobs.

We must address cultural barriers to make sure that women have leadership and growth opportunities in Cambodia. By showcasing success stories of the young women who are able to manage their businesses in a professional way, we try to change those cultural barriers.