Building successful social enterprises can be challenging and there are many factors that contribute to their success or failure. Lack of infrastructure, access to financial capital, not understanding the local community, and inability to retain talent are a few reasons social enterprises might not succeed.
A less evident factor is trust: trust among community members, trust among families, and trust in one’s government. On a recent trip to Cambodia we visited eight social enterprises. Most of them are run by alumni from our Global Social Benefit Institute (GSBI®) programs. We learned how lack of trust can influence a social enterprise’s form and impair its impact.
No one could trust their neighbors and “re-education” programs turned children against parents.
The lack of trust in Cambodia stems from the Khmer Rouge
’s reign of terror, torture, and genocide from 1975-1979, followed by two decades of civil war. About a quarter of the population was killed, most of them educated and upper class. The Khmer Rouge separated families and communities through frequent relocation programs. No one could trust their neighbors and “re-education” programs turned children against parents. Since many of the educated were killed, the value of education became invisible; now, schools and teachers in Cambodia are scarce.
Moreover, land rights are blurred. Farmers do not invest in substantive agriculture because the government frequently seizes land for its own purposes, with minimal compensation. Many Cambodians we met live in fear of being displaced, and remarked on government corruption.
Contrast Cambodia to India or Bangladesh, where the microfinance movement originated. Muhammad Yunus
, a pioneer of the microfinance movement, created an institution based on interdependent, self-help groups. Implicit in Yunus’ paradigm was trust among self-help group members. The Bangladeshi communities are rooted in a long history of working and living together. The microfinance movement blossomed in these regions because the members of loan groups could depend on each other to repay their loan. That’s not true in Cambodia, where people have been displaced multiple times.
How can trust be rebuilt?
We believe social enterprises can help. Social entrepreneurs such as Apopo
and its HeroRats
are working to clear millions of mines laid by the Khmer Rouge and other government forces (some financed by the United States), which have led to thousands of deaths and disabilities since the 1980s. Once the land is cleared, farmers can use it again to grow crops for food and cash. Bareebo
, a non-profit that was also a GSBI alumnus, helps Cambodian communities advocate for safe drinking water during the dry season, then builds and installs rainwater harvesting systems and biofilters. Our job is to help these and other social enterprises succeed.
Through our GSBI programs, we help Cambodian entrepreneurs apply business model basics to their ideas, test their theories of change, better understand market opportunities, and discern both the financial and social impact of the entire business process.
Through our GSBI programs, we help Cambodian entrepreneurs apply business model basics to their ideas, test their theories of change, better understand market opportunities, and discern both the financial and social impact of the entire business process. Our Silicon Valley mentors help each enterprise conduct a rigorous analysis of its business model, the market, and the external environment to present convincing applications for funding. This work reflects the best of Santa Clara’s unique position as the Jesuit university in the world’s most productive entrepreneurial ecosystem.