Matchmaking Social Entrepreneurs: Cambodia

As it undergoes rapid economic growth, Cambodia is facing issues such as rising inequality and child labor. Social entrepreneurs are working to tackle these challenges, but a lack of expertise makes maintaining their businesses difficult. Harahata Mio and Higuchi Asami run a matchmaking service, pairing local entrepreneurs with Japanese companies who can offer financial and technical support. We explore how matchmaking is helping to improve lives, and solve social problems.

Higuchi visits a cricket farm that is working to alleviate poverty among farmers
After being introduced through the matchmaking service, a Japanese company provided funding to a Cambodian school
The money helps the school provide lunch for students
Higuchi facilitates a meeting between a Japanese business owner and the Cambodian manager of a bamboo workshop

Transcript

00:08

Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

00:14

- Who likes fried rice?
- I do!

00:19

The young students here all look forward to lunchtime.

00:25

It's delicious!

00:28

The meals are provided with financial support from a Japanese company.

00:33

Hello class.

00:35

Hello teacher.

00:39

The school was started by a Cambodian NGO.

00:42

It supports children from poor families who would otherwise have difficulty getting an education.

00:50

At home, the priority isn't nutrition.
It's providing any meal possible.

01:00

So we want to give them
something nutritious here.

01:04

These lunches help to
prevent them from getting sick.

01:09

The school and the Japanese company were introduced by two Japanese women.

01:17

Harahata Mio and Higuchi Asami are professional people matchers.

01:22

They work to help tackle social challenges through their entrepreneurial matchmaking service.

01:32

We want to connect people around the world
tackling social issues and sustainability.

01:38

Recently, Cambodia has seen a new wave of social entrepreneurs.

01:48

Instead of seeking profit, they're working to solve challenges facing their communities.

01:58

However, a lack of local expertise has presented hurdles in keeping these social businesses running.

02:07

We need to learn from people with
more knowledge and experience.

02:14

It's important to make connections,
and share info about the market.

02:20

But some non-Cambodian groups
break contact right away.

02:26

Harahata's company supports the activities of these social entrepreneurs by connecting them with Japanese companies,

02:33

and helping to forge business partnerships.

02:37

Their amazing work should be supported,
so that's what we try to do.

02:43

We want people to be able to
make their own decisions.

02:47

And live life with a smile.
That's what we're working towards.

02:52

Meet the people leveraging the power of matchmaking to solve social challenges in Cambodia.

03:07

Urban Cambodia is currently undergoing remarkable economic growth.

03:12

At the same time, the gap between rich and poor is widening.

03:21

Locals face a range of social challenges, including poverty, and child labor.

03:31

But some people have set out to improve the situation in their homeland.

03:37

- It's been so long.
- It really has.

03:41

Today, Harahata and Higuchi are visiting one of those people.

03:47

It's an organization that previously used their matching service.

03:52

Samith! It's been such a long time!

03:56

It really has.

04:00

Mey Samith runs an NGO, and is an active social entrepreneur.

04:08

His focus is human rights and employment for people with disabilities.

04:16

Cambodian society wasn't built for
people with disabilities.

04:22

So living with a disability is hard.

04:27

We need to build a society that's
comfortable for everyone.

04:36

In 2006, Samith spent a year in Japan studying welfare for disabled people.

04:44

After returning, he launched an NGO and took on a range of activities,

04:48

such as improving local accessibility.

04:54

He also opened a food processing plant to create employment opportunities.

05:03

There are no steps.

05:05

We've made it easy for people
in wheelchairs to work here.

05:13

The plant has plenty of space to maneuver.

05:17

And work surfaces are lower.

05:19

It's designed to be a comfortable place to work from a wheelchair.

05:26

The plant produces dried foods, such as fruit.

05:33

Samith used the matching service three years ago,

05:36

as he was facing difficulties with his business.

05:41

I didn't think I'd be able to
keep the business going.

05:51

At the time, dried mango was his main product.

05:55

Samith marketed it as a Cambodian specialty.

06:00

But sales were poor, with some customers unwilling to embrace a product made by disabled people.

06:12

That's when Harahata stepped in and made an introduction.

06:20

Nukui Wakana runs shops in Cambodia selling locally made items.

06:25

This kind of introduction is one of Harahata's organization's strengths.

06:31

They match Cambodian social entrepreneurs and Japanese companies,

06:35

with the goal of taking on social challenges.

06:44

Wakana gave me advice about
flavor and packaging.

06:55

The new-and-improved dried mangoes are now sold in department stores.

07:02

I was really proud of our product
being accepted.

07:07

It's made by people with disabilities,
right here in Cambodia.

07:14

Samith's business recovered,

07:16

and he was able to preserve his employees' jobs.

07:22

He hopes his project can make a statement to society.

07:30

People think that those with
disabilities can't work.

07:33

But in an accessible workplace,
they absolutely can.

07:39

Yes, we saw that at your
food manufacturing business.

07:43

Cambodians think, maybe it's possible
in Japan, Australia or the US, but not here.

07:53

I disagree. We can do it here. And
we'll work hard to change their minds.

08:06

Samith, it was a pleasure.

08:10

Matchmaking gave me hope.

08:15

They're young, but they're so kind.

08:20

And they have real passion
for their work.

08:32

They think about the long term.
Not just for Cambodia, but for all of Asia.

08:48

Harahata and Higuchi started this enterprise four years ago.

08:54

In addition to Cambodia, they now operate in five other countries across southeast Asia.

09:02

The matchmaking process starts by reaching out to local social entrepreneurs.

09:08

Communication is key.
What problems are they facing?

09:12

And what kind of Japanese company
do they hope to work with?

09:18

Harahata and Higuchi currently partner with over 100 organizations and companies.

09:24

They seek out Japanese companies that match the requirements and approach them.

09:29

They also receive requests from Japanese businesses looking for partners.

09:35

We build teams that reinforce
each other's strengths.

09:43

We help with ideas, planning projects,
and seeing them through.

09:50

Japanese companies aren't charged for the initial consultation,

09:53

but later pay research and support fees.

09:57

This is how the matchmaking business is funded.

10:03

So far, they've made over 70 matches.

10:13

Harahata first visited Cambodia as a student.

10:16

She was struck by its energy, and by the smiles of its people.

10:24

After graduating, she found a job in Cambodia...

10:30

...during which she came face-to-face with the harsh realities of life.

10:36

I saw kids working late, collecting
trash, unable to go to school.

10:42

The disabled were begging for food.

10:44

Witnessing those problems
made me feel helpless.

10:48

But I met social entrepreneurs
trying to make things better.

10:55

I wanted to find a way
to support those people.

11:01

Harahata started promoting the activities of these social entrepreneurs via social media, and at events.

11:09

People online and at events
started making suggestions.

11:16

They proposed ideas about potential
collaborations and projects.

11:20

I realized that linking these groups
would be extremely beneficial.

11:29

Harahata then approached Higuchi Asami, hoping to work together.

11:38

Higuchi had been volunteering in Cambodia, and shared Harahata's ambitions.

11:43

They launched the company together.

11:48

Harahata works on strategy,
and the direction of the company.

11:54

I mostly take care of
the work on the ground.

12:02

They recruited a third member,

12:03

and they now jump between Japan and Cambodia, bringing people together.

12:11

Today, Higuchi is visiting a social entrepreneur the company works with.

12:19

Hello!

12:21

Her name is Chou Lundy.

12:27

Lundy used to work for an NGO, combating poverty.

12:31

She later set up a business to take on poverty among farmers.

12:40

Her business specializes in...

12:45

Cricket farming!

12:49

The crickets are turned into powders and snacks, and sold.

12:57

Lundy also sells equipment to farmers, and advises on farming techniques.

13:02

She then buys the crickets they raise.

13:06

Cricket farming provides additional
income to agricultural workers.

13:18

Lundy's business hasn't been matched yet.

13:21

Higuchi is gathering information to ensure she can find a partner who shares her ambitions.

13:30

You have like many partner farmers, right?

13:33

Yeah, we have, how many now? 200?

13:37

- 200.
- But 65% of the farmers are female.

13:41

- Oh really?
- Yeah, they just stay home.

13:43

- We have to keep working and then encourage them to work along with us.
- Mmm, encourage.

13:50

Also... they don't read. They don't write.

13:52

Ah, I see, I see.

13:54

So, we need to figure out how to make a video or to make them understand as well.

13:58

- Because, in the future, we want our farmers to use the cricket that qualifies for exporting.
- Mmm.

14:06

- So we want them to get more opportunities.
- Yeah, yeah, yeah.

14:12

So it's very unique, and very...

14:14

big social impact.

14:21

Lundy explains why she wants to use the matchmaking service.

14:27

Cross-cultural collaboration
requires two things.

14:33

Trust, and honesty.

14:35

And they have both.

14:39

A few weeks pass.

14:42

- Hello.
- Good morning.

14:46

Higuchi is meeting with a Japanese company interested in Lundy's activities.

14:53

She provides farming kits, alleviating
poverty through a secondary income.

15:03

Higuchi communicates the circumstances clearly and honestly.

15:08

For exports to Japan, we'll start off
with only Lundy's crickets.

15:17

Later, we'd like to use
the farmers' products as well.

15:20

It's something I'd like to discuss
in the future.

15:26

She then answers questions with the information she has gathered.

15:32

How many staff does
the business have?

15:36

2-3 people work there regularly.

15:41

And they work with the boxes
we're seeing in the photographs.

15:46

What's the maximum
number of boxes?

15:49

There's plenty of capacity.

15:53

But the products are made fresh,
and to order.

15:55

So they don't keep a large
amount of them in stock.

16:02

There is a culture of eating insects
in Cambodia.

16:06

So is it normal for them to eat
cricket-based snacks?

16:09

It's normal for crickets to be sold
on the street, and eaten.

16:17

But snacks based on cricket powder
are relatively new.

16:23

One by one, questions are answered, and they move closer to a successful match.

16:30

It's crucial that the true feelings of
both parties are conveyed.

16:38

It's easy for assumptions and
misunderstandings to arise.

16:46

We make sure that everybody is
on the same page.

16:53

We're very careful with
our communication.

17:02

Today, a match that was made three years ago is about to enter a new phase.

17:11

Miki! It's been so long.

17:15

Welcome to Cambodia.

17:18

This is Suzuki Miki.

17:20

It's her first time in the country.

17:23

Suzuki started a business from her home in Tokyo.

17:27

It's an online shop that sells Cambodian bamboo products.

17:36

She has volunteering experience, which inspired an interest in international social issues.

17:43

Unable to speak English, she reached out for matchmaking help.

17:50

They didn't ask me to do anything
I was uncomfortable with.

17:56

It was very reassuring
for a beginner like me.

18:04

They gave me
a lot of encouragement.

18:08

Suzuki started her business during the pandemic,

18:11

and wasn't able to visit Cambodia until now.

18:17

How much potential do the
locals see in bamboo products?

18:27

What more can I do to be
more useful? I'd like to know.

18:33

I don't feel like I'm helping enough.

18:40

Suzuki is uncertain about the impact her business is having.

18:44

She wants to see for herself.

18:50

They drive three hours from Phnom Penh to the city of Kampong Cham.

18:58

They arrive at a bamboo-themed resort.

19:07

Thank you for coming.

19:10

The resort is run by the entrepreneur Suzuki was matched with: Thorn Vandong.

19:19

Previously a monk, he decided to become a social entrepreneur in order to create employment for young people.

19:31

He established a vocational school, and accepted young trainees without an education.

19:37

And to generate jobs, he opened this resort focusing on a local product— bamboo.

19:49

The key to addressing social issues
is educating young people.

19:58

Finding jobs that will let them
support themselves and their families.

20:08

Vandong believes that matchmaking has great potential for socially-minded businesses.

20:14

One person's efforts
won't have a big impact.

20:20

Solving problems takes time.

20:25

So people with shared ambitions
should work together.

20:35

Oung Ngunheng is in charge of creating bamboo items for Vandong and Suzuki.

20:41

He splits the work among workshops in three different communities.

20:50

Ah, Heng! Hello!

20:56

At Suzuki's request, Higuchi continues to offer her support.

21:02

The real thing.

21:06

We only met online.

21:07

Higuchi is here to interpret, and to help foster a relationship of mutual trust.

21:15

10 artisans work at this workshop.

21:18

Many support large families by themselves.

21:26

Cambodia's pension system doesn't reach everybody in the country.

21:31

So many elderly people without a job have no income.

21:37

Heng supports a family of seven.

21:39

He hopes that environmentally friendly bamboo products can create jobs for more people.

21:49

First, we prepare the bamboo.

21:50

- Then we if we have no use, we can put here to burn for treatment.
- Oh, burn.

21:56

- And after we deal with the bamboo, like you'll have leftovers.
- Mmm, some parts.

22:02

And, you can make some parts of furniture -

22:06

- And them you can make keychain, you can do anything.
- Oh.

22:10

He said they make large items first,
such as beds.

22:13

That generates offcuts. But they don't
burn them, or dispose of them.

22:20

They use them to make small items,
like keychains.

22:26

Unable to follow the conversation, it was clear that Suzuki felt a little lost.

22:36

But with Higuchi's help, she is gradually able to communicate.

22:48

How has selling products in Japan
affected your life and income?

22:56

Working here has improved
my finances.

23:00

Whatever you want to order,
just let me know!

23:09

That's good to hear.

23:13

Formula is expensive but
I'm providing for my family.

23:19

I see nice comments about
the products on your social media.

23:25

They make me smile.

23:30

One of the artisans, Hun, lives with his wife in a dormitory next to the workshop.

23:39

This single room is their home.

23:51

Hun's wife, Phanna, works as a cook at the bamboo resort.

23:56

For lunch, she makes her special soup.

24:05

Delicious!

24:09

Hun and Phanna both work, so their young baby lives with their parents.

24:14

The couple are only able to see their child once a month.

24:18

Starting a family has given Hun new ambition.

24:24

I want to own my own workshop,
and support my family even more.

24:35

It's Suzuki's first time hearing directly from the workers.

24:41

After taking it all in, she shares her thoughts.

24:48

Everyone works so hard. I was glad
to hear about people's families.

24:55

My aim has been to contribute to
employment, and the environment.

25:03

Now I also want to help out
the artisan's families.

25:11

I hope we both grow, together.

25:17

An encounter made possible by the matchmaking service.

25:21

People with the same goals are able to transcend national and cultural boundaries, and forge resilient bonds.

25:35

Harahata and Higuchi talk about their goals for the future.

25:39

I think we could take on
more projects at once.

25:45

That's something I'd like to work on.

25:49

A match for every
social problem out there.

25:54

I want to keep responding to
needs quickly.

26:04

The pair's circle of collaborators continues to grow.

26:11

Today, entrepreneurs based in the suburbs of Phnom Penh are taking part in a networking event.

26:18

Our team cooperates with a different NGO.

26:24

They are supporting girls (who are victims of) trafficking.

26:29

I want to use my experience to help
farmers sell their produce.

26:36

Everyone here is aiming to address social issues in their own ways.

26:47

Finally, Harahata says a few words.

26:52

Cambodia...

26:54

Cambodia changed my life.

26:55

That's why I really would like to contribute to Cambodia.

26:59

And I really believe even if we have...

27:03

one company and one NGO cannot solve the problem and they cannot make a big impact.

27:08

If we cooperate we can make a big impact.

27:12

Then we can solve all of social problem if we...

27:15

we are gathering; we are cooperating.

27:19

That's why... let's cooperate together.

27:29

Everyone should be able to live their
own life, with a smile on their face.

27:34

That's the world we're working towards.