Written by Celia Boyd, SHE’s co-founder and Managing Director
This International Women’s Day 2020 is a perfect time for SHE Investments to celebrate. Not only is it a month to celebrate gender equality, but it is also our 5th birthday as an organisation: this month we are celebrating 5 years of impact for women and communities in Cambodia.
This month is 7 years since the day that our co-founder, James, turned to me and said, “I have an idea”.
All businesses start with an idea. An entrepreneur is someone who takes that idea and turns it into something; someone who takes that first step. Taking that first step is scary, but courageous, and so we understand that the women we work with are already inspiring and powerful individuals because they have taken that first step.
Starting and growing a business is probably the hardest, but most rewarding thing I have ever experienced. I am incredibly lucky to have been able to do this alongside my 2 co-founders, James Wilson and Lida Loem, and today we find ourselves surrounded by a team of incredible men and women who share a vision for a world where investing in women is seen as opportunity, not charity, and who work so hard every day towards making this vision a reality.
It is also important to acknowledge the privilege that I, as a white Australian woman hold, and which has no doubt aided me in starting and leading SHE. Our mission at SHE is to support women who do not experience the same privilege, but who nonetheless deserve to have access to all of the resources they need to scale their businesses, so they can go on to create more impact for their families and communities.
The entrepreneurs we support are hard-working, inspiring, and amazing women that I am humbled to have the opportunity to work with. At SHE, we often say that we are not successful until they are successful; and we will keep working towards this and supporting them until they reach their goals.
This month on 6th March we celebrated by holding our annual SHE Conference, an event that we have held almost annually, since our first year of operation in 2015. Now 5 years on, I am thrilled that on 6th March we brought together more than 350 people to celebrate International Women’s Day, and the impact we have made together as a community.
5 years since our first pilot programs were designed and delivered by a tiny team of 3 in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, we are now delivering programs across the country – and for the first time in 2020, even outside of the country.
To date, almost 300 women have been through our business incubator and accelerator programs, Cambodia’s first and only gender-focused and culturally tailored incubators and accelerators, which are all delivered by amazing Khmer women, in Khmer language. On top of this, thousands of people over the past few years have joined our various other workshops, programs and events, designed to support women-led, micro-small enterprises to scale.
Our graduates are creating real impact for their families and their communities. Collectively, they have increased their revenue by more than $3 million, which is more than 3x the investment that was put into their training. They have created hundreds of new jobs, provided hundreds of families with access to incomes, clean energy, vocational training, and other forms of support to enable local economies to grow.
This year, we are excited to scale our impact further. We are very excited to welcome our new Advisory Board, made up of inspiring industry experts from across the globe. We are also welcoming new team members based in provinces, who will directly support women across Siem Reap, Battambang, Kampong Cham, and Kampot. We will work with our first international partners to create a business incubator designed for women running micro-enterprises in Myanmar. We will connect our first Investment Readiness graduates to investors, and continue to grow our pipeline of women-led, investment ready enterprises. We will introduce new technology and tools to enable more women to access our programs and support, whether they live in Phnom Penh or in the most rural villages.
No one can achieve anything alone. There are many individuals and organisations that have supported SHE since our birth 5 years ago, and we are lucky that it is far too many people to be able to thank in one post.
So, as a summary:
We were able to start this work because of a small group of people, family, friends and strangers, who contributed to a crowdfunding campaign we ran in 2015, which enabled us to launch our pilot programs. Our families in particular have been an incredible support to us as co-founders over the past 5+ years.
We were able to run our second pilot programs and grow our tiny team of 3 to 5 people from late 2015, thanks to the first organisations that believed in us and granted us funding to deliver several more Incubator programs throughout 2016, as well as launch our first ever Accelerator Program; The Vasudhara Foundation and the English Family Foundation.
We are able to continue this work because of our amazing partners, who believe in us and who are committed to working with us to achieve our shared goals. We have been lucky to work with incredible organisations such as UN agencies, local and international NGOs, and government aid agencies over the past 5 years.
I would like to thank all of our partners, and notably the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, who have been strong supporters particularly over the past couple of years, and who we are excited to continue working with in the future.
Major partners over the past 2-3 years who have enabled us to pilot new and innovative solutions for businesses that have the potential to scale, register, and become investment-ready, are Thriive and the British Embassy in Cambodia. Thanks to these partners and their belief in us, we are excited to have a pipeline of women-led, investment-ready enterprises emerging from our programs, with the first investment being made in 2020.
I would like to say a special thank you also to USAID. Since late 2016 we have worked with USAID partners, starting with Development Innovations and more recently the WeACT project, by Pact Cambodia. USAID has supported our work since we were a very small team, working from a tiny one-room office, and their support has played an enormous role in enabling us to scale up our programs and our impact, and resulting in hundreds more women having the opportunity to access our services, as well as launch initiatives such as Cambodia’s first Business Information and eLearning Platform, Ngeay Ngeay.
From 2019, we began preparing to scale to other provinces of Cambodia, and for that I would like to thank the Dutch Good Growth Fund, on behalf of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the Netherlands, who have recognised our potential and invested in our growth, so that SHE’s services will be available to women across the country from 2021. We are beyond excited and grateful to be have the opportunity to partner with DGGF.
I would like to thank our sponsors for making the 2020 SHE Conference event and celebration possible; WeACT, as our key partner; and BRED Bank and PPC Bank, as our sponsors. And all 3 of which are advocates for the potential of women-led businesses in Cambodia.
And finally, I would like to thank 2 special groups of people:
We are able to continue this work because of the incredible team we have built; 27 individuals who are passionate, talented, and dedicated to our mission. An idea or a founder with no passionate team working with them is still just an idea, and the amazing people we work with every day at our offices are the people that actually make this work happen.
Second, and finally: We are able to continue this work because of the women that continue to participate in our programs, give us the honour of supporting them, and who continue to support other Cambodian women too. You inspire us every single day with your perseverance, passion, and courage.
Thank you once again to everyone who has made SHE possible; to help take us from an idea, to a pilot, to a startup, to an established and growing organisation.
It’s been almost 7 years since an idea was born, and there have been many bumps along the way, but I have never been more confident in our shared vision and belief that investing in women is an opportunity, and not an act of charity.
Co-Founder & Managing Director, SHE Investments