Small is beautiful – Cambodia – Asia Series

Written by: Alberto Cremonesi, Board of Directors, Impact Hub 

One of the smallest countries in South East Asia – with a total population of 16 million – over the past two decades Cambodia has undergone a significant transition, reaching lower middle-income status in 2015. 

While poverty continues to fall – the poverty rate in 2014 was 13.5% compared to 47.8% in 2007 – approximately 30% of the population, or around 4.5 million people, remain near-poor and vulnerable to falling back into poverty when exposed to economic and other external shocks. Health and education remain the biggest challenges, and reforms are needed to foster the country’s competitiveness, sustainably manage natural resource wealth and improve access to and quality of public services.  

Cambodia sustained an impressive average GDP growth rate of 6.6% in the decade between 2007- 2017 and projections for 2019 and 2020 remain very strong.

Because of its troubled past during the Khmer Rouge regime, Cambodia witnessed a boom in the number of international non-governmental organisations (NGOs) entering the country in the early 90s. Foreign aid was for two decades the main vehicle for development, while the number of NGOs grew to about 5,000. But as the country slowly got back onto its feet and gained a certain degree of economic independence, the flow of international development aid significantly decreased – pushing the existing NGOs to experiment by diversifying their revenue streams and to pursue alternative ways of achieving their social objectives, eventually partially adopting the social enterprise model.

Today, the social economy in Cambodia is still in its infancy but, with increasing interest from social investors and intermediaries, it presents significant growth potential. According to AVPN’s country report, Cambodia attracted 45% of all private impact investment capital deployed in Southeast Asia between 2007- 2017. Corporate venturing is burgeoning, with more and more actors entering the scene. Incubators and accelerators are growing in number and quality, and providing support to a growing pool of locally lead social ventures. 

A bright future ahead?…

About the author:

Alberto is a member of the Board of Directors of Impact Hub Global Network and the founder of Impact Hub Phnom Penh. His focus is on the field of social entrepreneurship and social innovation, non-for-profit management and corporate non-market strategies. He is particularly interested in understanding the processes through which entrepreneurs construct new models and markets, and the growth and scaling up processes of new ventures in order to maximize economic and social impact. Alberto has been living and working in Asia for over 15 years. 

Alberto holds an executive MBA from IE Business School. In life, he continues his quest to find the perfect espresso coffee outside of Italy.

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