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Revisiting Impact: 10 Years Later in Cambodia

Over 90% of the social enterprises developed in our action learning programs remain operational even after a decade. This includes Jens' social enterprise in Cambodia, which he co-created during our inaugural General Management Plus Program in collaboration with WHU in 2014. To mark its 10th anniversary, Jens visited Cambodia to observe the positive influence his educational center has had.

Jens, it's been 10 years since you took part in our program. What do you remember most?

"The memories are manifold, starting with hours of preparation at WHU in Düsseldorf, the initially seemingly insurmountable problems in the search for a suitable building and a local community member to run our learning center on site, the many moments of happiness in achieving some of the sub-goals and finally the final "brushstrokes" on site and the opening and handover of the Learning Center to the community and the children. The many interactions with our social entrepreneur Vannak, the investor pitch and simply the fact that the team is still in contact after so many years are things that make me happy and move me. "

Jens meets the children at the learning center
The children at the learning center with Jens (back in the middle)

The program was a learning experience for you and the team. What have you been able to put into practice in your everyday life?

"Planning is essential, but not everything. Theory and reality often diverge and the ability and openness to change course quickly, pragmatically and, above all, in a goal-oriented way remains formative and present for me in my everyday life, both privately and professionally. In addition, I often ask myself in which cases a pragmatic solution is the right one instead of a dogmatic solution, especially as I am personally more dogmatic, i.e. I tend to look for stringency and the resulting stability rather than simple functionalities. That would certainly have been a failure in this project."

How have you stayed in touch with your social enterprise over the last 10 years? What moments do you remember the most?

"I attended a few calls, especially at the beginning, but this has diminished over time. I followed the reports from Vannak and was also networked on social media when I was still active there. I did a few fundraisers for birthdays to help those who were struggling to afford to attend even with what we considered low fees. It was nice to see that some friends and acquaintances also set up the piggy bank for "my" project on birthdays. It was nice to see how something like that resonates and is well received."

Children take their seats outside as celebrations for the 10 year anniversary of Tonloab Learning Center start
Celebrating 10 years at Tonloab Learning Center

In April 2024, you visited your social enterprise in Cambodia again for the first time after ten years. How was your experience?

"A lot has changed in Cambodia in ten years, which is already obvious from the air when approaching Phnom Penh. Ten years ago, it felt like there were a handful of high-rise buildings, today there are a lot of finished ones and it feels like there are even more unfinished ones. Many more cars instead of tuck tucks and mopeds that dominated back then. On the way to our village Tonloab, everything felt the same, except for the many new vehicles and the better roads. Fields, huts, people - everything along the roads was unchanged. Tonloab itself has also changed a lot, some of the very poor dwellings from back then have given way to quite impressive houses, and next to our learning center there is now a brand new school instead of the dilapidated one. The people themselves have not changed, the children are as lively as ever and, despite the sweltering heat, are able to enjoy life with boundless energy. In that respect, everything is the same.

Our learning center is now getting a bit long in the tooth and despite continuous maintenance, it needs an "investment in the future". It doesn't take much to secure the next ten years and leave Vannak its reserves so that it can invest in innovation rather than renovation. In general, every moment you spend in Cambodia is an experience for me. The impressions are "exotic" and that alone makes them remarkable. However, I also noticed that the traditional and very respectful greeting with joined hands at different heights is obviously no longer practiced intensively. However, it is still reciprocated if you start doing it yourself, but it seems rather strange."

What do you take away from your visit to Cambodia?

"Just like back then, my visit to Cambodia has grounded me and I am grateful to be able to make my small contribution to something meaningful for the local population. There are now more than 2,000 children who have benefitted from our learning center over the years. I have met some of the "first hour" who studied there ten years ago and now work in administration, run a store in Siem Reap or even work as teachers at the learning center themselves. If we have succeeded in increasing the chances of a job and a regular income through education, this contributes enormously to family stability and we can be sure that the children of those who were able to benefit from the learning center themselves will certainly also enjoy a better education. This is the desired multiplier effect that bears fruit over generations. It makes me happy and also a little proud to be able to be there and now, after my visit, to be able to pass on fresh impressions and stories. That also has an effect here on site - not only do you see things a little differently yourself, you are also seen differently."

Remembering the opening of Tonloab Learning Center in 2014
Remembering the opening of Tonloab Learning Center in 2014


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