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Inspiring Cambodians to turn waste into money

Rithy dreamed of becoming an engineer, but life took him on a different path to study Khmer literature. He built a career in the academic sector, and gained two master’s degrees in Europe. Rithy always looked for opportunities that led him to the fields of science and technology. In pursuit of his passion, he switched to a part-time job and gained knowledge in the social enterprise field. While participating in a training course on human rights in Sweden, he felt inspired by Swedish upcycling business models. Rithy wants to set-up an upcycling business in Cambodia through a BOOKBRIDGE capability program. This is his impact story.

“I found what I love to do and it’s time to get it started to achieve my life goal,” says Rithy.

Rithy was born in Kandal province in Phnom Penh and has spent most of his life there. Recently, he moved to live and work in Preaek Kampeus, Cambodia, on the outskirts of the capital city. His workshop is there, around 20 km from the city center, and only 4 km from Choeung Ek landfill.

About Rithy

Rithy, share three things people should know about you.

  • I consider myself a technocracy advocate. I believe that everything in the modern world should be done using well-established tools, approaches, and methods. I have a very interdisciplinary academic and professional background.

  • I feel inspired by the philosophy of liberalism. I believe that all human beings are equal and have the capacity to make progress for themselves and others.

  • I always joke and make people around me laugh all the time. Students like to study with me because I am constantly entertaining them. I especially like writing funny stories.

Why did you decide to apply as a social entrepreneur for BOOKBRIDGE’s Capability Program?

The most important reason is that BOOKBRIDGE helps and supports me to set up the upcycling social enterprise and supports me with financial and technical resources on this significant business journey. I think that BOOKBRIDGE and I are on the same path to the same destination. BOOKBRIDGE has been passionately and enthusiastically supporting many individuals, enterprises, and communities in different parts of the world, to promote positive change through innovative social entrepreneurship and by strengthening an agile and purpose-driven culture. I see this as an opportunity to introduce my project to a wider community.

What is your vision?

I aim to promote the environment and energy saving among low- and medium-income families in different Cambodian communities through cheaper and eco-friendly products made from waste materials. That way, I will create better opportunities for waste pickers’ families and local low-skilled workers living around landfills.

I envision:

  1. Producing a range of good quality household products made from waste materials at affordable prices that reduce energy consumption for households concentrated in suburban areas.

  2. Providing waste pickers living around the landfills with an opportunity to earn an additional income by utilizing waste.

  3. Creating additional job opportunities for low-skilled local workers.

  4. Changing the mindset of younger generations who don’t see the value of waste-related businesses.

I strongly believe that the upcycling business is one of the best ways to promote innovation, technocracy, creativity, and freedom to Cambodian society. I want to offer accessible, eco-friendly, reusable products to promote and adopt a lifestyle that revolves around sustainable development and social responsibility. I want to inspire Cambodians to transform waste no matter what their economic status is. I believe that if there are innovative ideas, technical innovation, creativity and determination, Cambodians can create something better that offers quality and functionality.

I strongly believe that if Cambodians enjoy economic freedom through better jobs, income and working conditions, they are more independent. They can therefore enjoy their freedom with their family and in society and have key roles in the economy.

Through my social enterprise I will contribute to capacity building in my community and create space for progress through entrepreneurship. I believe in creating an environment that provides opportunities for underprivileged communities in particular. Following the principles of social responsibility, when a social enterprise thrives, its employees prosper too. I personally believe that creating a positive environment for the growth of social enterprise, prevalence of labor rights, social responsibility, and sustainable business growth based on democratic values and human rights can widen opportunities for equality and inclusiveness for Cambodians, especially the most vulnerable and marginalized.

Area near Choeung Ek Landfill
Mountains of waste - Choeung Ek Landfill

What challenges would you like to tackle in your community?

The modernization of Cambodia and the urbanization of its capital city is generating tons of waste. The government cannot solve this problem alone. There is a lack of waste recycling capacity and technology in the country.

There are two pressing challenges I want to tackle. Urban waste which creates many environmental problems for people and the environment. While the Cambodian government has no adequate mechanism for waste management, I plan to reduce waste through upcycling. The second challenge is that underprivileged people in my community have very poor skills and low access to jobs, so they have to face a lot of economic hardship and discrimination.

Community in Preak Kampeus

You will start a six-month learning journey with a team of professionals and local counterparts. What do you expect to get out of the program for yourself and your community?

My expectation is that I will receive support from BOOKBRIDGE in terms of capacity building, guidance, resources, and community support. I think that by joining BOOKBRIDGE, I will be connected to a wider community of experts who share my core values, vision, and interests. From there, I will have the opportunity to meet many talented, dedicated, and skillful people from different parts of the world. Above all, I strongly believe that the support from those professional and local counterparts will enable me to set up and run my social enterprise successfully and expand it for the benefit of all, especially the local community.

Where do you see yourself and your social enterprise in one year?

I hope that my upcycling business will capture market share, gain wider recognition and reputation from the public, and attract more support from different stakeholders. Most importantly, I envision expanding production capacity by 60 people. I want to make sure that my social enterprise has good conditions to be profitable so I can start paying back the initial investment received as a soft loan.

Are you passionate about social impact? Are you willing to step out of your comfort zone like Rithy? Do you believe in leading others effectively? If you are a motivated professional, with solid spoken English and at least two years of post-graduate experience, join us in our 20th jubilee program 🌟, to support more social entrepreneurs like Rithy, click here.


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