Growing local, pesticide-free products and selling them at fair prices directly to customers in an independent city marketplace – this is Saren’s vision. Born and raised in a farming family, Saren wants to enable farmers to support their families, develop their communities in a sustainable manner, and generate local jobs.
With this new social enterprise, BOOKBRIDGE Cambodia is moving beyond the educational sector – “an extraordinary opportunity for our existing Community Heroes," as Country Manager Sokhan Khut says. "They can learn from Saren’s business model and possibly replicate it in their communities.”
Saren was born and raised in Battambong to a farming family, and became inspired by the work of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in this rural community. It was through the support of one such organization that Saren could attain a Bachelor’s degree in Agricultural Economics and Rural Development. After graduating, Saren worked in several NGOs in Siem Reap, running development projects in rural communities, and became aware that despite all the efforts being made in this region, the farmers still have very low incomes. They find it difficult to sell their products for fair prices, while city dwellers find it difficult to get locally grown products that are free of pesticides. Saren sees an opportunity to bridge this gap. “My wish is to help underprivileged people in rural communities by supporting farmers in selling their locally grown products at fair prices and connecting them with markets in the provincial town Siem Reap.”
Saren, share with us three things about yourself.
I enjoy sharing ideas with others. I am happy to give advice and support my friends as much as I can.
Others perceive me as a quiet and serious man, because I prefer to listen and assess rather than to speak.
Nevertheless, I consider myself easy to approach. When I don’t know someone I still smile at them. This invites people to talk to me.
Why did you decide to apply to become a social entrepreneur for BOOKBRIDGE?
My dream is to run a social enterprise to improve the livelihood of farmers in rural Cambodia and to reduce their migration to Thailand in the search for better opportunities. Unfortunately, I don’t have the financial means to start a social enterprise. Happily, I found BOOKBRIDGE, which is connecting me to an impact investor and a team of professionals to support me in setting up my own social enterprise.
What challenges would you like to tackle in your community?
The main challenge is to improve the farmers' livelihood. Because farming offers only a low and unstable income, villagers migrate to cities searching for better income sources and find themselves working in low-skilled jobs. Others migrate to Thailand for several years, often leaving children with their grandparents. In order to improve the farmers' livelihood, we need to solve the challenges they face, including the lack of technical and financial resources, low prices for their products in the current sales channels, and lack of skills and equipment. The high levels of pesticides in farm produce is another problem.
What is your vision?
I envision creating a replicable marketplace where rural farmers can sell local, pesticide-free products at fair prices to customers from the city. By generating local jobs, farmers will have a better and more stable income to support their families and develop their community in an environmentally friendly manner. My idea is to support farmers with training and financial opportunities to start their own farms. I will buy their products to be marketed in a self-owned selling point in Siem Reap. My vision is to expand this project to communities around Cambodia after starting small in Spean Tnaot.
You are about to 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 for your community?
I expect to start a successful social enterprise, with a soft loan from the impact investor to turn my dream into a tangible business.
My expectation is that with the team's support I can design a successful business model and strategy. My wish is that the team will continue to support me, from start-up to the successful implementation.
Where do you see yourself and your social enterprise in one year?
I see myself working hard to support farmers in the community and collaborating with partners to sell farm products. I envision recruiting more farmers to the project, and getting recognition for the enterprise from customers and the community. I also expect the enterprise to start making a return.