James – International Communications Coordinator at Friends International, which is a leading social enterprise saving lives and building futures of the most marginalized children & youth, their families and their communities in South East Asia and across the world.
Q1: What do you appreciate yourself in the business mainly for?
Among our social businesses the most successful are restaurants. We are doing that for 12-14 years. A couple of years ago we created a package, we go to other NGOs and give them the know-how to open their own restaurant. We can work together to have this restaurant running. The partnership part is very strong. There are several organization like us, which do the same work. We have an alliance with other organizations from all over the world, doing the same kind of work. We share practices, trainings, we help each other finding funding, so we have bigger impact together. We also have child protection, it is a global child protection movement. We started 10 years ago in Phnom Penh. We knew that child protection was very important part of our work. We gave it back to communities. We train key people in the community to be child protection representative. They know how to react. Most kids, as everywhere, are abused in families. We train people who know the community, in Cambodia they are often tuk tuk drivers which know everything going on. They know when something happens. They know how to respond, where safe places are. We train them every year, they get a certification.
Q2: What is the biggest challenge for you now?
It’s still funding. It’s always there. And then looking for decentralizing our work. We bring children to schools and young people to vocational trainings here. It doesn’t make sense. We should put services directly there, in their communities. Also not having groups of volunteers starting from here every day, but being just there. We already have two centers, one not so far from here, another one close to the airport and they offer vocation trainings there. We want to get away from that centralized idea.
Q3: What advice do you have for yourself in this situation?
To be honest we always say we don’t want to be here. We want everything be done by locals, with local resources and tools functioning, so they don’t need foreigners anymore. I don’t know how long it will take. I guess 21 years ago the funders wouldn’t believe they are still doing that. Some of things are already fully addressed. Hopefully working with many partners will address other things.
Would you like to add something more?
Friends International is a social enterprise founded 21 years ago in Phnom Penh with the aim of reintegrating marginalized children back to society. By marginalized we mean streets children, children with no access to education and health care, maybe some problems in family. The reason is that 21 years ago Cambodia was really struggling with those things and the founders, young people who travelled the world themselves, came here. Millions of dollars were coming to the country after the conflict but there were many kids still sleeping on the street. They were angry that there is so much investment in the country but nothing changed for those children. At the beginning there were three of them, the founders, and they had social business background. They wanted to find a sustainable solution, not fully dependent on donors, which are fantastic, but sometimes they change their priorities. And with the social business idea you not only make things sustainable, but also provide jobs to people. We have tailors, restaurants, garage with mechanics, we have a construction team to set up air-con, basically it is all things which the Cambodian market needs. We ensure that the trainings organized for young people fit the job offers. But the first thing we need to do is to get people involved in our programs. Every day 60+ people take a motorbike and go around the city in small teams. Every team has a social worker, a doctor, people dealing with drug addictions and they provide direct services. And this saves lives. We teach them how to take care about themselves, we do non-formal education, we do sexual education, give them condoms. We also work with young drug addicts, we are the only organization in Cambodia which has the license to provide clean needles to drug users. Ultimately, we want them to join our program, to go out of drugs, but while they are using it we take safer options for them. We have also a center open 24/7 were people can go. So our work is about building relations, finding out why they are in this point of life. Most often there are families involved, only a tiny percent have no parents. Sometimes they are separated from parents. Every situation is different.
The questions were asked on our behalf by Anna and Andrea from How to (ex) change the world.
Phnom Penh, Cambodia, 14th Noember 2015