Ian Cliff – founder of New Leaf, which vision is to support education in Siem Reap province through profits generated by being a high quality dining experiences that offers a “taste of Cambodia”.
Q1: What do you appreciate yourself in the business mainly for?
I don’t know. It’s hard to access the impact that we have broadly. A lot of people use bamboo straw, now. We were first in town to use them. The question for me is: three years ago I made the decision to spend 60000$ setting up the New Leaf. So far we donated 25/30000$ to NGOs. Should I just have donated 60000$ and doing nothing else? Or is the overall impact of what we are doing in terms of providing employment, sourcing responsibly, promoting Cambodia, promoting these things that we have on the tables and everything else bigger? Be one of those in town that champions in environment improvements…is that bigger?
Q2: What is the biggest challenge for you now?
I’ve never set up New Leaf because I like to run a restaurant. That’s a challenge. I like managing the staff. I like getting staff to think. Training them. Feel the sense of pride in where they work. But I don’t really have much time for it now, as I’m involved in other things. Another challenge is to succeed as restaurant in a very competitive place. When we opened there were 200 restaurants in Trip Advisor. Now there are 630. The number of restaurant have increased massively. At the same time tourism was down this year. And that comes back to my point. Unless we are making money and donating money why are we bothering?
Q3: What advice do you have for yourself in this situation?
Success for me will be to increase the amount of money we are donating. Continuing to do the other stuff that we do. Promoting things that are good for the environment. Supporting the NGOs we support. How to do that? It comes down to running a good restaurant. Be more consistent around the food, training the staff better, retaining the good staff. Probably we should promote ourselves better. If you look at any successful restaurant in this town, the owner is working 24 hours a day on it. We don’t have that luxury. But we are doing ok. We are not gonna be number one restaurant in Siem Reap. We don’t dedicate the time to do that. I don’t dedicate the time to do that. In fact, I don’t have the interest in trying to do that.
Would you like to add something more?
I came to Cambodia three years ago, I decided to take a year out of my career in banking, and…I guess I’ve always wanted to explore doing something more positive for the world. So I decided to volunteer in an NGO here. Three weeks after I met Giorgina, and together we agreed why don’t we try up and do something that could be sustainable and support that NGO but also many others. We decided to do a book café and the premise of this book café would be that it donates money to NGOs in Siem Reap. We opened end of July. By that time I had actually come back to my job in banking. We set it up in a way that it was supposed to run itself. We had a lot of problems but, long story short, I quitted my job after three months and decided to come back here permanently.
The questions were asked on our behalf by Anna and Andrea from How to (ex) change the world.
Siem Raep, Cambodia, 5th December 2015