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Business School empowers business women in rural Cambodia

24 Dec 2012

It would probably go unnoticed in the affluent West but in Cambodia's poor north-western Battambang Province, the opening of a small business such as a fast food outlet can make a real difference to the economic life of an entire village.

Indeed, one young woman in the Province has long held an ambition to establish a fried chicken business and now, as a graduate of the Female Entrepreneurship Training Project, she is empowered with the skills to do so.

The joint University of Sydney Business School/University of Battambang Project recently completed its first year with a graduation ceremony for 25 women who have acquired the ability to more effectively manage their own businesses and thereby achieve economic independence in a traditionally highly patriarchal society.

The AusAID-funded initiative "Building female entrepreneurial skills for small to medium enterprises (SME) in ASEAN countries" currently operates in Cambodia and Vietnam.

It was developed and implemented by the Business School's Dr Marylouise Caldwell, Dr Paul Henry (who run the Cambodian program) and Dr Richard Seymour (who runs the Vietnam program in collaboration with Vietnam National University - University of Economics & Business).

"We trained those who delivered the five unit courses in entrepreneurship, we developed relationships with companies prepared to mentor the students and we now have our first graduates," said Dr Henry. "This is an extremely pleasing outcome."

Dr Caldwell says she and her colleagues were driven to run the Project by a desire to redress the traditional gender inequality in the business life of Cambodia by equipping women with the entrepreneurial and business skills to participate in the commercial world.

"When it comes to business, gender inequality is rife in Cambodia and throughout the region," said Dr Caldwell. "We set out to harness a lot of the motivation, will and aspirations of the new generation of female entrepreneurs in Cambodia and I think we are succeeding."

Battambang Province has a population of just over a million and a largely agriculture based economy. It is often referred to as the 'Rice Bowl of Cambodia' and, not surprisingly, many of the students submitted, as part of their course work, business plans related to food, food processing and agricultural trade.

One business plan for a travel agency reflected the growing importance of Angkor Wat as an international tourist destination. The ancient temple complex is not far from the provincial capital, the city of Battambang.

"We have decided to select the most promising business plans and provide development assistance," said Dr Henry. "We will also continue to build the research capacity of the University of Battambang to a point where it can in turn contribute to the economic development of the nation."

While Cambodia has made considerable progress over the past 30 years, it remains one of the poorest countries in South East Asia.

For more information, please visit the project webpage.