3rd National Social Enterprise Conference of Cambodia

HDR candidate Isaac Lyne blogs about his attendance at the National Social Enterprise Conference of Cambodia.

By Isaac Lyne

20 December 2013 

In Cambodia social enterprise has a highly specific context. The context of weak markets, weak welfare and a weak culture of mutualism tends to result in social enterprise being reliant on Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) with a low impact in general on social inclusion1.

This seems to be true in Cambodia which has among the highest concentrations of NGOs globally in proportion to its population2. While social enterprise succeeded in the capital Phnom Penh City, particularly on vocational training for street youth and vulnerable women, it has not penetrated deeply into rural communities despite some notable endeavours to improve farmer incomes and access to solar electricity and bio-gas. Moreover, in 'more developed' countries we expect to see social enterprises as a vast accumulation of small community based entities3 but in Cambodia most of the well-known social enterprise is initiated by expatriate organisations4. The question then is how to foster a social economy which is characterised much more by Cambodian social entrepreneurs and which has much wider outreach than that which can be realised by a relatively small number of organisations.

The National Social Enterprise Conference of Cambodia emanated from a 2009-12 program funded by the British Council to develop greater understanding of social enterprise through postgraduate tuition, research and capacity building. For four consecutive years, I have delivered the postgraduate module, 'Social Enterprise and Non-Profit Management' for development studies students at the Royal University of Phnom Penh, many of whom work for NGOs and are seeking to explore new ways of achieving their objectives. I have also helped to coordinate the Social Enterprise Conference since 2011. In 2013, in the absence of funds from the British Council, the conference was funded by a Dutch organisation called 'Investing in Children and their Societies'.

This year, the conference was held on October 25 and was attended by 400 students, academics, representatives of social enterprise and the private sector, and by development practitioners. The conference featured concurrent discussion sessions in the morning, featuring 16 presentations from social enterprises focused on vocational training, ICT, sustainable energies and agriculture. The afternoon featured break-out workshops.

I delivered one of these workshops as part of my PhD research. The workshop was entitled 'Asset Based Community Development and Capacity Building for Social Enterprise', and was attended by 80 participants, including members of my action research collective who had travelled with me from their villages in Kampong Cham, 125 kilometres to Phnom Penh.

I sensed that my research team enjoyed the whole journey and felt comfortable in these new surroundings. It was (I hope) another step towards their self-recognition as market and social researchers. I am now partnering with two NGOs to help them recognise business opportunities out of their own work and to document 'assets' in their locality.  

More information about the Social Enterprise Conference of Cambodia can be found on the Royal University of Phnom Penh website (opens in a new window). 

 Isaac Lyne standing at lectern presenting in front of an audience 


Amin, A 2009, 'Locating the Social Economy', in A Amin (ed.), The Social Economy: International Perspectives on Economic Solidarity, Zed Books, London, pp. 3-21.  

Frewer, T 2013, 'Doing NGO Work: the politics of being 'civil society' and promoting 'good governance' in Cambodia', Australian Geographer, vol. 44, no. 1, pp. 97-114.

Haugh, H 2005, 'A research agenda for social entrepreneurship', Social Enterprise Journal, vol. 1, no. 1, pp. 1-12.

4 Lyne, I 2012, 'Social Enterprise and Social Entrepreneurship as Models of Sustainability for Local NGO's: Learning from Cambodia', International Journal for Management Research, vol. 2, no. 1, pp. 1-6. 

Isaac Lyne standing behind a lectern giving a presentation

Watch Isaac Lyne's full presentation on YouTube.