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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Aid mentality creates welfare atmosphere

Aid mentality creates welfare atmosphere

Pierre-Tami-lead-photo
Pierre Tami.

The well-spoken multi-linguistic Pierre Tami comes from the Italian part of Switzerland, serves as the Swiss Consul General and now has a new initiative called “accelerating entrepreneurship: SHIFT360”.

“Aid on its own is not a sustainable solution.  Aid should only be used as a temporary measure.  The economy needs to be stimulated.  People have to be stimulated to be in business.  There is no other way,” Tami said.

“We must see the poor as the center of the situation and see that person empowered and that he can come out of poverty by working,” he said.

Tami arrived in Cambodia in 1990. He returned to Singapore where he had a near-death experience with malaria and came back with his wife and three young daughters to Cambodia and to start the organisation HAGAR to benefit marginalised women and children.  His Christian values internalise the recognition that the treatment of the poor and suffering in any society is a reflection of that society.  Tami is passionate about creating the conditions to transforming people’s lives toward the sustainable, especially women and children.

“We need business to move the country along,” Tami said. “Too much aid creates a welfare mentality and is not sustainable,” he said.

“We believe social enterprises are sustainable because they have to be like a business. My biggest fear is when you don’t have a job, you’re born poor, you’re treated as a loser, the deck is stacked against you.  What about the 300,000 young people who hit the job market every year? What are they going to do?

“A lot of them are without a job and they get into crime and drugs and trouble, and you can easily have social unrest.  We have seen it before.”

No stranger to social unrest, Tami and his family were present during a Phnom Penh tank battle in 1997 as rival forces fired at each other on opposite sides of his house. They had to stay in the bathroom for two days.

“We were well trained. If there was a shooting then you go to a room without windows.”

His strategy is to make friends by building strong and meaningful relationships, with government, private sector and civil society.

“I worked with them, I did not antagonise anyone, not that I agreed with everything was being done, but I accept the fact what I do, this is for survival. To this day, why do I have good relationship with these people?  Purely because we have invested in good relationship with them.

“I’m not here to do politics; I’m here to help women and children, that’s why we built businesses and homes for them. And I have leadership at HAGAR who are still doing good work.  We care for women victims of trafficking, acid attacks, domestic violence; this is the core of business of HAGAR.  We do the NGO stuff at the same time we have fully commercial, fully registered, social enterprise to create jobs for these women and girls.”

Born in Bellinzona, Switzerland, in1958, Tami was the son of a Swiss Army officer and is the youngest of five children.  After four years working for Swissair, he and his his wife Simonetta decided to leave Switzerland in early 1980.

“My wife and I put everything we had to HAGAR, an organisation named for a biblical figure,  an Egyptian servant who worked for Abraham. Hagar was a servant of Abraham and she was cast out from the family, and when she was in the desert God appeared with an angel and said don’t be afraid.”

Tami says the meaning of the word HAGAR is “she was afraid”.

HAGAR now co-owns two businesses, JOMA Coffee and Bakery in Laos and Vietnam as well as Hagar Catering and Facility Management.

When he first came here, Tami conducted 120 interviews with women on the street and asked them why they were on the street begging.  

“These were mothers with their children no one wanted to touch. I asked why they were on the street and they never said because we are poor – but rather we flee and we are afraid.  They said they had been kicked out from their homes, suffered domestic violence which is the usual story even now.  Their husband had a new wife, for example,” he said.

“They were kicked out because of violence and abuse, not because of poverty necessarily.  You ask anywhere in the world, most people are not there because they are poor, but because they flee from violence and abusive situation, and live in great fear.

“We lived off donations, with a small circle of friends from Singapore and prayed that God will send the money.  Today we are a four million dollar organisation, and we receive grants and donations. We are present in Cambodia, Vietnam and Afghanistan,” he said.

While Tami is the founder of HAGAR, it is presently run by CEO Talmage Payne.

Tami’s next big adventure is the launching next year of the Royal academy of Culinary Arts, for which he has with him a Swiss hotel expert Edwin Bucher.

“This is not an NGO, but rather an academy and you have to pay to go there.  This is high end quality professional training to work at restaurants and hotels.”

Regarding his premises also serving at the Swiss Consulate, Tami says it happened because he’s been here for 20 years and made some good relationships along the way.

“I’m the Honorary Consul.  We process visas, but they are issued from Bangkok and we look after Swiss people living in Cambodia or visiting the country”

Tami speaks Italian, German, England, Spanish, Japanese, Khmer and French.

Tami is also setting up a social investment fund called “Shift360” which has the motto “social capital redefined”.

“This fund will allow us to support all kinds of social enterprises, which are defined as commercial businesses that have a financial return and also have a strong social and environment component.  We do make money but we also have a very clear social economic impact.”

With a “Co-Pilot Programe” SHIFT360 will aim to come along side young entrepreneurs and help them build their businesses, create jobs and grow healthy commercial ventures, Tami said.

Tami is a regular visitor to the World Economic Forum  because he was awarded the Social Entrepreneur of the year in 2004. He, along with IBC Chairman Brett Sciaroni has brought Cambodian Government officials to the various WEF forum here in Asia.  Tami also is an active member of the International Business Chamber of Cambodia (IBC) by serving as chairman of the Investment Conference Subcommittee.

One of the reasons Tami is passionate about helping victims of trafficking, physical abuse and acid attacks is because the healing of those horrified women has a beneficial effect on the whole population.

“There is an extreme gravity of physical abuse,” he said.

“I will help a woman become the best cleaning lady and I will train her to be a woman with dignity and hope.  That was part of a strategy where aid is not the outcome; aid is only the first step.  You don’t throw out aid; you still need to care for others.”

Tami says he wants to infuse social enterprises with management and with funds to accelerate social entrepreneurship, “because that is the key to facilitate poverty reduction”.

“Unless the poor have a job, they will remain poor.”

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