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NGOs being forced to help themselves

091204_sr17
Staff member Yourn Pholla outside The Global Child’s ailing one suite hotel, La Petite Indochine.

The world can't sustain ngos, so they need to somehow get sustainable

Innovative business ideas are a necessity for many Siem Reap non-profit organisations in the wake of the financial crisis. With donor money drying up, a lack of funding has prompted many NGOs to create new jobs and explore new, more sustainable ways to remain afloat and financially viable.

William Haynes-Morrow, programme director of Temple Garden Foundation, has worked in rural community development for four years. He trained as a director of canvass offices for Fund for Public Interest Research in the US, a resource for organisations like Greenpeace and Amnesty International. He sees several obstacles to the marriage of NGO activities with business activities.

“It’s a good idea because the world can’t sustain NGOs in the long term, so they should somehow get financially sustainable,” he said. “But I think they need to be very realistic about how they go about it, because it’s not normal practice for an NGO to behave the way that a business does. They really need to adjust, and it’s not normally in their range of expertise,” he said.

Haynes-Morrow estimates a third of NGOs in Siem Reap have made entrepreneurial attempts in recent years. Many such ventures simply vanish, but some manage to make it work. He named NGO restaurant Friends in Phnom Penh as a successful example.

One Siem Reap NGO that has struggled is The Global Child. Despite successful and innovative donor fund-driven projects, their two externally-funded businesses are working to solve difficulties.

Business director Nimol Pon admitted their high-end boutique hotel in the Alley, comprising one luxurious four-floor suite, has not hosted a guest, other than CEO Judith Wheeler, since opening in October 2008.

She said the businesses were proposed for training interested students and to encourage financial independence.

“But I’ve never had experience in marketing with hotels, especially high-end hotels,” Nimol Pon lamented. “This month we’ll be joined by a financial intern and an experienced Swiss volunteer, Dina Peter, as a senior consultant. We may also talk to other small, local hotels about overbooking if they don’t think we are competitors.”

The Global Child’s café, Joe-To-Go, opened in January 2007 and after a few adjustments started making money. Then, almost a year ago, the landlord unexpectedly reclaimed the building. A new, improved version is due to open at the end of the year.

It is expected be profitable thanks to more space, says Nimol Pon. “We will try to find products made in Cambodia, especially from the local NGOs, to sell in our boutique on the first floor,” she added. And now they have added staff and time, “we are able to give greater attention to our two social businesses.”

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