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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Women entrepreneurs meet at Raffles on Easter Sunday

Women entrepreneurs meet at Raffles on Easter Sunday

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CWEA President Seng Takakveary, left, with member Lim Bopha. Photograph: Stuart Alan Becker/Phnom Penh Post

The Cambodian Women Entrepreneur’s Association will hold their first annual meeting and Gala Dinner on Easter Sunday at Raffles Le Royal Hotel.

According to CWEA president Seng Takakneary, the public is invited to attend and tickets are available for purchase at the CWEA office on the third floor of the AnAnA building at number 95 Norodom Boulevard or Villa Salt Boutique Hotel at number 4 Street 294 in BKK1. The cost is $45 per person and anyone may attend.

Registration for the event starts at 2:30pm followed by an agenda for CWEA’s annual general meeting. At 3pm, CWEA president Seng Takaneary will give an opening speech followed by a presentation of CWEA’s projects and achievements during 2012.

General Secretary Doung Chhorvivann will give a report, followed by Kham Sophannary’s treasurer’s report and an action plan by Ed Sophara and CWEA group photos.

All during the day from noon to 10pm there will be a Women’s Products Fair.

Registration for the Gala dinner will take place from 5:30 to 6:30 when Dr Ing Kuntha Phavy, Minister for Women’s Affairs, will arrive for the event followed by a blessing dance, an opening speech by President Seng Takaneary, a welcoming speech by Dr Ing Kuntha Phavy and the presentation of key CWEA achievements of 2012 and the action plan for 2013.

Remarks will be given by Ek Sopheara, as well as sponsors Coca-Cola and ACLEDA Bank. At 7:50 the dinner and fashion show begins, lasting for an estimated two hours until 9:50 when the CWEA president Seng Takaneary will give the closing remarks.

CWEA President Seng Takakneary and Lim Bopha of CWEA’s communications committee sat down for a conversation earlier this month about the activities and origins for the CWEA.

Formed in October 2011, launched and opened to the public March 17, 2013, CWEA has grown from 14 members to 120 today, meeting once a month and supported by sponsors including Coca-Cola and ACLEDA Bank as well as the Finland Embassy in Thailand.

“At least I can help women to be confident to have economic power in the family and can have some decision making. Before women were too shy, and now they can come out,” she said.

She met Hillary Clinton when she visited Cambodia.

Seng Takakneary, nickname Neary, served as secretary for the Japanese Itochu trading firm starting in 1991, and was lucky to be sent to learn the trading business, helping translate between Japan and Cambodia for agreements between the governments.

She grew up in Phnom Penh and survived the Khmer Rouge regime in Takeo province. She’s the fourth of six children in the family. Her father had been a literature professor.

Seng Takakneary went through a difficult period of struggling to provide for her family after the liberation in 1979, carrying buttons, needles and thread door to door and selling them from a basket on her head. Sometimes her customers paid with rice, which she took back for her family to eat.

After saving money for a few years, she opened a small stand in O’Russey Market and saved money for night school.

She secretly learned English, which at the time was not allowed because Cambodia was in the Soviet sphere of influence. Learning English illegally paid off for her however, and she was able to use those language skills when the Japanese first started coming to Cambodia in 1991.

Through a friend in the Ministry of Commerce, and later during seven years with the Japanese trading company, she helped Japanese investors make relationships with Cambodian ministers, using her hard-won English skills.

Seng Takakneary’s advice to young Cambodians is to make something of themselves by learning skills like English.

“If you want to overcome your poor family, you have to use the education to help you grow, to help you stand up. Without speaking English I would never have a chance to come up this way.”

She later worked for the RHAC NGO, an organisation to supported health especially for young mothers. She opened clinics in six provinces around Cambodia.

Later in those same provinces, she set up silk weaving operations and now she employs more than 200 silk weavers in Takeo province. She also has a very successful silk products fashion outlet and distributes to more than 14 countries.

Her company makes uniforms for 14 banks, two airlines, The Royal Group and some hotels, restaurants and casinos.

She also owns the Villa Salt boutique hotel and apartments on Street 294 just west of Norodom Boulevard, as well as a quarterly magazine focusing on silk and promoting women’s entrepreneurship.

Her silk operation is called Santos Silk Exchange. In total she employs more than 300 people.

CWEA Communications director Lim Bopha will head a group of 15 CWEA members on a trip to Long Beach, California, on May 2, for a Cambodian Cultural Exhibition, something she’s excited about.

Lim Botha’s father was a famous Cambodian medicine man named Lim Thor and she remains deeply grateful to his memory for his wisdom and tactics of survival during the Poll Pot regime. He lived to be 102 years old. She remembers him facing down Khmer Rouge soldiers and telling them: “If you kill me, you kill Cambodian medicine.” Lim treats her father’s legacy with great reverence.

Born in Phnom Penh in 1959, Lim Bopha lived in the area of what is now the Hotel InterContinental.

Lim said her father knew exactly when he would pass away. She took care of him until he died. “He made me strong and taught me how to do things in the good way, and the good way will feed back to us.” The gem of wisdom from her father is: “Know what you are. You have to understand yourself before you can know other people.” Another one is: “Your heart is more than money. Know your heart first. Money is important, but heart is more important.”

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