Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Market-based approach to development

Market-based approach to development

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
WaterSHED executive director Phav Daroath at the NGO’s headquarters in Phnom Penh last month. Hong Menea

Market-based approach to development

Phav Daroath recently became the first Cambodian to be selected for the Forbes 30 Under 30 Asia list for social entrepreneurship. The Post’s Matthieu de Gaudemar sat down with Daroath, the executive director of the local nonprofit organisation WaterSHED, to talk about the value of market-based solutions for solving the country’s social problems.

Can you describe what WaterSHED does?
WaterSHED is an NGO that is trying to use a business approach to tackle sanitation issues in Cambodia. In a developed country, if you want to buy a toilet you can just go to the shop.

However, it is not so simple in Cambodia, especially in rural areas. Our job is to work with local sanitation businesses to help them develop solutions that they can sell to Cambodian villagers. We work with suppliers, and we also work with local authorities, both in Cambodia and Vietnam.

What is the role of social entrepreneurship and how can it help solve Cambodia’s developmental problems?
Social entrepreneurship is very important, because broadly speaking, it is using a business approach to solve a social issue. In many countries you see civil society and the government working to tackle social issues. But that is not enough because there are many complex issues that the government cannot solve, especially when we consider the need for cost effectiveness.

Organisations that take donations and give them away are not cost effective. When we bring social entrepreneurship into the mix, it allows for the implementation of a number of cost effective solutions to solve various problems.

With WaterSHED, for example, we have been working to provide 150,000 latrines in Cambodia and spending much smaller amounts of money to do so than with a donation-based model. Cost effectiveness is a major advantage of this approach. I believe that a lot of other areas can better solve their problems by also using a business approach.

Are enough Cambodians looking to solve certain issues through social entrepreneurship?
I think getting recognition from Forbes can help inspire more Cambodians to use innovative approaches when thinking about social issues. This is an example for them to see that they can use a business approach, and not just in the private sector but also in the NGO sector.

For WaterSHED, when we first started this programme, people did not believe that we should use a business approach to solve the sanitation problem in Cambodia because they had never tried doing it this way. But after we started implementing these market-based solutions, we saw a big success. I believe that now we can be an example of how a business approach can be used to solve social issues.

Should more NGOs adopt this approach instead of aid-based initiatives?
We cannot say that one approach will solve everything and that we should stop giving away aid. In Cambodia, the poorest still need the support of NGOs, so we still need to have traditional aid-based programmes. We also need to combine that with social entrepreneurship.

At the same time, I think that entrepreneurship can be used more widely. People initially thought that rural Cambodians were too poor to buy their own toilets, but actually we’ve shown that they are able to buy them and that a business approach works even for very poor people.

Has Cambodia been too dependent on aid?
In the past several decades, Cambodia really needed the support of aid and international organisations. Now, I would say aid is still important, but we need to look at how we can use more modern and innovative approaches for distributing funding and aid. I think we need to work with the government to help reduce social entrepreneurship costs as well as get people to understand how important it can be for solving the country’s most important issues.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity

MOST VIEWED

  • Hungarian exposes 90 to Covid in Siem Reap

    The Ministry of Health has discovered 90 people who have been exposed directly or indirectly to a Hungarian man infected with Covid-19. They all are required to quarantine at home and the hospital. The ministry is searching for other affected people. Among the 90, one is the

  • PM: West unfair to Cambodia

    Prime Minister Hun Sen released a message celebrating the International Day of Peace on Monday, saying that some major powers and western countries had been systemically cooperating to put political pressure on Cambodia as they did in the 1970s and 1980s. Hun Sen said pressuring

  • PM warns of ‘new Cold War’

    Prime Minister Hun Sen said the possibility of a so-called new Cold War has become a significant concern and that all countries have to reject outright, any attempt to allow history to tragically repeat itself. He made the remarks in a speech during 75th Session

  • ‘Bad news is an investor’s best friend’ – unlocking investment potential in Cambodia

    It is time to shop. Economic woes provide good pickings for investors if they know where to look The poem If, written by English Nobel laureate poet and novelist Rudyard Kipling for his son circa 1895, is widely perceived as fatherly advice for John who would

  • PM requests Russia’s Covid vaccine

    Prime Minister Hun Sen has requested that Russia provide Cambodia with its Covid-19 vaccine after the former announced it planned on mass vaccinating its population next month. The request came on Thursday through the prime minister’s Facebook page as he met with Anatoly Borovik,

  • First ‘mobile kitchen’ in Cambodia enters service

    A catering company recently rolled out Cambodia’s first “mobile kitchen” – a $50,000 container capable of serving up to 200 people at a time. The kitchen is the brainchild of Seng Hok Heng Catering Services. At 4.4m-high, 6.8m-long and 2.4m-wide (expandable to 6.8m), the kitchen is equipped