In Cambodia, roughly 60 per cent of businesses are run by women, among which, 26 per cent of businesses classified as small or medium, and 62 per cent of those classified as micro-sized, are women led. One of the greatest challenges Cambodian women micro-entrepreneurs face is understanding and accessing finance, with limited collateral, low digital literacy and few financial records. Against a backdrop of widespread over-indebtedness, these business owners face an uphill battle to success. In addition to a lack of access to formal credit, many women entrepreneurs in Cambodia face educational and social barriers, and a lack of business support and training.
SHE Investments, the first gender-focused, culturally tailored incubator for women-owned micro-small businesses in Cambodia, is seeking to tackle these obstacles. Launched in 2015, the social enterprise offers a range of business incubators, accelerators, and investment-readiness programmes designed specifically for women micro-entrepreneurs. The company has also introduced innovative digital tools to help women improve their financial management.
“When we started there weren’t any trainings using a gender lens, so that became our pick-up point to design curricula and training to match these women’s needs,” said Keolydeth Hun, SHE’s deputy head of communications and digital products.
“We work with micro and small business owners, like those with a coffee cart on a side road. They cannot scale up for a number of reasons, the most notable being their inability to access finance due to their level of financial literacy. We work to solve that,” Hun said.
With a grant from the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), in 2021 SHE developed KOTRA-Riel: a free to use, simple book-keeping app that enables women to track their income, expenses, and cash-flow.
The app allows users to separate household finances from business finances. Transaction reports can be exported from KOTRA-Riel to serve as supporting documents when women entrepreneurs apply for loans or any available financial services. SHE integrates KOTRA-Riel into their training for all their entrepreneurs, and the app has had some 18,000 downloads.
With ESCAP support, SHE has also run a financial literacy programme for 150 women. These programmes and financial tools give women micro-entrepreneurs the knowledge and skills they need to advance and boost their self-perception regarding financial activities.
“Through the programme, women begin understanding their own businesses and developing longer term visions, something they tell us they never had done before”, explained Keisha Gani, SHE acting country manager.
By giving women the knowledge and tools they need to be able to access and manage finance, SHE sees an opportunity to bridge the gender gap that exists in medium-sized businesses in Cambodia and catalyze local economies.
SHE runs an average of two workshops and 2-3 different trainings per month, including a six-month incubator programme that includes financial and digital literacy components. In 2022, SHE delivered training in six provinces, including in Cambodia’s floating villages and some coastal areas. All of the facilitators are Cambodian women and locally based, and most of the participants are women in their 30s. Some 500 women are part of the SHE Membership Network.
Looking ahead, the company is currently developing a strategy focused on tailored digital finance products and impact for communities in different areas with varying needs. “Our new three-year strategic plan is to focus on key priorities which are long-term sustainable products with quality training, while also upskilling ourselves on such aspects of digital literacy as AI and e-commerce,” Gani explained.
In the longer-term, the company sees itself mobilizing to all 25 provinces in Cambodia, and learning from similar regional networks in order to integrate that knowledge back into Cambodia.
“When you keep the entrepreneur at the centre of your work, you will never sacrifice quality. We have a good programme. Now we want to make it great,” said Gani.
SHE Investments is one of 15 innovative fintech start-ups supported by ESCAP’s Catalyzing Women’s Entrepreneurship Project, funded by the Government of Canada, as part of a challenge fund implemented in partnership with United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF). More broadly, in partnership with the Government of Colombia, ESCAP works to foster an enabling policy environment in countries across Asia and the Pacific and Latin America, to allow businesses such as SHE Investments that prioritise impact over profit to thrive.