In emerging economies across Asia and the Pacific, women - especially in rural areas - are not able to access finance. This is rooted in gender discriminatory norms and practices which lead women to lack the same written records and collateral as men. Despite these disparities, there is a growing drive among women entrepreneurs across the region to expand their businesses and claim an equal stake in the economy.
48-year-old Sarom Meas from Kampong Thom Province in Cambodia embodies this drive. An entrepreneur at heart, Sarom is always seeking opportunities to build her business and create opportunities within her community. Sarom owns a business raising and drying fresh fish, and then selling and distributing the products at wholesale prices. Through her enterprise, the entrepreneur supports her husband, two children, a son-in-law and three grandchildren, and employs nine members of the community, four of whom are women.
Thanks to a partnership between Cambodian microfinance institution Chamroeun and NGO Good Return, with the support of the United Nations Economic Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), Sarom has been able to access the finance and technical support needed to build a sustainable business model and drive a women-led local economy in her community.
After undertaking a fish-raising training course with Chamroeun in early 2021, Sarom decided it was the right time to expand her business by raising her own fish instead of buying from other retailers. This creates further impact along the value chain, as local fish farmers begin to compete with imported fish, bringing economic and employment growth to the community.
Recognising Sarom’s determination and passion, Chamroeun supported the entrepreneur with a loan of US$ 40,000, which was guaranteed by Good Return. For Chamroeun Microfinance, Sarom was a perfect candidate to receive the loan as her project builds financial inclusion and security, especially for women and helps the community compete with imported fish while providing local food security.
With an aim to mitigate perceived risks in investing in women-led enterprises, a Guarantee Fund for Women-Led MSMEs, established in 2020 in partnership with Good Return, has enabled 35 entrepreneurs to access US$ 1,308,439 in loans to date through Chamroeun Microfinance in Cambodia, including US$ 409,800 for ten women-owned businesses. In conjunction with the guarantee, Chamroeun conducted a gender self-assessment and consequently mainstreamed gender equality and inclusiveness in their operations.
Good Return’s Impact Investing programme identifies and supports small to medium sized enterprises in agricultural value chains, such as Sarom’s business, that play a vital role in bringing jobs and income to people living in poverty, especially women. Using a funding leverage model to mobilize blended capital, Good Return works with in-country financial institutions, such as Chamrouen, to secure responsible financing for such businesses, with a focus on women and aiming to address poverty in the region by creating systemic change.
As a result of this support, Sarom was able to start raising her own fish and buy a larger car, which increased her distribution rate. The loan also allowed her to hire two new employees from the community. Sarom seized the opportunity to undertake further business training provided by Chamroeun that helped her to understand the best methods to raise, process and sell fish. The ambitious entrepreneur is paving the way as a champion of women-led agribusiness in her community. Equipped with new skills from the training, she hopes to take out another loan in the future to further expand her business.
Sarom is one among 176,000 women entrepreneurs who have directly benefitted from ESCAP’s Catalyzing Women’s Entrepreneurship (CWE) Programme to date, implemented with funding from the Government of Canada, in partnership with leading women’s economic empowerment organizations in the region such as Good Return.