Voeung Chan Delice is part of a new generation of young female Cambodian entrepreneurs.
Having been an entrepreneur for almost ten years, Delice is the owner of Asia Exotic Trading, which produces baby wipes under the brand names of Alice, Mammy, and Julie.
Seeing the increasing need for local baby products, she decided to start her business in mid-2015, targeting customers in the provinces. A handicraft business, located in the capital, Phnom Penh, is her second venture after the success of her first business.
The Phnom Penh-born businesswoman started Asia Exotic Tour in 2008, a while after she received her undergraduate degree in tourism from the Royal University of Phnom Penh. The company provides a variety of tourism and travel-related services to both local and international clients, and today it has eight employees bringing in a stable profit.
But it was not a smooth journey in the beginning for Delice, whose family has no business background. Her father is a government official, and her mother is a housewife. Though Delice’s husband is also a businessman, she said, he takes a more traditional approach to enterprise.
Delice believes that successful business people never stop learning, and this drove her to attend an entrepreneurial program, WECREATE, in late 2015, shortly after she started her second business.
Under the Lower Mekong Initiative, WECREATE, which stands for Women’s Entrepreneurial Center for Resources, Education, Access, and Training for Economic Empowerment, was founded by the U.S. State Department in a partnership with GriffinWorx, which promotes start-ups. It is the first center opened in the Lower Mekong Region.
The WECREATE center in Phnom Penh offers a variety of programs to women entrepreneurs, ranging from mentoring and networking to childcare services. It provides a physical platform, resources and tools for women to meet and broaden their knowledge of doing business.
As a result of her participation, Delice was able to expand her handicraft business by hiring two additional full-time employees and four part-time staffers.
“I understand better how to start a business, how to organize our operation, finance, sales, marketing and so on. So, we are able to improve our business,” she said.
Sean Griffin, founder and CEO of GriffinWorx, told VOA Khmer that the organization “saw a tremendous need for women entrepreneurs who had aspiration and a strong desire to start a business, but had very little knowledge or experience of what is required to do the business.”
WECREATE aims to break down social barriers that women face through entrepreneurship.
“We’re using economic empowerment as the lens to address gender-based violence or gender issues that women may face,” Griffin said.
An economic census conducted by the Royal Government of Cambodia in a collaboration with the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) in 2011 showed that of the more than half a million businesses in the country, just over 329,000, or nearly two-thirds, were owned by women, while 80 percent were small businesses with two employees or fewer.
Delice, who was pregnant when she started attending WECREATE, highlighted how women entrepreneurs face more challenges than men in doing business.
“Women have to work 10 times harder than men because besides business, women still have to look after the family and be responsible for the household chores,” said Delice, a mother of two.
To date, WECREATE Cambodia has helped 1,338 women, creating more than one hundred new businesses and some 915 jobs, according to Dy Many Dy, the director of the center.
In November, after more than a year of operations, WECREATE Cambodia was given over to local direction in partnership with Paz y Desarrollo (PYD), which translates to “Peace and Development,” an organization that helps manage development initiatives.
Since then the center has had to find ways to generate revenue to be self-sufficient, and one way is to charge a fee for participating in some of the programs, according to Griffin.
Delice told VOA Khmer that she wants to expand her business by producing a variety of quality baby products at an affordable price to compete with imported products from neighboring countries, such as Thailand and Vietnam. Her advice to women is to not give up.
“Don’t turn back, no matter what challenges you meet. We have to go forward. So, we will be successful. Don’t ever think that women are weak, and can’t do things like men. Men and women can do the same. Some women are even smarter than men,” she said.