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US-Funded Project ‘We Next’ Aims to Empower Young Cambodian Women Entrepreneurs

US Ambassador William Heidt poses for a photo with participants at the "We Next" Women's Entrepreneurship Event, November 14, 2018. (Facebook/US Embassy Phnom Penh, Cambodia Page)

The five-year project will be run in three major cities: Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and Battambang.

The US international development agency USAID has sponsored a program in Cambodia that aims to empower young women entrepreneurs to get a head start in business.

The project, We Next, was launched last week with the support of NGO Pact and will see Cambodian women entrepreneurs collaborate on the opportunities and challenges for women doing business in Cambodia.

William Heidt, the US ambassador, said at the opening event that the government had taken steps to reduce the tax burden on small enterprises and cut down on red tape, both of which are seen as a barrier to women succeeding in business in the Kingdom.

He added that another US-sponsored program will loan some $30 million to women-owned enterprises with support from Cambodian corporations OPIC and ACLEDA.

Heidt, who will vacate his post this month, said there was vast potential for Cambodian businesses to thrive internationally and hoped the new program would help to give women in business a boost.

He said We Next would help women entrepreneurs improve their technology skills, leadership abilities and business management systems, as well as accessing finance and legal support.

“We are proud to help Cambodia's female entrepreneurs expand their businesses and skills while growing Cambodia's economy.”

The five-year project will be run in three major cities: Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and Battambang.

Sabine joukes, PACT director in Cambodia, said establishing a business could be a difficult process without additional support systems in place.

“If you don’t have a support system around you, who is going to help you? Who is going to identify who you should be talking to?"

“What financial resources are there? What educational resources are there? It makes it much easier for entrepreneurs to make it. Being an entrepreneur is already so hard, so getting a little bit of support from a project like ours, we hope it is going to make the real difference.”

Eng lykong, Cambodian Women Entrepreneurs Association director, who attended the We Next launch event, said a lack of finance and knowledge were the key roadblocks to women starting businesses.

“If we only provide funds for them in the form of money, it will still be hard. What I really want is a program for them to increase their financial knowledge while providing funds for them so that they can use the funds effectively. All of them [women entrepreneurs] are very happy and eager. However, they don't know where to find such knowledge. If we have such a program, it would be very good.”