We have a choice
Siem Reap | Cambodia
Phare, the Cambodian Circus, is a social enterprise which collaborates with the Phare Ponleu Selpak School for socially and economically disadvantaged children to support it financially and to offer job positions to their graduated artists. It’s becoming one of the most famous circuses in the world and one of the biggest attractions in Cambodia.
The Phare Ponleu Selpak School was created more than 20 years ago for the purpose of youth development - says Dara Hout, current manager - for reconstructing Cambodia after the war by art therapy, by working with young underprivileged Cambodians from the street. Now, after 20-years, we try to build a social enterprise to self-sustain the school. Other goals of our circus are to provide good jobs to young artists from Cambodia as well as reinsert the appreciation of art and culture to everyday life of Cambodians and make Cambodian art recognized nationally and around the world.
In all those fields they are succeeding. Phare Circus provides jobs to Cambodian artists, they sustain the school, which brings back kids from streets to the classroom and they are becoming more and more popular all over the world.
We have proven that this social enterprise is working. We are making net operating profit this year, after paying all taxes, after paying a very good salary to the artists and fair salary to the employees - and hopefully a very good salary to the employees later. This is what we achieved in the three years we have been in operation. Another important success is that we were able to gain the confidence of the community. When we opened, everybody wondered when we would leave, because we may not be successful, we had nothing. The circus was outdoor, without a tent. Our two operating partners were very afraid to put us in their program, because they were not sure we would survive. And now we gained confidence in the community, from stakeholders, from business partners and our artists. What’s more, young artists from our school know now that they will have a stable job. Without this social enterprise it was not so obvious. It gives them the motivation to work harder and learn more.
These are the highlights of what we achieved. There is much more.
But highs do not come without challenges.
At first the biggest challenge was about finance, to get it off the ground. The most difficult part was to convince investors to take the risk with us, to join us in this journey to sustainability. It is not easy because social impact investors are looking for double returns. The financial return plus the social impact, which makes it double work for entrepreneurs to prove both sides. It is different from a for-profit organization which talks only about money and finances.
At the growth stage the most challenging part is leadership, getting everybody to be always together. Understand the vision, the mission, believe in them and work together as a team to achieve common goals. I believe this is challenging in any organization, not only in social enterprises. For us, the people working here should have it very clear, should fully understand what we are trying to achieve and love what we are doing. They are not here for the salary alone, which they can find in any big company in Cambodia, but for a lot more. It’s not always easy to get everyone to fully understand everything. That’s why we try to have a very good employee orientation program as well as an internal communication platform.
Communication is a crucial skill in changing the world. But not the only one.
In my opinion the most important skill is analytical thinking, critical thinking. Think deeply before judging, before coming to a conclusion. I think those are the skills that help young Cambodians to be changemakers. Unfortunately, critical thinking doesn’t exist so much in our culture, our education system and our way of teaching at home are about following orders. Our parents tell us what to do and everything the teacher says is correct. According to me, what makes young people become changemakers in Cambodia is to be confident in themselves and questioning every single thing they see, thinking deeply, critically and analytically. I’m lucky enough to meet in my life amazing people who helped me understand that and showed me the way. I think not many young Cambodians have the opportunity to meet people, mentors, who help them understand that everything is a choice. We have a choice all the time. We choose to think this way or we choose to think that way. We choose to act this way. We choose to be successful or we choose not to be successful.
More about Phare Circus: pharecircus.org