Supporting a Cambodian social enterprise to improve production efficiency and boost marketing performance

Norm Bunnak, a female entrepreneur in the handicrafts sector and CEO of Villageworks Cambodia, invited a Swiss expert, Markus Göldi, to Cambodia to advise her company. Here she speaks about the lessons learned and the benefits to her enterprise during their two-month long collaboration.

Norm Bunnak’s business, Villageworks Cambodia, operates as a social enterprise. It works to give skills and jobs to people with disability (PWD) so that they can earn an income and live a self-determined life. To do so, Bunnak employs PWD and disadvantaged people to craft seagrass, silk fibre, cotton, real leather and many other recycled materials into stylish, socially responsible, and eco-friendly products.

As the business became more established, new challenges were emerging. Notable were those related to improving the business’s marketing strategy and to managing the efficiency and productivity of the workers, particularly given the restrictions on their capacity.

At this point, Bunnak turned to Senior Expert Contact (SEC) to request the support of an expert to give her new inputs to take her business to the next level. ‘I saw SEC’s potential to support the development of my business image so that I can build a better brand and be recognized more widely. Additionally, I was looking for advice on my workers’ work processes so that we could maximize productivity.’, she remembers.

Her request for support was accepted and Markus Göldi, an SEC expert in production value chain and marketing, took up the challenge. He travelled to Cambodia and worked on a voluntary basis to coach and advise Bunnak.

Göldi was impressed by Villageworks Cambodia’s mission and its contribution to society, saying: ‘The company’s mission focuses on FAIR TRADE, helping people with disability, and going “green” (recycling – upcycling). This is the right direction. Now the products themselves must be genuinely appealing and more attractive to consumers. This will take a bit of time, but it’s possible.’

Through their work together, Bunnak and Göldi achieved several good outcomes which will sustain Villageworks Cambodia now and in the future.

Highlighting key successes, Bunnak notes that, ‘As to concrete outcomes from this assignment, we started to better define our product identity and now have a clear market focus. Additionally, we went through a SWOT analysis of our business. We reviewed the organization’s structure, the job descriptions of our staff, and created a more logical organigram.’

Göldi mentions, ‘We also improved the company’s online presence and website. Now they can better exploit e-commerce opportunities. Additionally, I could also show them various marketing and planning tools.’

No matter how smoothly any SEC assignment runs, challenges are unavoidable. Both Bunnak and Göldi took note of the important lessons they learned along the way.

Göldi summarizing his learning as follows, ‘The biggest challenge was ensuring focus on, and giving priority to, the most urgent topics. There were many different issues and requests coming up while I was on site. Frankly, when I compare with some other SEC consultations I have done, on this occasion I spent too little time in analyzing the current situation. I jumped into the problems without making a proper project plan. That said, with the current management structure it would have been hard to structure the work, because all management tasks fall to one person.’

Göldi is clear about the strategic priorities, ‘First of all, they must go for sales. Only orders can bring prosperity. Sure, other problems will occur if they have to manage the production of large quantities, but those problems can be solved. The management team should increase both sales and quality.’

Following the experience working side by side during the assignment, both parties feel optimistic and are ready to grab future opportunities. Bunnak reflects, ‘I feel good after this first SEC assignment. It helped me to know what our next steps are. I am confident that we can create better quality items and source great accessories so we can raise our prices. I recommend SEC without hesitation to other Cambodian SMEs.’

Fortunately, it looks as though the end of this SEC assignment does not mean the end of the collaboration. Göldi reflects, ‘I have a good feeling about my assignment. Everything went well. I will stay in contact with Villageworks Cambodia. I am happy to support them as they go further.’