B1G1 Study Tour 2017, Cambodia: A Tour That Changes Lives (Yours and Mine Too)

In the past, so many things got in the way,” says Paul Davis from Davis Business Consultants in Ireland. Perhaps his situation was much like the reality of many other business owners. Things do get in their way.

So, he made an extra big commitment to travel half way around the world to be on the B1G1 Study Tour this year. A great effort.

And the outcome?

Here’s what Paul says.

“…I always wanted to come on a B1G1 Study Tour because I just knew it would be great. But to experience it… well it has been just…overwhelming. There is no word to describe this experience.”

He’s right. It’s really challenging to express how it felt to be on the ground. Even just trying to talk about it can be overwhelming.

Yet it does pay off. In more ways than you may imagine.

7 projects. 7 unique insights.

What we saw, learned and experienced did make a difference; first to the lives of the people we visited, and then to our own. Let’s give you an ‘impact overview’ of the tour.

IMPACT 1: ‘Vehicle for wealth’ is often neglected

On the first full day of the tour, we visited This Life Cambodia (TLC).

TLC works on a wide range of projects to transform communities ground up. We rode second-hand bicycles on bumpy country roads to a local school to experience the life of Cambodian students. There were 50 students waiting for us to receive those bicycles as part of the scholarship for their effort and good work.

What we didn’t realise was… for these students, a gift of a bicycle was not just about having better transportation to get to school easily. For them, it was actually a token for education and therefore a real change-maker in their lives. Having it or not can define their future potential.

And these bicycles do more than help the students get to school. They are used by their family members to get to local markets so that they can sell their produce as well.

In short, a bicycle can bring greater prosperity to low income families.

IMPACT 2: Sustainable future starts with health

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In Cambodia, 4 million people don’t have access to safe drinking water.

1 in 8 children dies before they’re 5 years old. So many suffer from diseases that are easily preventable through immunization, better nutrition, safe drinking-water and proper sanitation.

So, when we visited Trailblazer, a B1G1 Worthy Cause that focuses on improving the livelihood of underprivileged families, we saw how a ‘sand water filter’ can turn contaminated water into safe drinking water and also turns previously sick days into productive days for the families.

The thing we resonated with most with this project was the fact that those families are asked to pay a few dollars for the water filter (the remaining cost is subsidised) and how this amount goes toward their community projects.

When families invest in their own water filter, they appreciate it and take good care of it. And that sense of appreciation and ownership is critical in making a real positive change.

IMPACT 3: Social Businesses can add even more value

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Many of the projects we visited during this tour were defined as ‘Social Businesses’ while being charity organisations. They generate income from commercial activities so that they can continue to fund their change-making programs without being totally dependant on donations.

Sala Bai is one such organisation that we discovered during our first tour to Cambodia in 2013. It’s a training restaurant (now expanded into a hospitality training facility) that impresses the international tourists with exquisite French and international cuisine and a high standard of service.

But to maximise their impact, Sala Bai specifically recruits its trainees from families that are earning less than USD 300 a year.

Yes, families  earning less than $1 a day.

These students eventually end up at 5-star hotels and restaurants when they complete the top quality one-year program.

On our visit, we met trainers who used to be students at Sala Bai themselves. One trainer, a lady who now even speaks at hospitality conferences overseas told us:

I was given a great opportunity in my life. So now, I am back here to make sure more young people like me are empowered to live better lives.”

IMPACT 4: Hardships can be turned into real gifts

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How are gifted talents like artists and performers discovered? By luck?

We got to meet inspiring young people who came from some of the most disadvantaged background when we visited Phare, the Cambodian Circus.

These extraordinary performers did not start life with good fortune or luck. Yet they shared with us nothing but joy and wonder.

Watching their truly engaging, ingenious show was a remarkable experience. But seeing how they trained and encouraged each other was awe-inspiring. And having a very intimate personal conversation with them over dinner added so much more to the experience of being part of the show. We felt we were part of something so much bigger.

Phare unleashes the power of expressions in young people; Bringing them out from their confronting background and into the limelight of the world’s top performing arts stages. And their smiles are truly infectious.

IMPACT 5: How to buy happiness

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“Happiness cannot be bought.”

That’s right. No matter how much we pay, we cannot buy permanent happiness.

But if there is a way to help create greater happiness and joy for others, building a playground for schools might just be one of the most joyful ways to do so.

In Cambodia, public primary school education is free. Yet, there are still so many children who drop out from primary school education.

One of the reasons for this is that their families cannot afford simple things like uniforms and stationery. Another reason is that they feel they should work to support their family rather than going to school. And quite surprisingly, the third reason is that they simply do not enjoy going to school.

Not every child has a natural flair in academic performance at an early age. According to Child’s Dream — a B1G1 Worthy Cause, adding a fun-filled playground to a school definitely increases the school participation rate. But there is even more to the positive effect a playground can have.

During the visit, we asked a teacher, “What do you think about having a playground at your school?

The answer:

“I am so happy because I know my pupils will really enjoy coming to school. And I have never played at a playground as a child. How exciting that I get to play with them!”

IMPACT 6: Prevention is often more powerful than reaction

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You may know that Cambodia has a dark past. It also has some dark shadows in the present. It’s a country where child-trafficking for the sex trade happens quite commonly.

Nicky Mih from Free to Shine shared with us her own dilemma when she encountered this painful reality when she was volunteering in Cambodia years ago. She wanted to do something to change that.

But what she discovered was that while there were so many organisations working with the victims of child-trafficking, few were specifically working on prevention.

So, she established an organisation with the highest child protection standards to change this picture.

The thing is, families who have the capacity to raise their own children with quality education — families who understand the reality of child-trafficking — would never send their children to traffickers.

Caring for families and raising awareness can do tremendous good in the long run. We want to see every child having the real freedom to shine!

IMPACT 7: Giving and receiving goes hand in hand

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As a finale, we hosted a workshop for some high school students.

In Cambodia, only 5% of children get to tertiary education. 75% of high school students fail their exams to continue on to university. You understand how rare it is to see students from underprivileged backgrounds entering high school and then university.

The students we met had no shortage of challenges and obstacles. Some had no living parents. Some managed to get there because their siblings made great sacrifices.

Yet our time with them was full of laughter, tears, cheers and high-fives. Our group of tour participants were invited to share their business insights and knowledge with the students. But in the end, it was us who were inspired, influenced and motivated.

We learned this:

The best form of giving is to receive with humility, and the best form of receiving is to become a giver.”

The Final Insight

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As Paul Davis said, “seeing and experiencing so many ways of making a difference was overwhelming.”

But the final and most important insight was so simple: the power of collaboration.

No one approach can solve all the problems or change everything. But all the efforts made with good intentions add up to create longer-term, more balanced and sustainable outcomes.

In the B1G1 world, each and every business — no matter how small or big — brings their own unique focus to the world of giving. Because they care about different issues and they give back in their own ways, they can support all these unique projects collectively.

These businesses touch so many lives in so many different ways. But most importantly, they are creating a world that’s full of giving, together.

And I hope you will join us on one of the future tours to experience this yourself. It might just change your life too. Even if you might have to make an extra big commitment to make it happen just like Paul did.

Explore B1G1’s Facebook Page to see more pictures and videos of inspirations from around the world.

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About Masami Sato

Masami is the founder and CEO of B1G1. Despite being small, she is the guiding light behind almost every project in B1G1, from IT design to project management to guiding the culture! She is also one of the most humble and inspiring people you’ll ever meet.

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