SHE Cambodia: lessons from a gender-focused entrepreneurship incubator
SHE Investments, founded in 2015 in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, is a pioneering social enterprise focused on narrowing the gender gap in the country's SME sector. Through its business incubator and accelerator programs, SHE Investments aims to empower Cambodian women by supporting their micro-small enterprises and integrating them into the formal economy. Supported by the Dutch Good Growth Fund – Financing local SMEs (DGGF) since July 2019, SHE has demonstrated success by tailoring its programs to the local culture and expanding its reach beyond urban centers to rural areas. This expansion provides a valuable model for similar initiatives seeking to reach entrepreneurs in remote regions without compromising financial viability or service quality.
Overcoming challenges in rural areas
Expanding its reach to rural areas brought notable successes for SHE Investments, but not without overcoming challenges. Recognizing the diverse contexts across provinces in terms of industry, culture, and economy, SHE had to adapt its programs and content to suit each locale. The adherence of entrepreneurs to traditional business practices emphasized the necessity of tailoring initiatives to their specific circumstances. Proactive research before expansion was crucial to ensure contextual adjustments align with the local entrepreneurial environment.
Additionally, providing facilitators with the right skills was paramount for success. Therefore, SHE facilitated training for provincial staff, offering tools and guidance from headquarters, including a one-week orientation in Phnom Penh. Furthermore, the organization developed extra resources for onboarding at the provincial level. Information sessions, conducted both online and in-person, played a pivotal role in attracting applicants and provided crucial insights into the incubator program, furthering the aspirations of women interested in entrepreneurship.
Shaping sustainable growth strategies
Expanding into rural areas also prompted significant shifts in SHE Investments' business model and strategic outlook. The expansion not only demonstrated the viability of extending the Entrepreneur Support Organization model to provinces, but also necessitated a realignment for enduring growth. Namely, while SHE's impact on rural women entrepreneurs is evident, there's a recognized need for extended, longer-term support.
To address this, SHE Investments is intensifying efforts to engage donors and funders. In order to meet the needs of new donors, amongst others, it now measures impact per person rather than merely the number of entrepreneurs covered. Moreover, the organization is transitioning from direct fundraising to a fee-for-service business model. Herewith, SHE leverages the success of the rural expansion program to foster partnerships and collaborations for sustained growth and comprehensive program delivery across multiple provinces.
A valuable learning model
As the collaboration between SHE Investments and DGGF provides a valuable learning model on how an incubator can expand into rural areas, DGGF decided to dedicate a knowledge paper to it. The paper centers on identifying SHE’s primary success drivers and how these strategies can serve as inspiration for similar incubators and accelerators in different countries or regions. Please find the paper here.