With regard to social entrepreneurship, entrepreneurs and humanitarians alike generally aim for big impact on a large scale.
The public education system in Cambodia is still recovering and rebuilding from the Khmer Rouge. Standards are low, resources are scarce, and incentive is almost nonexistent. Education reform is a big undertaking, and is frankly not something that any one NGO could possibly assume.
The Global Child is a private, non-governmental institution. A relatively small number of students are given the cliché “opportunity of a lifetime” when they are accepted to this school. When recruiting a new class, thousands of applications are distributed, and only a handful of students are selected from the pool based upon criteria such as need, capability, and likelihood of retention. So at first glance, one might assume a small impact.
Along with a top-tier, 12-subject education, the students are also provided with daily meals, healthcare, uniforms, bicycles, and housing if needed. The organization invests a lot of resources in just a few individuals, out of a massive population in Siem Reap who presents need. On a personal level, I have been one to criticize private education in the US, so I understand the opposition to some of these concepts. Some days I wonder if there could be ways to help a larger number of children with our resources.
But then I remind myself that it is not TGC’s mission to educate as many students as possible. The goal is to focus the resources on a small group of smart, motivated, inspired, and empowered students, and arm them with the resources with which they can develop their own communities.
The students at TGC come from dozens of the villages surrounding Siem Reap. There, they have family, friends, community. They have the rapport that most volunteers and NGOs will never have. And if I’ve learned anything from Hal’s Social Entrepreneurship class, it is that as a stranger, you cannot force yourself and your vision for change on a community (thanks, Ripples and Ernesto Sirolli.) But if we do our jobs correctly, we will see a trickle-down effect. Every one of the students is a natural leader, mentor, and role model, with the potential to enact large scale change.
In less than a month, I have witnessed this dynamic relationship between TGC students and the community, and each time, it’s pure magic:
- One girl operates her own community initiative- Football for Kids. She has started sports programs in the villages around Siem Reap. This program allows her to share her love for sports with local children, all whilst empowering youth and creating a greater sense of community for everyone around her.
- At the city clean up day (which, mind you, was not even a requirement for students to attend), I sat back and watched another one of our students help the youngest children from the local primary school. She assumed a leadership role without prompting, and handled herself with such poise and confidence: handing out breakfast, helping them try to put on their t-shirts, hats, and gloves all while holding sticky pastries in their other hands.
- But best of all, when I opened one of my classes last week with the question: “what are your personal goals after you graduate from TGC next month?” I was taken aback by their responses. These girls truly understand the value of this “opportunity of a lifetime” they were given. The majority of this group of 7 girls are committed to rural development, and some day in the near future, I am sure each of them will lead powerfully.
This is the greater impact that TGC has on its community. This is scale.