A small school in Cambodia is showing entrepreneurship can be taughtCara Waters
Published: March 10 2018 - 10:09AM
Growing up in the Cambodian province of Kampong Cham, Marady Heang’s ambitions were limited.
“I wasn’t thinking of creating my own business as none of my family create their own business so I am not into that,” she says. “I also thought as a girl I shouldn’t do my own business.”
But the 15-year-old’s views have changed after becoming one of the first cohort of students to study at the Liger Leadership Academy in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh.
Founded and funded by American entrepreneur Trevor Gile and his wife Agnieszka Tynkiewicz-Gile, Liger offers a unique curriculum teaming core subjects with experiential learning, including regular lessons in entrepreneurship for its 110 students.
Heang’s studies include coding, financial literacy and hands-on "explorations" where students start their own businesses, which so far have included a health and fitness app, woven bags and 3D-printed products.
“As part of Liger I see women should be involved as entrepreneurs,” says Heang. “Before, I thought I should just stay at home and be a teacher like my mum and a girl should not control others and be a leader and should just work for others.”Journeys of change
Heang is one of the founders of a bike tour business, Journeys of Change, operated by Liger's students.
The students saw an opportunity for bike tours for tourists in the region around Phnom Penh and have created a tour which launched in January 2018.
The four-hour tour takes in sights including the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh before heading out into the city’s rural surrounds, where the tour stops to pick and smell the lemon grass growing by the side of the road and explore a local temple.
“I’m involved in the tour guide team where we create our own routes and write the script for the stops and create the training course to train more Liger students as guides,” says Heang.
The students have created a website and business cards to advertise the tours and registered it on TripAdvisor.
Operating a lean start-up model, rather than investing in bikes the Journeys for Change team hire them for each tour with the hope of buying bikes if demand for the tours continues to grow.
“It’s fun to make our own business and to share our experience and to connect with foreigners,” says Heang.Teaching entrepreneurship
The focus on entrepreneurialism at Liger is driven by Gile, who made his fortune as a futures trader and wants to apply the lessons he has learned building his business, Liger Investments, to education.
He has spent $US12 million establishing the school and funds its operating cost of $US1.8 million a year.
"I had the idea I would like to do something to give back," Gile says. "We can communicate with these young people now the life lessons and entrepreneurship lessons they need to learn."
Liger's students are selected from all over Cambodia based on an assessment which looks at their intelligence, problem-solving and leadership skills.
While many of the education programs in Cambodia aim to provide a basic level of education for students, Gile's aims are much higher.
He wants Liger students to be the future leaders of Cambodia and believes entrepreneurship is one way forward for the rapidly developing country.
"We are investing in young people and the way that return will be received is specifically in terms of GDP to the country of Cambodia," he says. "One modestly successful doctor or lawyer will return $100,000 or more in GDP annually to the government and country of Cambodia. On this path, after this investment we have made, [a student] has the potential to return millions of dollars."
While some people argue entrepreneurship is an innate skill, Gile says it's something Liger students can learn.
"I am absolutely convinced it can be taught," he says. "Some people are naturally better at it than others, but a huge part of the value-add in trying to teach entrepreneurship is the ability to fast-forward the young people along the path they would otherwise take and learn through the school of hard knocks."
Gile says while he learnt about different concepts at school he didn't ever get a chance to apply his learning. At Liger students are encouraged to start businesses and to fail at business as well.
"Rewinding 25 years, if I knew then what I know now, the decisions I could have made, the risks I could have taken or avoided, the outcome would have been dramatically different," he says.
"We can communicate to these young people now the life lessons and entrepreneurship lessons they need to learn. Even better, we are putting them in a real world environment where they learn those lessons safely and they are learning it for themselves."
Dominic Sharpe, country director at Liger, says the school aims to engender entrepreneurial spirit.
"It doesn't mean they all have to leave here and set up a business, but I think having an entrepreneurial mindset is what is needed now even more and in the future," he says. "It's the ability to see and create opportunities."
Sharpe says there is a skills gap between what is being taught in schools and what the world needs.
"We are bringing more of a business perspective to education," he says.Teaching entrepreneurship in Australia
Liger's approach to teaching entrepreneurship is supported by Colin McLeod, program director of the master of entrepreneurship at the University of Melbourne's Wade Institute for Entrepreneurship.
"It's hard to think of any other human endeavour where people say talent is enough, but they seem to say that about entrepreneurship," he says.
"There is no evidence to support that idea. Entrepreneurship is both about the idea of innovation and then there is the issue of commercialisation - 'how do I critically analyse things? How do I do research effectively?' These are all teachable skills."
Australian schools are moving to introduce specialised entrepreneurship programs, with St Paul's School in Brisbane launching an entrepreneurs' club and schools such as Frankston High School in Melbourne participating in a '$20 boss' entrepreneurship program.
But McLeod says he is not aware of any statewide or national approach to teaching entrepreneurship in Australian schools.
"It's just been done on a school-by-school basis," he says. "As far as I'm aware it's only being done in a small way."Turbulent times
While Liger's students focus on their studies, Cambodia is preparing for an election, with the country set to go to the polls on July 29.
It's a turbulent time for the country, with Cambodia’s ruling party drawing up a five-year plan critics warn will entrench the dictatorship of leader Hun Sen through intimidation, harassment and arrests.
State agencies in Phnom Penh last year launched a sweeping crackdown dissolving the opposition National Cambodian Rescue Party, with its leaders jailed or fleeing to exile.
Liger students learn about Cambodian history and the brutal Khmer Rouge regime but the school does not take an active role in political issues, a stance Sharpe defends.
"We are non-government, non-political, we are non-religious, we are not a human rights organisation," he says. "We are here to educate and inform. Yes we talk about our country’s issues but our role is not to publicly go out, that’s not our role."
Sharpe says Liger has a strong relationship with Cambodia's government.
"Our role is to show the students their country to find challenges and opportunities where things can be changed and work better," he says. "Wherever you are in the world you have to work in the environment you are in."Beyond Cambodia
With Liger's first class of students set to graduate at the end of 2020, Gile has his sights set beyond Cambodia.
"I would love nothing more than to see dozens of Liger Leadership Academies around the world," he says. "I believe this model would be applicable in not just developing but also developed countries."
Heang is convinced of the benefits of Liger's focus on entrepreneurship.
"Now I am more like, in the future I want to be a businesswoman and help my country and want to show Cambodia that girls and women can have their own businesses and we are great leaders," she says.
The reporter travelled to Cambodia with the Liger Leadership Academy.
Follow MySmallBusiness on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.
This story was found at: http://www.canberratimes.com.au/small-business/entrepreneur/a-small-school-in-cambodia-is-showing-entrepreneurship-can-be-taught-20180220-p4z0zi.html