Cambodian women’s social enterprise’s success through trade and development

Villageworks Cambodia Company Limited (Villageworks) mandate embodies Agenda2030 beautifully as their activities cover a number of the sustainable development goals (SDGs) specifically SDGs 5, 8, 10 and 12. The organization is unique due to its ability to incorporate environmental sustainability and a practical design. Working with rubbish collectors Villageworks recycles waste materials– like cement bags and fishnets — to make new products. Their business model informs their slogan “from trash to treasure”.

Villageworks is a social enterprise focused on creating sustainable job opportunities for women who live in rural Cambodia. Established in 2001 as a social enterprise, Villageworks quickly realized their products have international market appeal, and as a result changed its corporate status to an export company in 2008. Norm Bunnak is the director of Villageworks and oversees production, design and the day to day interactions with the women at the organization.

“VillageWorks is not just a social enterprise, we provide training, life skills and permanent employment to vulnerable women in Cambodia. We work with disabled women as well as women in rural areas to present them with new opportunities, fair wages and reduce the risks of trafficking.” – Bunnak

VillageWorks image 1Capitalizing on the Canadian Market Access Initiative that grants low income countries with duty free and quota free access to the Canadian market, TFO Canada created Artisan Hub- a program that supported producers and artisans from Least Developed Countries to access the Canadian Market. The Cambodian Ministry of Commerce identified VillageWorks as an organization that would benefit from TFO Canada’s services and becoming part of Artisan Hub.

Through Artisan Hub Villageworks participated in Apparel Textile Sourcing Canada in Toronto in 2016 and New York Now in 2018. To get the most out of the trade shows, they received training and advice on product design and participated in webinars offered by TFO Canada on the Canadian market

Their first exposure to the Canadian Market and understanding buyer requirements and consumer demands influenced product redesign including making them resistant to the changeable Canadian weather.

VillageWorks image 2Since connecting with buyers in Toronto and New York Villageworks has been exporting through wholesale distributers in Canada and United States. They also landed an order with Sephora and through this collaboration reduced their use of plastic instead increasing production of cotton bags.

“TFO Canada connected us to buyers, helped us understand the market and help resolve issues beforehand, by providing trainings and webinars on market access and readiness.”

Villageworks aspires to continue growing, expanding their market and production base, and most importantly recruiting more women and therefore creating a broader economic impact in their communities.

And perhaps the most visible indicator of success according to Bunnak, “In the future we would like to see more Canadians wearing Cambodian items like silk scarves and our bags made of recycled materials.”